Eric Bischoff Interview
As WCW’s fortunes declined, did you feel like “I told you so” or was it more heartbreaking since you had done so much to make WCW popular?
Eric Bischoff: I described it best to a friend of mine who asked me the same question around the middle of January. And I said, It’s very similar, if you can imagine, to jokingly say to your children, “Oh, why don’t you go out and play traffic.” And then the kids actually went out and played in traffic. But all you can do is stand at an overpass and watch them dodge cars. That’s what I felt like. I felt like I was watching a part of my family in a very desperate situation. And I say that because WCW, for the last seven years, has felt like a part of me. Even when I wasn’t involved with it, I still felt that I was related to it somehow.
It wasn’t a good feeling. Even when I left, there was no bitterness towards the promotion. There was no resentment towards any of the people. There was none of the emotions that one might expect. When I left WCW, the only thing I felt was a sense of relief. I took two or three months where I just relaxed. I got away from it. I didn’t think about wrestling. When I was seeing what was going on, the future for WCW was apparently in trouble and wasn’t very bright. And I had some valid concerns for some friends of mine who still work for the company. And I wanted to see WCW succeed, even if I wasn’t a part of it.
Would WCW be in a better position if the events in September had never happened?
EB: No. I think something had to give. A lot of what went wrong with WCW was my responsibility. It happened on my watch, and I don’t shy away from that or minimize it at all, but a large part of what went wrong with WCW also had to do with the bureaucracy in the organization, and I’m talking about at my level and above. It had a lot to do with the fact that WCW is a business model that very few, if any people in Turner at the time I was there, understood. They tried to manage it like other business models that they had experience with and the truth is, it’s a unique business. It requires a unique perspective and insight. And the fact that it was being managed in a way that wasn’t conducive to the business was very frustrating for me. So, one way or the other, something had to give. It was me. The end result has been very positive. I know it’s been positive for me on an individual basis. But I also think its been positive for the company because they had a chance to learn, for the very first time and firsthand, just how unique WCW is.
When I turned the division around in 1994, they had never made a dollar profit. In twelve months, I turned that around and not only made it a profitable division, but, for four straight years, I tripled our growth annually, both in gross revenues and net profit. Once that happened and we built it into a cash machine and a very profitable piece of business for the Turner organization. A lot of people who, up until that point never got involved with WCW, all of a sudden started getting involved. And after I left, they had an opportunity to experiment and to try to run it like they would run other businesses. And they found out that it wouldn’t work.
I think it’s all been for the better. They understand how unique it is. I understand the changes I need to make, both personally and professionally. I have had a chance to sit back and watch the business as objectively as I can be in a non-stressful environment. So I’m coming back with not only fresh batteries, but also a fresh perspective and that’s good for the business.
After all that happened, did you ever foresee that you would be in this position today?
EB: No. Not because I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go back to work to the same bureaucracy that I had experienced before. I didn’t want to deal with the same kinds of frustrations that I had to deal with before. There was no reason to. There was no future in that. And I didn’t really think that it would change.
But when Brad Siegel took over after (Harvey) Schiller left, that, to me, was a ray of hope. Brad is the one guy at Turner that I dealt with that I really feel understood WCW better than anyone else. Prior to Brad, there was a guy who was a career military man with some amateur sports background running WCW. Harvey is a great guy and he’s funny at a party. But the truth of the matter is, this isn’t a post office. This isn’t a military PX. Military skill sets don’t really transfer that well to a wrestling company. Brad is an entertainment guy, he’s got an instinct, he’s got a feel, he’s competitive, he’s young. And he’s willing to take chances and risks that a lot of people that I’ve dealt with in the past wouldn’t take.
Did you ever foresee working with Vince Russo?
EB: It’s funny. One of the things I kept noticing is people who are friends of mine, like DDP for example, would say to me, “You know, I just wish that when you were here, you had a guy like Russo to work with. Then things could have been great. The combination of you two. His work ethic. His discipline. All the things he brings to the table plus all the things that you bring to the table, it would have been beautiful. And I kept hearing that over and over from a number of different people.
I just rejected it, because there was no way in my mind that would ever happen, for no other reason then I had no intention of ever going back to WCW, in any shape or form. The idea was not an appealing thought for me to spend a lot of time with, so I just listened to it, rejected it, and didn’t think too much about it.
Now that I have had a chance to work with Vince, I understand what people see and the opportunity they saw in the combination. Because he brings a lot of discipline, a lot of production experience, a lot of detail, a lot of great ideas, and he brings a fresh perspective to the table. That, combined with my overall view of the world and some of my experience, it’s going to be a great combination. They say, “the devil is in the details,” and that’s one of the things I noticed right away about Vince in that he spends a lot of time making sure the little things are right.
