Turner dumps WCW
Classic Sports Network founders take struggling franchise
By Deborah D. McAdams -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/14/2001 7:00:00 PM
The men who launched a network made of old sports footage intend to turn around World Championship Wrestling.
Fusient Media partners Brian Bedol and Stephen Greenberg took the ailing franchise off the Turner Broadcasting balance sheet where it was bleeding red ink to the tune of $80 million a year. Turner Broadcasting will retain a minority share of the company and continue airing its shows, Nitro and Thunder. Fusient will control the advertising inventory with Turner's sales managing it for the time being. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.
Bedol, along with Greenberg, created Classic Sports Network in 1995 using archived sports reels and two years later sold it to Disney where it was renamed ESPN Classic. After the sale, they formed Fusient, a media investment company that, until last week, primarily owned pieces of a few disjointed Web properties, one peddling copyrighted images, another offering photography services. The WCW is now Fusient's raison d'être, and despite massive losses that even Turner couldn't fix, Bedol thinks he's got a winner.
"I think it's better suited to be run entrepreneurially than by a big company," said Bedol. Turner, because of other commitments, hasn't spent a lot of money on promotion outside of the Turner networks over the last couple of years. I think it needs fantastic marketing and promotion. This business is about building the perception"
Fusient, though small, is packed with executives steeped in showbiz and sports, the key ingredients of the WCW. Before Classic, Bedol oversaw Court TV, Six Flags Theme Parks and Quincy Jones Entertainment as a top dog at Time Warner Enterprises. Greenberg, son of baseball great Hank Greenberg, was deputy commissioner and COO of Major League Baseball. Alan Gold, Fusient's head of business development, managed international media for the National Football League. Tom Lassally, head of Fusient ventures, developed blockbuster movies as an executive vice president at Warner Bros. Studios.
Bedol will manage the business affairs of the WCW, but Eric Bischoff will run the company as president. Bischoff headed the franchise for the better part of 10 years. He left the first time in October 1999, when Turner tightened the purse strings on him. Bischoff was reinstated the following April, then left again in June. The wrestling press said he was feuding with head writer Vince Russo, but Bischoff said he left to solicit a buyer for the business.
"It was apparent to me the opportunity was going to be there," Bischoff said. "It really wasn't about me not getting along with anybody."
Russo, a former WWF scribe, earned the scorn of WCW followers by giving himself the championship belt. Bischoff said he didn't know how Russo's future with the organization would "flesh out."
Bischoff's main challenge is reviving the WCW's ratings; once in the high 5s and 6s, now regularly below 3. The last time Bischoff returned to the WCW, he said if it were a horse, he'd shoot it and get a fresh horse. This time, he's a tad more circumspect. The emphasis will be on developing stars in the franchise, a particularly successful formula for the reigning World Wrestling Federation. WWF started killing the WCW in ratings a couple of years ago with raunchier content. Bischoff said the WWF toned it down after moving from USA Network to Viacom.
"I think the playing field is more level now," he said.
A spokesman for the WWF responded: "Bring it on."
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