Jim Crockett Promotions
(sold to Turner Broadcasting System)
|Headquarters||Charlotte, North Carolina, United States|
Jim Crockett Jr.
Jim Crockett Promotions Inc. was a family-owned professional wrestling promotion headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, United States. Founded in 1931, the promotion emerged as a cornerstone of the National Wrestling Alliance. By the 1980s, Jim Crockett Promotions was, along with the World Wrestling Federation, one of the two largest promotions in the United States. The Crockett family sold a majority interest in the promotion to Turner Broadcasting System in 1988, resulting in the creation of World Championship Wrestling.
Early history (1931–1952)
Jim Crockett (1909–1973) was a promoter of live events including professional wrestling, music concerts, plays, minor league baseball, and ice hockey. In 1931, he founded his own professional wrestling promotion, Jim Crockett Promotions. Crockett built JCP as a regional promotion centred on the Carolinas and Virginia.
Although the business was always called "Jim Crockett Promotions," it used a variety of pseudonyms as brand names for specific TV shows, newspaper and radio ads, and even on event tickets, themselves. Among those brand names were the generic standbys, "Championship Wrestling" and "All Star Wrestling"; as well as "East Coast Wrestling"; "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling"; "Mid-Atlantic Championship Sports"; "Wide World Wrestling"; and, "World Wide Wrestling".
1950s to 1960s
Crockett joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1952, and his "territory" covered Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The name "Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling" became JCP's primary brand name in print, radio, and other advertising (the name was also used for its main television programs). The business was incorporated in the 1950s.
Jim Crockett died in 1973. He left JCP to his family, with his eldest son, Jim Crockett, Jr., taking over as chief executive.
Led by the younger Crockett and under the guidance of a new creative force—former wrestler-turned-match-booker George Scott—the promotion moved away from generally featuring just tag teams, to primarily focusing on singles wrestling (although tag-team matches continued to play a big part in the company).
By the early-1970s, JCP had gradually phased-out its multiple weekly television tapings in such cities as Charlotte, North Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, and High Point, North Carolina, consolidating its production schedule into just one shoot (a Wednesday night videotaping at WRAL-TV in Raleigh), and then syndicating the broadcast to several local TV stations throughout the Carolinas and Virginia. In 1981, JCP moved to the WPCQ-TV studios in Charlotte (a station once owned by Ted Turner).
The local shows hosted by announcers like Big Bill Ward (from WBTV in Charlotte) and Charlie Harville (at WGHP in High Point) gave way to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (known briefly in 1978 as Mid-Atlantic Championship Sports). Mid-Atlantic was hosted by Bob Caudle, (a longtime WRAL weatherman). Caudle was joined by a rotation of co-hosts (everyone from Les Thatcher to Dr. Tom Miller), before David Crockett (another son of Jim Crockett Sr.) became Caudle's permanent co-host/color commentary man (after ending a very brief career as a wrestler, himself). For a brief period, a secondary show, East Coast Wrestling, was taped at WRAL; it was basically a re-packaged version of Mid-Atlantic, and was announced by Big Bill Ward.
In 1975, JCP premiered a new, syndicated "B-show", Wide World Wrestling (renamed World Wide Wrestling in 1978). The original host of this show was former Georgia Championship Wrestling announcer Ed Capral. Subsequent Wide World/World Wide announcers included Les Thatcher, George and Sandy Scott, and Dr. Tom Miller. It was also hosted by the team of Rich Landrum and Johnny Weaver. In 1978, JCP later added a short-lived show, The Best of NWA Wrestling, which was taped at the WCCB studios in Charlotte (across the street from the now-Bojangles' Coliseum, a regular venue for Mid-Atlantic live events) and featured then-active wrestler Johnny Weaver sitting down with top stars in a "coach's show" format (in which host and guest did running commentary over 16 millimeter film footage of matches from local arenas). Rich Landrum and David Crockett appeared on "Best Of", doing promo interviews for local arena shows.
Regional expansion (1978–1983)
JCP gradually began to expand, running shows in eastern Tennessee, parts of West Virginia, and even Savannah, Georgia. In the late-1970s and early-1980s, JCP ran regular shows in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. Crockett and Scott also bought minority shares of Frank Tunney's Toronto-based promotion, Maple Leaf Wrestling. Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling also aired on a Buffalo, New York station, enabling the Tunney/Crockett/Scott enterprise to bring a full slate of shows to Ontario and upstate New York.
