THE PROMOTION WARS
For those of you who were expecting to read about the inception of the “Monday Night Wars” you may be disappointed, but only momentarily, as I plan to discuss where it all truly began. Because it was not 1995 that the promotion wars started, but rather eight years earlier when the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) would go head-to-head with Jim Crockett Promotions for the very first time.
The year was 1987, and after witnessing the financial success the WWF was having with their largely new concept of a pay-per-view (PPV) market (most recently with WrestleMania III), Jim Crockett would make the decision to move from closed circuit to the PPV industry as well. While Crockett and McMahon had already fired shots at one another, Vince invading Crockett’s territory (and JCP later invading the New York market), it wasn’t until November of 1987 that an actual “war” would ensue. With the WWF already in full blown national expansion mode, Crockett was also well on his way, with his top rated TV program airing on the national cable station WTBS.
After buying up the smaller NWA territories, as well as the recent purchase of Bill Watts’ Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), Jim Crockett had the means (TBS), the talent, and the experience to try and give the WWF a run for their money.
The Thanksgiving holiday had always been a major staple in professional wrestling “super cards” for many of the NWA territories. Thanksgiving had always proved to be a huge drawing night for the sport and Jim Crockett took advantage of this by creating the Starrcade event back in 1983. For four years Starrcade would be a major draw in the Mid-Atlantic region, not just in the venue it was held, but in Closed Circuit locations, as well. Crockett was ready to change all of this in 1987 when he decided to move towards the pay-per-view market and a much larger national audience.
Starrcade was to the NWA (later the WCW), what WrestleMania was, and is, to the WWF, so what better way to kick off the JCP era of PPV? Well it sounded good in theory, anyway.
Much like Vince McMahon invested everything he had into the first WrestleMania, Crockett would mortgage most of his profits of the NWA into the 1987 version of Starrcade. It was a huge gamble that paid off for the WWF in 1985, but would it do the same for JCP in 1987?
Not if Vince McMahon had anything to say about it.
The date was November 26, 1987, more specifically Thanksgiving night, and it would mark the first, and for that matter the only, head-to-head PPV battle between the WWF and JCP’s NWA promotion. Vince would not stand idly by and allow Crockett to enter the pay-per-view business without a fight.
McMahon would create a new WWF pay-per-view known as the “Survivor Series” in order to try and keep the Starrcade event from being televised. By creating the Survivor Series, Vince forced cable companies to choose between airing the WWF programming or the NWA event. Many PPV companies stuck with the WWF machine after seeing the revenue it brought in with the successful WrestleMania III event and knowing another WrestleMania was on the horizon. For those pay-per-view companies that weren’t basing their decision solely on the WWF’s past track record, Vince McMahon would force their hand his way as well, threatening not to allow any companies that air the Starrcade event to air his upcoming WrestleMania IV super card scheduled for the Spring of 1988.
The end result of this cutthroat tactic by McMahon would cause the majority of all PPV stations to air Survivor Series rather than Starrcade, aiding greatly in the bankruptcy of Jim Crockett Promotions and the eventual sale to Ted Turner. Survivor Series would pull in a very strong 7.0 buy rate as fans were treated to a night of elimination style tag team matches emanating from suburban Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum.
Even with a less than appetizing Ron Garvin vs. Ric Flair main event, Starrcade would also pull in a decent buy rate of 3.3 considering it was only carried by a few PPV companies, but by comparison the financial loss would prove to be something Jim Crockett could not overcome. Add to that the fact that JCP felt in order to prove they were a national company and a threat to the WWF they would run Starrcade in Chicago rather than the Mid-Atlantic region, where the event was usually held. Between only moderate ticket sales, and very few PPV companies picking up the Starrcade event, Vince McMahon had fired the first blow, and Crockett paid dearly. From 1988 onward, Starrcade was forced to move to a December PPV slot so as not to compete with McMahon, giving professional wrestling a new Thanksgiving night tradition in the Survivor Series.
This would not only change the face of the professional wrestling landscape, but it changed the direction of pay-per-view, as following these shifty shenanigans by McMahon, nearly all the PPV companies informed both JCP and the WWF that they would never be forced to choose between the two promotions again, thus preventing any future head to head pay-per-view events.
While it was their only PPV showdown, this wouldn’t be the last time the two promotions would run head-to-head by a long shot. Vince would fire his next shot, and probably the final nail in the coffin for Crockett, when he ran a free USA Network special dubbed the “Royal Rumble” up against Crockett’s next PPV the “Bunkhouse Stampede” in January of the following year. Crockett finally had enough and fired back with his own cable special dubbed “Clash of the Champions” which aired live on TBS and up against the WWF’s WrestleMania IV on PPV. While the Clash was a huge ratings success, it was too little and too late for Jim Crockett who was soon forced to sell the NWA company to business tycoon Ted Turner.
Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this article and you’d be interested in seeing how all of this came about, how all the chess pieces were laid out month by month and week by week, you can expect plenty more where this came from. Starrcade vs. the Survivor Series is only a brief sample of the many major happenings and changes that took place over the course of 1987 in the world of professional wrestling, and I plan to cover it all in an upcoming project I’m working on entitled “The Wrestling Yearbook: 1987”.
The general goal is to begin a week by week breakdown of all the major happenings that took place in professional wrestling over the course of 1987, not just inside the WWF and the NWA, but the AWA, Japan, World Class, the UWF, and all the other territories of the time. I will be taking an in depth look into the year 1987 and hope you follow along as we get started. I hope to have this project up and running for the new year, so stay tuned!