Next to Vince Russo there is probably nobody as universally despised by wrestling fans as Eric Bischoff. Recent comments in this very blog got me thinking about why someone so successful is so universally vilified?
I am not necessarily an Eric Bischoff fan but I am certainly not someone that dislikes him. I’d like to think that I can offer an objective opinion on the former head of WCW. So when Dustin Nichols’ recent review of Bischoff’s DVD came through, I was interested in reading it. Immediately Dustin starts off about loathing Bischoff which is his opinion and he is certainly entitled to it. Dustin certainly isn’t alone and the more I think about it, I just don’t understand it.
Outside of Vince McMahon, I can’t think of anyone as successful as Bischoff as a businessman/promoter in pro wrestling in the last 30 years. Let’s go back even further. Since Vince McMahon essentially killed the territories off in 1985, who was a more successful promoter or executive outside of Bischoff? That is over thirty-years of pro wrestling and many trends and economic cycles. Why this man is denied his due is mystifying to me?
I don’t want to sit here and write a press release for Bischoff but it is important to review his accomplishments, some of which are absolutely mind-blowing when you look back on them. I won’t bore you with exact dollar figures, but at a high-level here are some of his major accomplishments.
- He was savvy enough to navigate through all of the politics in WCW and go from announcer to President. The man should be speaking to MBA classes on that alone.
- He took a company that was dull and not profitable and turned it profitable for the first-time since it was purchased in a very short time. In under five-years he had the company in position to have the highest grossing year in 1998 of any pro wrestling company until 2000.
- He increased the buyrates for shows to massive levels, far superior to what they were prior to his management.
- Bischoff took talent that Vince McMahon dismissed for a variety of reasons and turned them into draws. I am not just talking about the Randy Savages, Roddy Pipers and Hulk Hogans. I am talking about guys like Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, and other cruiserweights that were quickly dismissed in the WWE.
- Going deeper, he completely changed the business on a lot of levels. While some of those WCW stars listed above were not big draws under WCW, Bischoff had a much better eye for talent than people give him credit for. Many of those stars would go on to become big draws years later, yet they never would have been given a shot if not for Bischoff’s exposure. He forced the WWE to produce better television and completely reinvent the way they promote pro wrestling. If you think for one second you would have seen the Attitude Era without Eric Bischoff, you’re mistaken.
- WCW Nitro was pulling in ratings in the 4.5-5.0 range. This wasn’t by accident. Bischoff had a formula, he stuck with it and it eventually paid off. They took a show from scratch and were eventually able to beat the incumbent competition for 86 straight weeks. Could you imagine anyone doing that today in regards to either ratings or competition?
- The n.W.o. was one of the most successfully booked angles in pro wrestling history in terms of dollars. Sure some will criticize Bischoff for “copying” a New Japan angle but guess what? He did it and he did it well.
- As a business, WCW grew its business units to record levels across the board. The company reportedly had revenues of $350 million in 1998. This wasn’t by accident as Bischoff has described numerous times in interviews and his book. He had a branding strategy and it paid off.
There is nobody else that I am aware of in the history of the business outside of Vince McMahon that can make those kinds of claims. So why does Bischoff continue to be characterized in the same light as Vince Russo, a man who cannot make any of those claims? Why is Bischoff universally despised and never discussed for the Hall of Fame?
I think it is in large part a credit to Eric as a pro wrestling character. He was so good at his job as a cocky, arrogant, blunt, smug heel that many fans believe that to be the true Eric Bischoff. People who have never met him will call him a jerk for no other reason. Bischoff appears to be a guy that has a lot of fun with it and plays with the trolls and critics in social media, only giving those critics more reason to hate him.
Is Bischoff a saint? Of course he’s not, but what successful businessman is? Hardcore fans will immediately criticize him for his legal battle against Ric Flair but is that really fair? I have heard both sides discuss this many times and while Bischoff is at fault for telling the locker room things like he was going to “bankrupt” Ric Flair, Flair was also not entirely innocent in this and if you take a look at Flair’s history of business, it’s easy to see he was no saint either. But with every story we’ve heard about Bischoff burying someone, we have heard dozens more, and much worse credited to Vince McMahon, who is treated with respect and reverence from those same Bischoff critics. I don’t think there is a successful corporate president that hasn’t had to endure these tumultuous relationships with former employees.
So before you start to leave me a comment telling me that Bischoff did this or was responsible for that, take another look at his accomplishments and think for a second about how incredibly difficult that was to achieve. Plenty of others have booked invasion angles, gotten on television, had big corporate pockets, and had Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage under contract and couldn’t achieve a single profit. Yet this man did and changed the face of the industry and for that, he deserves much better.