How do you respond to critics who say that you and Russo won’t last?
EB: Depending on who they are. Look, guys like Wade Keller, who has been wrong about everything, the first thing that he did was came out and said, “Eric Bischoff is being brought back as vice president.” Well, that was wrong. Right off the bat, that was wrong. And just about every aspect of everything that he said has been wrong. He’s gotten some things right. If you throw enough darts, eventually you’re going to hit a bulls-eye sometime, and that seems to be his approach and the approach of many other people to throw as many darts as they can and then, when one hits, they say, “See I told you. I was right.”
Most of those people don’t know me. They know me second-hand or third-hand, or from stories they hear from wrestlers that they get their information from who think that if they leak information to guys like Wade Keller, that Wade will write nice things about him in his newsletter. That’s the dynamic of that entire industry. I think that Wade is either too cheap or too lazy or both to buy a ticket and actually go to an event and write something first hand. He doesn’t have the guts to come back into a locker room and actually do an interview face-to-face with anybody. He’s a chickenshit that would rather listen to some wrestler who’s trying to get a break in the business feeding the information that he thinks Wade wants to hear. That’s how they work.
I challenge Wade Keller to actually buy a ticket, come to Denver, and I’ll give him backstage access, if he has the balls to show up, and do an interview. Maybe he does have the balls, but he’s too cheap.
The fact is, I like Vince personally. The first time I met him, we probably spent three hours comparing notes, telling war stories, and, fifteen minutes into the meeting, I made up my mind that even if I didn’t work with the guy, I’d go out and have a beer with him or hang out with the guy. Because he’s funny, he’s headstrong, he’s arrogant, he’s conceited, he’s opinionated, he’s competitive, and he’s an intense person. I would rather be around people like that then being around a bunch of second-guessing “yes men” who will tell you to your face, “Absolutely. That’s the greatest idea I’ve ever heard,” and then, when they walk out of the room, they start second-guessing everything you just discussed. There’s no future in that. I’d rather argue for three hours with Vince Russo over an idea, come out of the room bloody pulps, and go be successful, then sit around in a room with a bunch of back-slapping people with no imagination.
After a couple of “new eras” over the past six months, why should wrestling fans, and journalists for that matter, embrace this one?
EB: They shouldn’t be until they see it, first of all. I don’t expect anybody to commit to anything that they haven’t seen. I was in Los Angeles and I ran into Mick Foley in the airport and his wife, and we talked for a long time. It was the first time I’ve seen him in years. Mick said to me, “Are you guys going to get back in this thing? Are you going to make it competitive again?” And I say, “Absolutely.” And I believe we can. He was excited about it. A one horse race isn’t good for anybody. It isn’t good for the business. It isn’t good for the fans. It isn’t good for guys like you who write about the business. It isn’t even good for the scum like Wade Keller who live like parasites off the business. It isn’t good for anybody. It’s important that we get competitive, and if I was a thinking fan, I would want to see the competition between WCW and the WWF heat up again, because it makes it more interesting to watch. So that’s why I hope that they’re excited about what we’re about to do.
Vince has a track record. Some may believe in it. Some may not. Eric Bischoff has a track record. Some people may believe in it. Some people don’t. It doesn’t really matter. But I think the combination of the two should give people a reason to think that there is a chance that this thing could turn around and now it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
How do you react to the negative publicity directed at WCW and those who openly wished for its demise?
EB: You have to understand the psychology of people who really don’t know anything who are writing columns about wrestling. The way they get attention is to be as negative as they can be. That’s very easy to do. When you can’t be analytical, the only thing you can be is critical. You can’t be analytical if you don’t have knowledge and you don’t have inside information.
A lot of these sites tend to be incredibly critical, and that’s a very easy thing to do. It creates controversy which gets people to log on and see what Joe Blow has to say about the next dumb thing WCW is going to do. When it was the WWF that was in the tank, everyone was criticizing Vince McMahon. He’s dead. He’s buried. Put a fork in him. He’s bankrupt. That’s the nature of the people who really don’t have the intelligence, the experience, or the ability to be truly analytical. And what happens is people read that and then they begin to absorb that train of thought. If a certain writer writes something very negative and scathing about WCW or somebody in WCW, then it’s the coolest thing of the day to repeat that.
You just have to understand where it’s coming from and who it’s coming from. They really have no insight. They have no experience. I don’t think that they get outside of the city limits to really get involved in the wrestling industry at any real level. But, they’re right there ripping it apart. And people who don’t know any better repeat what they hear.
Thanks for your time, Eric. Good luck on Monday.