by Bill M. Walkowitz
I recently acquired the job of New Hampshire promoter for the World Wrestling Alliance, a New England based independent group owned by Fred Sparta. This was gotten through my meeting with the owners, along with giving honest reviews of their shows, and giving them coverage in the sheets I write for. Plus, I've had this longing desire to bring live wrestling back to the city of Rochester, N.H. as it's been years since they had it. The group that came in before wasn't received well, and another organization that tried to come through allegedly didn't go through proper channels; they were shut down the night before their show. This article is to give you, the reader, an idea of what promoters go through in order to put a live show together.
Rochester is known in the business as a "permit" town. Because of the bad experiences the town has had in the past with wrestling, one has to leap the hurdles the Boxing and Wrestling Commission place in front of you. It is known as the toughest town in the state to promote a show, so in case they were to turn us down, I wanted a backup plan. So I went to the public library and went through several different phone books looking for cities that have armories, high schools, ice arenas, and anything that could accommodate a show.
Farmington has a high school gym that holds over 700 people, but they turned us down. Meanwhile, I was pleasantly surprised that Rochester did in fact give us the go ahead and sent rental agreement forms, which were signed and approved by the school superintendent. But we still needed a city permit to use Rochester Middle School's 500 seat gym. This was easier said than done, as getting shows like this usually needs some kind of sponsor. This isn't always easy, as some sponsors have been ripped off in the past by promoters who didn't give them their share, or possibly even used their name without permission. (Actually, I've even seen sponsors try to rip off promoters as well!) We needed the city permit which involves getting a rental agreement with the school, copies of applications to get a promoter's license, copies of insurance policies used during the show, etc. Having done all that, I still had to go to the City Council to see if it would be approved.
In the midst of all this, we did attain a sponsor, but it was later changed to the Jaycees. We decided to go with a benefit for a little girl who was crippled after being hit by a car. To add to her woes, the motor of her handicapped van blew. It was a worthwhile cause that we were proud to support. But there were, of course, other things to attend to. I wasn't sure if the middle school gym would be big enough, but the Spartas assured me it was. I felt a lot of pressure going into my first show, as I had been a skeptic of indy wrestling and wanted to prove that I could draw. As a sheet writer, irate indy promoters had told me, "If you think you know it all, co-promote a show of your own and prove it."
This was my opportunity.
Meanwhile, the day of the City Council meeting, my permit application was second to last on their agenda, and the meeting took four hours (such meetings in some cities take almost a week sometimes with all the bickering!). There was a short dispute on whether the middle school gym would be appropriate, would it hold enough, etc. I threw in the fact it was a fund-raiser and that unlike our predecessors, we wanted to do it "the right way." The Fire Chief acknowledged that I had called him about the fire code and the number of people that the gym could hold. I got full council approval that night.
The next hurdle was the city's licensing committee.
Meanwhile, another New England promoter I knew called me and was mad that I had chosen to work with the WWA. He went as far as to call me a "sleazebag" for using a fund-raiser to get a wrestling show, even though we had every intention of doing right by them. We weren't even off the ground yet, and I was already getting heat.
I put up numerous posters and flyers, and kept making sure that the ads the charity we were involved with (the Jaycees) were running like they were supposed to. Some were. Some weren't. I got three radio stations to plug the show. An ad appeared on cable access. Two newspapers also ran press releases leading up to the show. Even though the posters and fliers were taken off the poles, I kept putting new ones up. My suspicion was that a rival promoter was taking them down, but persistence paid off as they actually stayed up for more than a week.
Come the day of the shows (afternoon and evening cards), I only had gotten a couple hours sleep. I had butterflies in my stomach. After a cup of coffee and about half a pack of cigarettes in only three hours, I wound up going to the building and fogot the permits! After a mad dash home, I returned. I had gotten a couple of friends to work the chair crew to help set up and later take them down. I made sure the Jaycees had the food permit I got for them. I also got more tables for concessions, greeted some of the guys who came early from Mass., helped unload and set up more chairs and basically just buzzed around like the Road Runner on turbo. I wanted to make sure everything was right and in place; I was hoping nothing would go wrong.
As everything was coming together, I was still nervous, as I wanted to know what our draw for the first show was. Fans started to pour in and I was just starting to calm down as it looked like we were getting past the 200 mark. (We actually had 230 people for the afternoon show.) Suddenly I was drafted for intro music duty. I got a one minute crash course just two minutes before the show actually started. After the second match I got it down pat, and I also doubled as ring second, taking gear to the back.
In between shows, we cleaned up. It was a family atmosphere with guys talking with me and my wife Melody. Even George Steele came out and chatted. The atmosphere in the locker room probably rivals ECW's in that there were no egos, and no one had a problem doing jobs. Everything went like an old-time promotion was supposed to.
The evening show had people lining up an hour and a half beforehand. There was a total of 480 paid. I felt it was excellent from top to bottom. I was the official "plant," as I heckled the heels to help them get their heat. This really got the building going. The main-event featured "All American" Mike Hollow, Sgt. Slaughter, and Steele vs. Rick Fuller, The Mongolian, and Bulldozer.
I was very proud of the result as it was my first time co-promoting and we outdrew many of the indys running today. I also had the satisfaction of making my critics eat their words. A lot of promoting boils down to common sense and good old-fashioned hard work, so it makes me wonder why other indy promoters have so much trouble either getting booked or drawing. If most of them would just get off their asses and actually "promote" the show like I did, they might actually have the chance of making money. This was a dream come true, a great learning experience, and one I'm looking forward to doing again and again.