Wrestling Audience Greatly Expanded by TV Saturday
By Bob Gillespie,
Charleston Post & Courier, September 23, 1978
months now, I’ve followed this TV sports column and I have yet to
see anything written on what has to be the tube’s most successful
enterprise in the realm of sports. I shall now try to correct this
What am I
talking about? Football? Basketball? Women’s field hockey?
Tournament-level tiddlywinks? “No” to all the above.
ask, looking down your cultured nose with disdain. That Roman
gladiator spectacle of the masses, with costumed clowns flying
through the air like so many comic book characters? TV wrestling – a
success story? Surely I jest, you say. And you probably laugh.
Laugh. That’s just what both the pro wrestling promoters and local
television stations are doing, all the way to the proverbial bank.
The fact is,
wrestling, especially on television, has been growing in popularity
over the last few years – by leaps and bounds greater than any
you’ll see in the ring. And no one realizes – and appreciates – that
fact more than Charleston area television management.
On any given
Saturday, year round, the Charleston viewer can see wrestling twice
in one day. That’s if he doesn’t have cable TV. If he does, add
another show on Saturday and one on Sunday. And if you live far
enough toward Savannah where you can pick up that city’s television,
you can catch two more showings, or five more programs per Saturday.
reason that pro wrestling is on so often: it’s popular.
“The shows are
rather popular in this area, I know that,” says WCIV-TV (Channel 4)
Program Director Don Moody. “If we have to move the show (1 pm
Saturday) for a network thing, we really get the phone calls.”
Director Jim Shumaker of WCBD-TV (Channel 2), whose station carries
wrestling Saturday night at 11:45, is even more emphatic. “It’s just
unbelievable,” he said. “It leads its time period against all
comers. People in this area are really hung up on this wrestling.”
How hung up?
“In the last important ratings book, which was back in May,
wrestling at midnight Saturday was pulling a 52 percent share of the
audience,” Shumaker said. By comparison, Saturday Night Live on NBC
(Channel 4) gets 32 percent, while Channel 5 (WSCS-TV), carrying
Blockbuster Theatre, takes a 21 percent share.”
Channel 2 isn’t
the only beneficiary of wrestling, either. When Channel 4 runs
wrestling at 1 pm, it gathers in 46 percent shares of the audience
at that time, as opposed to 31 percent for Soul Train (Channel 5)
and 19 percent for American Bandstand (Channel 2). “They’re
obviously doing something right,” added Shumaker.
“They” in this
case is an outfit called Jim Crockett Promotions out of
Charlotte, NC, who provides their Mid-Atlantic Championship
Wrestling in the Carolinas/Virginia areas. Crockett not only
handles the live events at local arenas, such as Charleston’s County
Hall operation on Friday nights, but also produces the television
shows, filming them weekly at
WRAL-TV in Raleigh, NC.
The most ironic
thing about the whole operation is the deal between Mid-Atlantic
Championship Wrestling and the local television stations. The
stations get a program with a high rating – virtually for free.
us with the taped program,” Shumaker said. “We give them two
one-minute-40-second commercials for promotion of their local
wrestling matches. We get the program, which leads its time slot,
plus 10 minutes of commercial time to sell. And they’re easy to
Why give away a
program when stations that run movies or even network programs
against the wrestling - and still lose out – are paying big bucks
for those time-fillers? Henry Marcus, who promotes wrestling
for the Crockett operation in this area from his Columbia base, has
said Marcus, who started wrestling promotion in 1934. “Television is
great, whether you’re selling wrestling or tooth paste. It’s the
greatest advertising device man has ever invented. When you can have
75 million people watch the Ali-Spinks fight, you can’t beat it.”
The Crockett TV
blitz started “about 18 years ago under Jim Crockett, Sr.,
the father of the Jim Crockett who runs the operation now,”
said Canadian native, Sandy Scott, himself a former popular
wrestler who now promotes the Mid-Atlantic product in Roanoke, VA,
after covering the Greenville area the last three years. “The first
station was Channel 7 in Roanoke in 1950 or so, and the second was
WFBC-TV in Greenville.”
most people involved in TV wrestling, is at something of a loss to
explain its popularity. “I don’t know for sure, but it’s tremendous.
Of course, we feel we offer the top wrestling talent, and the best
will always hold the audience.”
well without television, but TV has expanded the number of people we
reach,” he added. “Folks in smaller towns see it now.”
The only thing
that may be holding pro wrestling back now is the item referred to
at the beginning of this piece: its image. Sportswriters and some
sports fans deride pro wrestling, question its status as legitimate
sport. That’s actually putting it mildly; wrestling is often called
a fake, a circus, a joke and the like.
I’m not getting
into the merits of such arguments. I like my skin in one piece,
thank you. As one local television sportscaster put it, “I used to
call wrestling a phony, but I learned you don’t do that in a crowded
bar.” But the arguments against wrestling still exist.
arguments don’t seem likely to change, though, the image may be
doing so. “The wrestling programs on TV draw all spectrums,” Channel
2’s Shumaker noted. “We sell it locally, but our national salesmen
say the general feeling among the big sponsors is that wrestling
appeals to the ‘blue collar and beer’ crowd.”
necessarily so. It seems to be drawing more young people, but it
gets men, women and children, all ages. They seem to be expanding
For sure. Said
Marcus, “Our TV survey man in Charlotte estimated that on any
Saturday, some 1.1 million people are watching wrestling on stations
in the Carolinas and Virginia.” “Blue collars and beer” or not,
that’s a heap of potential customers for the TV sponsors.
So whether you
love wrestling, hate wrestling, or just don’t care, you’ll keep on
seeing it on the tube for a long time. “We tend to take it for
granted that it’s going to capture its time slot,” Shumaker said. “I
guess you’d have to call it a success story.”
is not inclined to give up success stories.
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