In the 1980s, Crockett, Jr. began consolidating the Southern franchises of the National Wrestling Alliance. Discarding the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling brand, Crockett, Jr. began promoting his events simply as the National Wrestling Alliance, although his promotion remained distinct from the larger NWA entity.
In August 1980, Crockett, Jr. was elected president of the NWA. In 1981 (the same year Crockett moved his TV show tapings from Raleigh to Charlotte), former (and future) Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) booker Ole Anderson took over as Mid-Atlantic's booker. In 1981, Anderson booked both JCP and GCW simultaneously.
In 1982, Crockett partnered with wrestlers Ric Flair and Blackjack Mulligan to start a secondary company out of Knoxville, Tennessee: Southern Championship Wrestling. The promotion featured such stars as Mulligan; his son Barry Windham (then billed as Blackjack Mulligan Jr.); Kevin Sullivan; Wayne Ferris; The Mongolian Stomper; Terry Taylor; Tim Horner, and others. The enterprise lasted less than one year, however.
National expansion (1983–1985)
By the 1980s, the U.S. pro wrestling industry was undergoing seismic and rapid change. The old, NWA-sanctioned system of separate, regional "territory"-promotions was collapsing under increasing competitive pressure from Vincent K. McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF) (later renamed WWE) -- itself a family-owned, territory promotion (covering the northeastern U.S.) -- which aggressively expanded into a nationwide promotion. Crockett had similar expansion goals, envisioning an NWA united through JCP buying-out or merging with all of its member regional territories.
Ted Turner had realized the value of professional wrestling for cable television in the early 1970s. This was a smart move for Turner, as pro wrestling provided his then-fledgling channel a source of cheap live entertainment, well-suited to TBS' target audience, at the time. Turner could run per inquiry ads (for products like Slim Whitman albums, Ginsu knives, etc.), and take part of the sales profits just by providing the big viewing audience delivered by pro wrestling's loyal fanbase (which generally did not attract big ad revenue at that time, due to negative industry perceptions of the lower-income target demographic). In 1982, Crockett ended his second year as NWA President. Turner's ("SuperStation") TBS had asked Georgia Championship Wrestling, Inc. to change its public brand name to World Championship Wrestling, helping fuel rumors that the Jim Barnett-controlled company would go national, itself. Georgia Championship Wrestling acquiesced to the World Championship Wrestling name change in 1982.
By 1983, JCP went from recording its weekly shows in a television studio, to shooting on-location, in between matches at live arena events. After purchasing a mobile television production unit for $1 million, Crockett unveiled what became the NWA's dominant, end-of-year, annual supercard: Starrcade.
In 1984, the WWF purchased a majority/controlling interest in Georgia Championship Wrestling from a number of its co-owners (including the Brisco brothers (Jack and Jerry) and Jim Barnett), thus gaining control of GCW's flagship, Saturday night timeslot on the nationally-seen TBS channel. This tactic—co-opting the timeslots of rival territories in their own "backyard"/local TV markets, -- was a part of the WWF's national expansion strategy. To Vince McMahon's surprise, this tactic backfired severely with TBS. Viewer backlash was intense, as the Southern viewership was incensed to see the beloved stars of their local show suddenly replaced—without advance notice—by an "invading force" (a la, the U.S. Civil War) of wrestlers from "up North". TBS received so many complaints about the switch, that to appease local viewers, TBS granted an upstart promotion (backed by holdout GCW shareholder and NWA member Fred Ward, and former GCW wrestler/booker Ole Anderson) an early-Saturday morning time slot so that the local stars could still be seen there. This upstart company (and its television show) was called Championship Wrestling from Georgia. This program, along with Bill Watts's Mid-South Wrestling, easily surpassed the ratings for the WWF broadcast (which just featured clips and wrestler promos, not new matches). The steep decline in ratings for the Saturday evening timeslot, and viewership clamoring for GCW's return, began to make the WWF's move a money-losing one. Eventually, McMahon cut his losses and sold the timeslot to Crockett for $1 million. This chain of events and McMahon's refusal to sell to the network/Turner, instead, were critical in Turner's later decision to purchase Jim Crockett Promotions, and form the WCW promotion in its wake.
