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The Reality Of The Ring Of Honor Sale To Sinclair Broadcasting

Ring of Honor is soldRing of Honor wrestling is changing ownership for the third time in its existence. The Sinclair Broadcast Group has purchased Ring of Honor. Initially ROH fans screamed with excitement but a deeper look at the sale should give those fans more cause for concern than celebration.

News started buzzing about a potential sale last week when then ROH owner Cary Silkin told the media that a big announcement would be made Saturday that would change the company forever. Sources close to the situation told me it was a new television deal but nobody I talked to had any clue that ROH would have to literally sell their soul to get it.

The news was confirmed with a big press release sent out by the company on Saturday afternoon. The headline read, “Ring of Honor Announces Sale To Broadcast Group.” Here are some excerpts from the presser.

Ring of Honor Wrestling owner, Cary Silkin, announced today the sale of the promotion to 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.

The month of September will see the debut of the new Ring of Honor television program which will be syndicated across the Sinclair network of stations, and with it, ROH will become the only wrestling promotion in the United States with a major, multi-market presence on broadcast TV. But if you don’t live in a market with a Sinclair station, fear not, says Mr. Silkin. “Through our revamped website we will be able to make the TV show available to anyone in the world with internet access.”

Mr. Silkin assures the ROH fans worldwide that they will be seeing the same exciting, hard-hitting style of pro wrestling that they have become accustomed to. “We have established the name Ring of Honor as synonymous with the best in-ring action in the sport. The only thing that will change is that it will now be easier for fans around the world to follow. Our visibility will increase greatly–our production will be upgraded–but the work ethic of our incredible talent roster and our athletic style of wrestling will remain the same. This is what our fans have told us they want, and we will continue to give it to them.”The current front office staff, including Cary Silkin, Syd Eick, and Ross Abrams, will remain with ROH going forward. Hunter Johnston, a favorite of ROH fans for years as the masked grappler Delirious, will still handle matchmaking, Jim Cornette will remain as executive producer, and other familiar faces like ring announcer Bobby Cruise and senior referee Todd Sinclair will be in place.”Additionally, longtime wrestling broadcaster Kevin Kelly, already the voice of ROH internet pay-per-views, will assume the TV play-by-play chair this fall. Veteran NWA and WCW promoter Gary Juster will come aboard to be in charge of live event operations, which are planned to continue in current ROH markets as well as expanding into new locations concurrent with the increased TV exposure.Mr. Cornette, who along with Mr. Johnston, will be in charge of talent and matchmaking, sees this as a new beginning for pro wrestling. “This is not old-school wrestling, and it’s not sports entertainment,” said Mr. Cornette. “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. In my 30 years in the sport, it’s the most exciting live-event wrestling experience I’ve seen, and I’m thrilled to help bring it to broadcast TV.”

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To summarize, Ring of Honor was purchased by a television syndication group. Sinclair will keep members of the Ring of Honor office staff, including the former owner on staff. Promoter Gary Juster is coming on board to help with live events. Jim Cornette and Hunter Johnson will be in charge of the booking. Kevin Kelly will be the lead announcer for ROH television. And most importantly, “ROH will become the only wrestling promotion in the United States with a major, multi-market presence on broadcast TV.” Well in all fairness, the WWE is no longer considering themselves a “wrestling company” but really?

Ring of Honor has an extremely loyal legion of fans that will support the company through and through. Unfortunately that fan base is a very small fraction of the pro wrestling universe. Those ROH fans and ROH supporters rejoiced in excitement proclaiming Saturday May 21 a game changing day. Some circles immediately put Ring of Honor ahead of TNA Wrestling and ready to compete with the WWE. I hate to be the bearer of bad news for those rabid fans but in my opinion, the announcement certainly was a game changer. Your Ring of Honor wrestling will never be the same again.

Let’s take a look at the big picture here. What is Sinclair buying? When Vince McMahon and Jim Crockett purchased their competition in the 1980s, a big factor in the sale were the television outlets coming with the sale. Sinclair is the one with the television. So what are they exactly buying? Are they buying a DVD business which is dying thanks to overexposure and the rise of illegal downloading? Remember, the core ROH fan is a teenager who is also the average illegal downloader who isn’t paying for DVDs in 2011. Is Sinclair doing this for the contracts? The same contracts HDNet watched mean nothing as big time ROH players Christopher Daniels, Desmond Wolfe, and Bryan Danielson walked away to the competition without any legal ramifications?

