Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ring of Honor Steps Up

Is this a hell of a weekend for wrestling or what?

As far as the mainstream side of the planet goes, it’s mourning Randy Savage. However, under their noses, another huge story has broken that could bode very well for the third-largest wrestling promotion in the country and ultimately change the face of the industry as we know it now.

Ring of Honor announced yesterday that the company has been sold. Lock, stock, and barrel. Ring of Honor is now owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., “one of the largest television broadcasters in the country and which owns and operates, programs, or provides sales services to 58 television stations in 35 markets across the United States.”

I won’t lie - when I first saw this, I was terrified. That was my knee-jerk reaction. Because, let’s face it, the last wrestling promotion that was bought out didn’t fare so well after that. the one before that fared a little better, and even made a comeback of sorts, but it’s days were numbered once it was bought out.

Not just that, but even outside the realm of pro wrestling, corporate media as a whole terrifies, disgusts, and exasperates me - more often than not all at the same time. That feeling is at the crux of damn-near everything I’ve written, said, shot, and put out there for public consumption for over 7.5 years and counting. It is also one of the primary reasons that the show/brand/idea of Count3rCu1ture was conceived and created. So, yeah, reading that a smaller wrestling promotion had been bought by a media corporation scared me. Until I read more in to this story.

First, it helps that Steve Marks, COO of Sinclair’s Television Group is actually excited about the property his company has picked up. He even said so!:

”We are very excited about this acquisition. Television and professional wrestling have a long history of successful partnerships and driving viewership. Unfortunately, the broadcast networks have not protected that relationship, allowing professional wrestling to migrate to cable network distribution. We believe that the powerful promotional platform that our TV stations provide, coupled with our 22% share of the U.S. TV households, will allow ROH to achieve name brand recognition and grow its share of the wrestling market. When you consider the makeup of our station mix and the number of CW, MYTV and FOX affiliates we operate, this is a perfect fit for our viewer demographics. Longer-term, we can envision syndicating ROH wrestling to broadcasters in markets where Sinclair does not have a presence, and even internationally.”

That’s a relief to hear. It’s as though Marks feels there’s a programming hole to fill, and his company is willing to do it. Second piece of good news is that Sinclair is willing to do it without radically alter the company. Hell, there will be barely any changes at all, really.

The front office staff, including former owner Cary Silkin, will all remain in their positions to work alongside Joe Koff of Sinclair (now the promotion’s Chief Operating Officer) and Gary Juster as Vice President of Operations. Yes, that’s the same Gary Juster who used to work as a promoter for Jim Crockett and later WCW, will be the Vice President of Operations. He also happened to broker this deal with Sinclair and RoH.

Outsuide of that, Jim Cornette will remain as Executive Producer and Hunter Johnson will remain on as a creative executive. Johnson and Cornette now also share talent relations and creative duties.

Kevin Kelly, “the voice of Ring of Honor on internet Pay-Per-View”, will also remain in that position, as well as become the lead commentator when the Ring of Honor syndicated television show debuts all over the Sinclair Group’s television stations in September. Oh yeah - that’s piece of good news number three - a much bigger television outlet for the company come this fall. In fact, this past weekend at Roh's Supercard of Honor VI in Chicago, the company announced its first television taping for Sinclair would be in that same city on August 13.

That, in and of itself, is fascinating. When RoH walked away from HDNet after that two-year deal expired, many were wondering how, when, or even if Ring of Honor would be back on television. The question that was posed to whomever in RoH was interviewed was basically, “hey, if it happens, it happens.” The answer, in the eyes of the company, was that they were looking for more than just being “back on television”, and they’ve got it.

Now, this isn’t an immediate presence or a giant leap to compete with WWE. My old stomping grounds 411 Wrestling gave more details - Sinclair broadcasts in roughly 22% of the country and there some huge markets that are not part of the equation. (411 also has the full list of their stations here) Even still and as already noted, they already have a bigger presence in the national market provided previously by HDnet.

If you ask most anyone in RoH, they’re not looking to compete with WWE or even TNA Impact Wrestling. Their product is completely different; Jim Cornette described it in the press release as, “...[N]ot old-school wrestling, and it’s not sports entertainment...This is wrestling for the 21st century, a new style developed by fresh, young stars that incorporates wrestling, mixed martial arts and high-flying, high-risk action with unique personalities, and it’s showcased by a sports-based presentation completely different from any other product out there.” That description fits very well, and it’s the main reason I’m such a fan of Ring of Honor.

What happens now should be a show in and of itself. It’s no secret the pro wrestling is in a stagnant state, while MMA (and especially UFC) is hotter than ever right now. The reasons are simple: MMA took the presentation and basic ideas of pro wrestling and added them to a much more realistic product, while the biggest wrestling companies in the world have are hell-bent on producing anything but wrestling. Many have speculated that, for wrestling to once again thrive, that it would have return to basics and produce a much more realistic and athletic product on a larger scale. Ring of Honor is that product, and now they have that larger audience. That theory of where the wrestling industry heads from here is about to be tested, big time.

But that’s another discussion for another time. As for now, Ring of Honor, as a result of being owned by another company, finds itself in a much better position now than it has at any time in its nine years of existence. It’s a thrilling time to be associated with and a fan of Ring of Honor. All the best in the world is hoped for as they move forward with a new venture and hopefully now become the little promotion that redefines wrestling.

No comments: