‘Real’ Wrestling is Draw of Proposed First-Run

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Two former college wrestlers have teamed up with syndication veteran Richard Grove to try to break into the increasingly difficult first-run weekly syndication market with an alternative to World Wrestling Entertainment, the hourlong “Real Pro Wrestling.”
The series would have real wrestling and wrestlers competing in a unique combination of traditional college, Greco-Roman and other styles. The two ex-college wrestlers, Toby Willis, CEO/founder, and Matt Case, co-founder, formed the production company Real Pro Wrestling two years ago in Nashville to launch the show.
The proposed 13-week, 15-hour series already has a commitment from one major advertiser, American Airlines. It is also considering deals with soft drink, beer, long-distance and hotel companies.
The American Airlines deal will go ahead only if the show hits a specific level of distribution, said Mr. Grove, who wouldn’t disclose further details. He added that Roger Frizell, senior executive of advertising, public relations and corporate communications for American Airlines, who made the deal, is a four-time college wrestling All-American.
“There are a million people in the U.S. who are wrestlers and many more around the world,” Mr. Willis said. “In Russia alone there are 6 million wrestlers. For many countries it is their national sport.”
In comparing its show with the WWE, Mr. Willis said: “They are the Harlem Globetrotters; we are the NBA.” “Real Pro Wrestling’s” major focus is distinguishing itself from these staged wrestling TV shows, he said.
“Real Pro Wrestling” has no station deals as yet, but hopes to have some after next week’s National Association of Television Program Executives convention in Las Vegas, said Mr. Grove, a longtime syndication distribution executive and exclusive consultant to Real Pro Wrestling. Typically, stations at NATPE focus first on securing their Monday-to-Friday syndicated programs before looking to buy weekend programming.
Few first-run weekly or weekend hours have been launched in recent years on stations as many time periods for new shows have dried up. During the past couple of years syndicated weekend action disappeared on stations because foreign investment in those shows dried up. Instead, movies, local magazine shows and versions of Monday-to-Friday shows run in the weekend time periods. Those are the programs “Real Pro Wrestling” will try to replace.
“We are going for time periods where maybe stations have movies,” Mr. Grove said. “I have different targets for different affiliates. NBC stations, for instance, don’t have sports on the weekend. They could run it before or after the Olympics.”
Real Pro Wrestling hopes to launch the show by the summer. Stations will be offered the hour-long show on a straight barter, no-cash basis with 71/2 minutes of advertising time for the station and 61/2 minutes for Real Pro Wrestling to sell.
If the show is unable to launch in syndication, Real Pro Wrestling will try distribution via cable networks. Mr. Willis said the show already has three formal cable network offers.