There have been various reports over the last couple of years questioning Ring of Honor’s profitability. Cary Silkin is a wealthy man but how long is someone like him willing to watch his nest egg disappear for a toy? The idea that Silkin sold is enough confirmation to me that the company was losing money. If Silken was making money, why sell? Silkin,  like Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment in its Strikeforce sale was ready to get out. Heck, ROH were practically panhandling daily with their little DVD sale of  “the week.” Again, why the interest in buying a company that is losing money?

The answer here is cheap syndication. Look no further than entertainers like Oprah Winfrey, Judge Judy, and Dr. Phil as three people that made millions if not billions on syndicating their television shows. For a company like Sinclair it makes a ton of sense. Producing an ROH show is incredibly cheap on the grand scale of television, so why not buy your own wrestling show, fill your time slot of programming generally given to shows like Cheaters or old television shows, and reap all of the benefits? Instead of buying the program and syndicating it, Sinclair now gets that licensing fee and is really only losing money on the production of the events.

Taking an even deeper look into this, Sinclair is in the business of television broadcasting. Executives will be looking at Ring of Honor with an eye for the bottom line and could care less about the actual wrestling. Look no further than WCW for your history lesson. If Sinclair feel that ROH can make more money going in a different direction, changes will be made to the product. The one thing you can’t underestimate about previous owners Rob Feinstein and Cary Silkin is that they were pro wrestling fans first, and businessmen second. Putting out the best product was always the objective and I find it hard to believe that those same priorities will remain in place for the new ownership.

Also, I’d start preparing resumes if I was a member of the ROH front office staff. Telling fans that you will keep the front office in place sounds great, but look no further than Zuffa buying Strikeforce as to how this is going to end. After making that promise, Zuffa has fired or demoted just about every member of the Strikeforce staff (“business as usual”) in less than two months. The story there is that Zuffa has a way of doing business and they are going to want their people in place to make that happen. In addition, Zuffa also learned quick all of the mistakes being made by the staff in place that lost Strikeforce money and wanted to correct those mistakes immediately. Why would the Sinclair Group keep the same front office staff in place that lost ROH money nor have any background in television syndication? Do the math.

Keeping Jim Cornette and Hunter Johnson in place of booking and putting Kevin Kelly at the lead announcer spot all sounds good, but the reality is much different. Cornette was a head booker of two pro wrestling companies that lost money and that forgettable WWE period in the early-mid 1990s. His booking resume is arguably less impressive than Vince Russo’s. Johnson has the unfortunate timing of being ROH booker at a time when the company lost its television deal and was sold. Again, why would Sinclair keep the same booking team in place that isn’t drawing money? Ask Scott Coker & Rich Chou how that worked out for them two months after Strikeforce was sold.

In all fairness I did hear from a close source that Cornette was very instrumental in putting the deal together so he and Juster may have the strongest and only job security, at least in the short term.

Listening to Kevin Kelly call a “young” product in 2011 would be like hiring Bryant Gumbell as lead announcer for your new and exciting football league, because nothing says “hip” more than seeing someone like Kevin Kelly on your television as the face and voice of Ring of Honor. That would be like the Urban Wrestling Federation hiring me to be their face. This screams good old boys network faster than WCW politics and I don’t see this combination producing anything that is going to shake up the wrestling landscape.

Don’t misunderstand me. I think the ROH wrestling is fantastic and the atmosphere of their live events is just tremendous. But great wrestling between two guys that only a small niche audience care about isn’t going to draw money. The matches don’t mean much if nobody sees them and without better booking and awareness, more people aren’t going to watch. What do you think matters most to the Sinclair Broadcast Group Board of Directors?

What if after a year or so in syndication ROH isn’t doing the kind of business that Sinclair or its board think it should be doing? Nothing good can happen at that point and there are really only two things that history show will happen at that point. One is that  someone on the board who knows nothing about wrestling is going to watch the show and tellhis partners that he doesn’t know anyone on the show and that the show needs more “star power.” That “star power” will be former WWE and WCW castoffs that nobody currently watching ROH has any interest in watching, thus turning current fans off from the product. The other scenario is that the board crunches the numbers and decide that reruns of the Rockford Files or the A-Team are more profitable than producing their pro wrestling company and pull the plug entirely. Either way the Ring of Honor you know today is over.