An extra sense of urgency was added to Crockett's national expansion ambitions when, after Frank Tunney's death, his Toronto promotion joined forces with the WWF. If Crockett wanted to run shows outside the Mid-Atlantic states now, he would have to either find other willing partner-promoters, or buy them out. This period also marked Crockett's first attempt to create a national federation; Crockett and other wrestling companies needed this opportunity after the WWF buyout of the Toronto territory occurred, as well as after the WWF program The War to Settle the Score aired on MTV to high ratings. Together with Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association (AWA), Championship Wrestling from Georgia, and Memphis-based Jarrett Promotions, Jim Crockett Promotions would create Pro Wrestling USA. However, the organization fell apart in January 1986.
National Wrestling Alliance unification (1985–1988)
Crockett bought out Ole Anderson's Championship Wrestling from Georgia, on April 6, 1985, and was re-elected NWA President. This was to help counter the WWF, after it became America's dominant wrestling business in the wake of the first WrestleMania. Crockett then purchased both Saturday evening TBS timeslots from Vince McMahon (who needed extra money to launch Saturday Night's Main Event on NBC), thus making Crockett the outright owner of World Championship Wrestling. Crockett filled the timeslot with two hours of original programming filmed in Ted Turner's Atlanta studios. The programming aired under the World Championship Wrestling banner, which had been adopted by GCW before its demise. As a result of the success World Championship Wrestling now had from acquiring the Saturday night time slots, Crockett (along with JCP booker Dusty Rhodes) was able to establish the annual summer supercard, "The Great American Bash".
By 1987, Crockett was elected to a third term as NWA President, and gained control (either through purchase or working agreements) of the St. Louis Wrestling Club, Heart of America Sports Attractions (Bob Geigel's Central States brand), Championship Wrestling from Florida, and Bill Watts's Mid-South Sports (which operated under the Mid-South Wrestling, and later, upon expansion, Universal Wrestling Federation brand names). Despite Crockett having six consolidated territories under his banner and leading the NWA, JCP and the NWA were two separate entities, and Crockett—like all NWA promoters before him and since—was simply licensing the NWA brand name (whose true value was as a credibility-infusing, fan-trusted brand name for wrestling championships). This, despite the fact that during his reign, Crockett had an iron-clad grip on the NWA World Heavyweight Championship: by this point, JCP's top contracted performer, Ric Flair, was locked-in as the champion; even though he was obligated to perform title-defense matches in each territory against its own chosen star/challenger, any title changes occurred between only other performers also under contract to Crockett (e.g. Dusty Rhodes, Ronnie Garvin, etc.).
Crockett's rapid expansion had significant financial consequences for JCP. JCP expanded operations, and by December, had bought-out upstart rival the UWF; Crockett even moved many of his administrative employees from the Charlotte base, to Watts's former headquarters in Dallas. Jim Crockett Jr. and Dusty Rhodes personally manned the Dallas office, leaving David Crockett in charge of the Charlotte branch. Bob Geigel, a former NWA President who bought his promotion back from Crockett in February 1987 through a partnership, had also withdrawn from the NWA. JCP began to run shows in new markets from coast-to-coast (often in less-than-sold-out arenas), greatly increasing travel costs and other overhead. JCP's first pay-per-view endeavor, 1987's Starrcade, was scheduled in its traditional Thanksgiving slot, but ran into unexpected competition from the WWF's inaugural Survivor Series PPV, which was scheduled to air the same night. Not wanting to possibly lose to the WWF in a direct PPV competition, Crockett decided to move Starrcade's starting time to Thanksgiving afternoon, not evening. However, the WWF threatened cable companies that if they chose to air Starrcade, at all, the WWF would not offer them any future PPVs—including that year's Survivor Series, and, next year's WrestleMania IV. At the time, the WWF was the uncontested #1 PPV content provider in America; so, only a handful of companies committed to JCP, devastating Starrcade '87's profitability.
