Wrestling the Details, By Bobbi Dempsey - The New York Times - 11th October 2008
I am an only child and grew up in a small town in North Carolina. I was the only girl on the town basketball team who could do a jump shot. When I was 13, I met a handsome guy in church. His name was Vince McMahon and he was 16. We were married soon after I graduated from high school, and I joined him at East Carolina University.
I didn’t know anything about professional wrestling. Vince’s father founded the Capitol Wrestling Corporation in Washington. After college, Vince joined Capitol Wrestling as a television announcer and live-event promoter.
Meanwhile, I had our first child, Shane, and worked as a paralegal at the law firm of Covington & Burling in Washington. I learned about intellectual property rights, contract negotiations and general business. We then lived in West Hartford, Conn., where Vince continued his duties for Capitol Wrestling. My job was scheduling, coordination, contracts and record-keeping. I handled operations and took care of Shane and his sister, Stephanie, while Vince traveled all over the Northeast expanding the business. Thus began a business partnership that has grown over the years.
Upon hearing about a small arena that was for sale on Cape Cod, we moved to Massachusetts. I learned the live-event business from the arena owner/manager perspective. I negotiated contracts with Ticketmaster, while selling tickets in our box office and interacting directly with consumers.
When we started, nobody in the wrestling live-event business sold souvenir merchandise. We embarked on a plan to sell merchandise, beginning with T-shirts. Four years later, we moved to Greenwich, Conn., and began focusing on building the company we have today, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.
In the beginning, revenue from live events and live-event merchandise was the basis of our business. Then, with WrestleMania in 1985, we ventured into the pay-per-view industry followed by licensing of consumer products. Today, we are a global business.
Our business is about content, and is driven by our creative development of our intellectual property, which happens to be the characters and the talented people who bring them to life. There is always going to be the next platform and the next technology to distribute that content. But if the content isn’t compelling, the new technology won’t hold or grow our consumer base.
Our fans are very passionate, especially when it comes to their favorite wrestlers. After hearing just the first note of the Undertaker’s entrance music, for example, the audience in an arena will immediately go wild.
The fans also give you clear feedback by their reactions while the match is in progress. Boos aren’t necessarily bad, because that can mean the crowd is reacting strongly to a “heel” — what we call a bad guy — which tells us we’ve succeeded in creating a compelling character.
Technology keeps you on your toes. We have spectators e-mailing photos during the show, and they’re all over the Internet before the show is even over. It’s instant distribution on a global basis. One of our performers can be out just shopping for sneakers, and all of a sudden it’s a viral video on YouTube.
In the early years, I was content to be in the business background. I once went to a meeting accompanied by our chief marketing officer, a man. The person with whom we were meeting knew only that one of us was the C.E.O. and the other was the marketing person. Of course, they assumed I was the marketing person. However, when our company went public, my role changed and I started to have more of a public persona. Executive confusion doesn’t happen anymore.
My title has evolved to match my responsibilities. I’m now the C.E.O. But the title I cherish the most is “Gamma Gamma,” bestowed upon me by our first grandchild.
As told to Bobbi Dempsey.
(Credit: The New York Times)
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