Ring of Honor was once that ground breaking, hip, game changer that Sinclair thinks it is buying but those days are well behind them. It has been years since ROH had that kind of buzz. Let’s call a spade a spade here, Ring of Honor hasn’t produced nearly as many great wrestling angles or gotten over as many new stars as ex-booker Gabe Sapolsky did in his tenure with the company. Ironically, Sapolsky is doing that right now with Dragon Gate USA, which has become the new darling of the independent pro wrestling scene. Ring of Honor was 2005 whereas Dragon Gate USA is 2011. Watch recent shows from each and you’ll see why.

Finally, it wasn’t too long ago that Ring of Honor lost its television deal with HDNet. Mark Cuban and his staff saw the ratings and the plan and apparently weren’t impressed enough to buy the company. HDNet is now running old movies in ROH’s old Monday night time slot, and this comes immediately after HDNet expanded its viewership with a Comcast deal. In other words Mark Cuban thinks running a replay of a Greg Kinnear movie is more profitable to his network than a Ring of Honor show. Does Mark Cuban know more about the potential of ROH than Sinclair? We’ll find out.

I am not trying to predict Ring of Honor’s rapture but this is far from a good thing for ROH fans. Being an independently owned company gave ROH the freedom to do the things that will now land them under a corporate microscope. As much as you are told things will stay the same, they are going to change, and change quickly. Take a look at Strikeforce’s sale and prepare for the future. Sinclair is going to want a more television friendly, profitable model than what ROH fans are watching today. It is just inevitable.

Editor’s Note: Since publishing the blog I have gotten more feedback than I ever could have imagined on a Sunday. One of the criticisms that has popped up a few times is the feeling that I am a “bitter” ex ROH employee. That couldn’t be further than the truth and look no further than this blog to see that. Search my blog for “ROH” and you will find dozens of positive blogs on Ring of Honor, one even proclaiming Kevin Steen vs. El Generico Feud of the Year. If I had an axe to grind about ROH I certainly wouldn’t publish anything positive on my blog. Additionally, I have said numerous times that the two shows I called for ROH were two of my favorite calls of my career. I look back on my very short time there fondly.

I would have written the same exact blog if Sinclair bought ECW, TNA, Chikara, DG USA, PWG, etc. Take the letters ROH out of the story and you could replace them with any independent promotion and its future once a major corporation buys it. I am sorry that some people feel this is some kind of a hit job. I have been blogging on the Internet now since 2007. I could guarantee you that if I had some kind of agenda or bitterness towards ROH that it wouldn’t have taken me four years to write my first negative blog.

Ring of Honor was a fun time for me in the short period I was there. I felt honored to be a part of the initial launch and grateful to be a part of that select class. Unfortunately political problems forced me to quit the company. Yes quit, not fired and that can be confirmed with the head booker and former owner at the time if necessary. If I had an axe to grind with anyone and I certainly don’t, it would be the people in charge of ROH when I was there (who are close friends today), not the current or last owner. I have nothing but respect for Cary Silkin who I knew for years before he bought ROH. My leaving had nothing whatsoever to do with Cary so the idea that I am on some kind of war path against an owner who wasn’t even around when I was there is just insane.

I also don’t know where anyone got the idea that I was blaming Jim Cornette for TNA and WCW’s troubles. That was not my intention. Let me say this without any dispute that I think Jim Cornette is one of the best managers ever. I loved watching his interviews growing up through the tapes of Memphis and Mid South Wrestling. But I just have issue with him as a booker. On top of that, whether Cornette is a good or bad booker has nothing to do with the main thesis of the blog.

The Camel Clutch Blog is my business today, not being an independent wrestling announcer with any kind of affiliation. If I came on here and used this blog as a platform to air old grievances, it would turn into some kind of tabloid style pro wrestling news website which it certainly isn’t. Additionally, Ring of Honor succeeding and becoming a national sensation would be great for this kind of website and my business. It is okay to disagree and feel free to comment and discuss. I’d love to talk about it. But to think that suddenly after four years of positive ROH blogs that I all of the sudden have some kind of old grudge to settle is a little unfair and that I do take personally. It’s just an opinion, that’s all.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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