A similar incident occurred in January 1988, when the WWF scheduled the first Royal Rumble special on the USA Network (i.e., basic cable) to air directly against JCP's Bunkhouse Stampede (on pay-per-view); once again, the WWF had succeeded in cutting into the buyrate of a JCP pay-per-view show. As a result, Crockett aired the first ever Clash of the Champions—featuring a PPV-quality card—on "free TV"/basic cable, March 27, 1988 on TBS, in an attempt to draw viewers away from WrestleMania IV, which took place that same night. This was one of the few tactics to actually work for JCP in its war with the WWF, as WrestleMania IV's buyrate was much lower than the prior year's Survivor Series' had been. However, Clash of the Champions was now the only thing Crockett could use to keep the NWA alive, though it was not even as highly watched as the WWF's Saturday Night's Main Event. On the verge of bankruptcy, Crockett sold Jim Crockett Promotions to Ted Turner in November 1988, and the promotion was renamed the Universal Wrestling Corporation. Soon after, it was renamed again, to World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
Sale to Turner Broadcasting System (1988)
The eventual downfall of JCP, leading to its eventual sale to Ted Turner (and thereby the birth of WCW) can be attributed to several key factors. Magnum T.A. — one of JCP's top babyfaces, and the performer scheduled to become NWA World Heavyweight Champion at Starrcade 1986 — was severely injured in a car accident over 2 months before Starrcade (October 14), and could never wrestle again. So, JCP turned major "heel" Nikita Koloff, into a face on October 25, to take Magnum T.A.'s place while still being able to have a profitable build-up to Starrcade's main event. JCP alienated loyal fans in the Carolinas by moving Starrcade '87 and the Bunkhouse Stampede to arenas in Chicago and New York City, respectively. JCP had no real history and market presence in either of these non-southern metro areas, and its ability to drawing sellout crowds for arena shows in the Southeast eventually suffered, as some local fans vindictively withheld their support.
Booking decisions also factored into the promotion's downfall. JCP flushed away a potentially profitable angle following the acquisition of Bill Watts's UWF, by "burying" the UWF's talent by — instead of portraying them as competitive with — JCP wrestlers and treating the UWF's championships as second-rate to the NWA titles promoted by JCP. Meanwhile, mid-carder Ron Garvin beat perennial champion Ric Flair for the NWA world title. Although Garvin was booked to be a babyface, fans did not find Garvin credible enough challenger to be a serious threat to Flair.
JCP apparently neglected to monitor its own lavish spending as well. Crockett flew himself and his top performers around in an expensive private jet. In addition to the expense of Crockett's personal jet, there were other extravagant purchases such as the limousines provided for various wrestlers and regular business parties held by officials throughout JCP's regional offices. In addition, the large amount of capital needed to take a wrestling federation on a national tour and Crockett's aggressive territorial acquisitions had seriously drained JCP's coffers. (In purchasing the UWF, JCP also took responsibility for the UWF's large debt from TV contracts, etc.)
Compounding the issues that came with expansion was a lack of investing in the kind of marketing needed to make it successful. As mentioned, major cards such as Starrcade and the Bunkhouse Stampede did not draw as well when moved out of JCP's traditional territory. According to Dusty Rhodes, JCP failed to gain the national name recognition that McMahon achieved with the World Wrestling Federation. Rhodes also pointed out that with the WWF's success, McMahon was financially able to lure the top talent away from rival companies. Because of this, JCP offered many of its stars lucrative contracts - paying them beyond their actual value - to prevent them from leaving the company.
Another factor was the fans' exasperation with the "Dusty Finish" (a type of "screwjob" finish named after Rhodes, who did not actually invent the concept, but used it frequently for matches at regular house shows and PPV/major cards, alike). Due the heavy overuse of this uncreative and predictable end-of-match sequence, JCP fans started to expect the swerve at any moment, whenever a popular wrestler (usually a face) appeared to win a title match and was about to be awarded the championship belt (or any similar situation), only to have the win overturned due to a technicality. As a result, attendance at live shows began to fall — even at venues where JCP had traditionally drawn well or extremely well.
By 1988, JCP was on the verge of bankruptcy. In November 1988, Turner Broadcasting System purchased a majority interest in JCP for $9 million. The Crockett family retained a minority interest, with Crockett, Jr. becoming a consultant. Turner Broadcasting System ultimately rebranded the promotion World Championship Wrestling.
- NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship
- NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Championship
- NWA Mid-Atlantic Television Championship
- NWA United States Heavyweight Championship (Mid-Atlantic version)
- NWA United States Tag Team Championship (Mid-Atlantic Version)
- NWA Western States Heritage Championship
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (Mid-Atlantic version)
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