With a legendary pro-wrestling career spanning more than 30 years, Hulk Hogan is an icon and a household name. But after catching up with him in our NYC headquarters, it was clear that he’s also a businessman, who sees in TNA Impact Wrestling the opportunity for a billion-dollar business. With the promise of the combined revenues from TV, pay-per-view, live venue ticket sales as well as ancillary licensing and merchandising revenues, Hogan has invested himself in the pro-wrestling league, which airs live every Thursday (8/7c) on Spike TV.
During our conversation, Hogan’s “Off The Record” T-shirt (above) became increasingly ironic. He held back nothing as he opened up about the future of TNA, the pro-wrestling league’s winning formula and his fans. Here’s what he had to say…
“TNA…is ready to launch.”
The future of TNA – it’s kind of like… ready to launch. They did a great job of establishing a company for the last 9 years that everybody said wouldn’t be around longer than 6 months. Dixie Carter and all the TNA originals have worked long and hard to get the company to a certain place. They tagged me in a couple years ago and the first year and a half, I couldn’t really figure out how to get in the ring because there are a lot of creative people that didn’t have an arc or storyline. They were just kneejerk writing from week-to-week. Once we figured out how to get me in the ring, things have been consistent. It’s not wrestling how it used to be – it’s wrestling how it should be.
When I say it’s ready to launch, the talent is performing at optimal levels. Creatively we aren’t having problems. It feels exactly like the old WCW when I was filming Disney for Ted Turner, for Dixie Carter at Universal and TNA. It’s kind of like the destiny is in Dixie and her parents’ hands because at this point. Ted Turner threw millions of millions of millions of dollars to put the show on the road, to get out of the studio environment, to get live arenas to make it tangible so the audience felt like it was a real wrestling company, not a studio production. And you know, in talking with Dixie and her parents who are very gracious and very kind – I sat and had dinner with them one time – I explained to them that this is like the golden goose. There is an opportunity to turn this into a billion-dollar business…with the TV revenue, the pay-per-view revenue, the live venue revenue and the fourth leg on the table which is the licensing and merchandising. You really need to turn this into a real wrestling company and get out of the studio and move forward. There will be a small transition period where it feels awkward, but with the revenue generated in ticket sales at the live arenas and really stepping up your merchandising ancillary stuff, the energy full-circles back and you find yourself on even ground pretty quickly. It works itself out. It’s ready to launch!
He’s personally invested in the franchise. And he believes in it. By keeping what works, but making it a priority to keep the viewers on the edge of their seats in a cluttered media landscape, Hulk thinks they’ve nailed a foolproof formula for success.
History repeats itself. WWE is the NFL. They’re on cruise control, they’re PG, they appeal to pre-teens and teens. Their target audience isn’t that hardcore wrestling audience and they’ve been very smart. They give three hours of programming a week on just one night – and they have programming every single day in some form or another. And I’m not saying the programming is contrived at all, but it’s hard to be new and surprising and it sometimes gets very repetitive when you see them over and over again – you see them Monday and they’re reinforced throughout the week. It makes you look for other choices. The timing is perfect right now for us. It is something that’s very very possible – it’s not rocket science, it’s not reinventing the wheel. We know it works and Vince MacMahon has proven it time and time again. He’s very consistent. The great part about it is if there are two players in the marketplace, everybody wins. The viewership will double itself. People will flip back-and-forth. It’ll make Vince’s product better because he’ll be more competitive because we’re alive and well, so it all works.
In a fast-paced world where the guys move more quickly, Hulk Hogan is reinstating the art form in pro-wrestling.
If I bring anything to [the league], I bring the art form and the common sense in trying to get everyone grounded.. So what does it mean? You take a guy and you body slam him on the concrete, and the guy gets up quicker than you even turn around. I bring rationale – try to reinstate the art form in these guys that are very proficient and able at the physicalities. I’m trying to establish the art form of telling a story and making the audience want to return to see what you’re doing because there are so many other choices entertainment-wise – within the Viacom family, on cable, satellite. You’ve really got to work hard to leave people on the edge of their seats and continue the saga.
We’ve got a very powerful creative team that writes and they do a great job – I like walking in and expressing my opinion. At the end of the day it’s Dixie Carter’s decision, but I’m very aggressive about being opinionated. But I pick my wars, I pick my fights, and we’re all on the same team at the end of the day.
“My fans are a life support system.”
They’ve always been there through the good times. Surprisingly, but not surprisingly anymore, they’ve been there through all of the bad times. On a personal level, there was a short period of time in my life where everybody close to me disappeared. And the fans were still there. So it’s kind of unbelievable – that whether I’m a good guy or a bad guy – whether I rob the bank or catch the crook – whatever happens in my life – the fans are loyal to a fault. Even to a point where a wrestling promotion can precondition them to try to boo me – and I can step in the ring with the ultimate good guy like the Rock and they’ll boo him out of the building simply because the fans are that loyal. They’re smart. You cannot tell them who to love. They’re really the foundation of my career, my success, even into my personal life. They make me believe in me when sometimes I could have said “you know what, you’re not worth believing in.” They’ve kept me alive. It’s been a pretty strong relationship – they’re still there as we speak and it’s been this long.
Digital media has helped keep Hulk in the conversation even after 30 years – and creatively, it’s kept him on his toes.
Before the Internet, I could have started a feud with you right now. And we could have wrestled in Tampa, FL. And I could have pulled the carpet out from under you in Tampa, Florida, and we could have gone to San Francisco and I could have pulled the carpet out from under you, and nobody would have known. But if this happened today, instantly, all over the world, they know. It makes you stay on your toes more, makes you stay more creative. Also, the Internet has had a way to keep me prevalent and made people very aware. Kids that are just now 5- and 6-years-old are telling me how much they love me because of my match with Mr. T and The Rock and that was like 35 years ago. So the Internet has been a very valuable tool to keep my career alive.