Tyson Still Big Draw; Helps to Sell Wrestling

Publish date:
Updated on

Former boxer Mike Tyson's $3 million-plus appearance at
last Monday's WrestlemaniaXIV helped to push that pay-per-view event past
700,000 buys, or close to three times the buy level of last year's version, the event's
marketers said last week.

"We feel very confident that we will hit
700,000-plus," Team Services president Bonnie Werth said last Thursday, shortly after
hearing the tallied results. At $34.95 per buy, that translates to around $25 million --
of which cable operators get one-half -- meaning a buy-rate greater than 3 percent.

Last year's World Wrestling Federation Wrestlemania,
billed as the WWF's Super Bowl, drew about 250,000 buys, Werth said. The record for a
wrestling event is believed to be the 1989 Wrestlemania (719,000 buys), she added,
and the next best was December's Starrcade event by the rival World Championship
Wrestling organization.

With Tyson banned from boxing after June's ear-biting
episode with Evander Holyfield, wrestling events are vital to PPV managers. Patty
McCaskill, vice president of programming and PPV at Charter Communications Inc., said Wrestlemania
was about as big an event as the company has had this year.

McCaskill said Wrestlemania did much better than
last year's event, although not quite as well as the last Starrcade, partly because
Charter's systems in the Southeast tend to favor WCW events.

Greg Graff, senior vice president of marketing, programming
and advertising for Coaxial Communications, said Wrestlemania "did really
well. I think that we did almost 1,300 buys," from a universe of 75,000 addressable

There has been some concern that Tyson's foray into
wrestling might jeopardize his potential return to boxing. But cable operators said they
didn't think that Tyson did anything to hurt or help himself at Wrestlemania, which
played out before a sold-out Fleet Center in Boston.

Graff said Tyson continues to generate public interest.

"The one thing that it does, no matter what happens
with Tyson, is that I don't think that there really can be bad publicity," he said,
noting that Tyson overcame a prison term for rape and came back as a strong PPV draw.

Werth and the cable operators also credited growing demand
for PPV wrestling in helping to propel last week's event.

"We've been watching wrestling pay-per-view buys grow
over the last six to 12 months," McCaskill said. "Part of it is that the
category has been doing consistently better."

As Werth noted, the growing popularity of wrestling in its
current form -- which emphasizes bad guys over more traditional heroes -- even made the
front page of The New York Times last week, albeit in a critical context.

As for Tyson's future appearances at wrestling events,
Werth said that was up to the former heavyweight champ and his handlers.