Fighting

Interview with Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff before Global Wars PPV

Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff meets fans at a ROH show. Ring of Honor gears for its Global Wars pay-per-view on Sunday, May 8 from the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge, Ill.
Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff meets fans at a ROH show. Ring of Honor gears for its Global Wars pay-per-view on Sunday, May 8 from the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge, Ill. Photo By Devin Chen

Ring of Honor’s big Global Wars pay-per-view is 8 p.m. EST on Sunday, May 8 from the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge, Ill.

Joe Koff, Chief Operating Officer of Ring of Honor, discussed this athletic and entertaining form of professional wrestling, which focuses on the wrestling.

What is Ring of Honor?

JK: “Ring of Honor is an experience. It’s an experience for the fan. It’s an experience for our wrestlers. It’s an experience for me.

“There’s something special about Ring of Honor. When I went to look at purchasing the company on behalf of Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the things that struck me about the promotion was how passionate not only the fans were but the performers, the wrestlers, the talent. They share a very special commonality, and that commonality is excellence.

“We are a promotion that is continuously creating excellence at every level, and you can feel that if you go to a Ring of Honor event -- and it still happens to me, and as I’m speaking about it, I’m actually going to that place -- there are moments in Ring of Honor matches when certain expectations are met from the fans’ perspective, from the wrestlers’ perspective, all of a sudden the arena becomes as one. It’s almost like we all go into the zone. You become part of that experience, part of that moment, and it’s special...and I think it’s the authenticity of the promotion that brings us to that point.”

What are business goals for Ring of Honor?

JK: “Our business goal has always been the same, which is to win over each viewer and each fan one at a time. When we bought the promotion over four years ago, our first telecast was September 24, 2011, and this current weekend’s episode is 241, which means we’ve produced 241 original hours of content to do that.

“We’ve done that with well thought out planning. I have an excellent general manager in Greg Gilleland, who has been very forceful and very important in how we structure our company from a financial basis. So we adhere to the disciplines that are important to business, while continuing to put out a product that is so much watched and wanted by the wrestling fan.

“I would say our business approach is discipline, patience and perseverance.”

Does Ring of Honor want to reach or can reach a level of financial success that has been achieved by WWE?

JK: “They are a 60-year-old sensation. I started watching the World Wrestling Federation -- it was called Capital Wrestling at the time -- when I was a youngster in New York. I used to watch it on Thursday and Saturday nights from 9-11 on Channel 5, WNEW, and Ray Morgan was the host, and it was with Vince McMahon Sr. That’s when I was exposed to the Bruno Sammartinos and the Gorilla Monsoons. That’s really when the WWE was born when Bruno won the belt from Buddy Rogers in 47 seconds and created this brand new wrestling promotion. I grew up on that. It was the WWE of its time, selling out Madison Square Garden and selling out Boston Garden.

“This is a continuing process, now in its third generation, and I don’t think it’s to be competed with on that level. That’s their business. Sports entertainment as they call it is their primary business.

“Ring of Honor is a business, and our business is wrestling. It’s an operating unit and a content providing unit for a very large broadcast company. So I hope that our level of wrestling attracts and is attractive to [fans].

“When you look at [WWE’s] talent, where are they coming from? Of course they have an unbelievably strong developmental program, but not too long ago on one of their programs -- I can’t remember if it was Raw or SmackDown -- they had a top contender’s match, and three of the four contenders were Ring of Honor [wrestlers].

“So I think we’re achieving on those levels. I don’t ever think we can get to the WWE’s size, because it’s not what we’re trying to be. We’re not trying to be WWE. We’re trying to be Ring of Honor, and as Ring of Honor, we present that product as Ring of Honor.”

What are you looking for to be successful and how big do you want to grow Ring of Honor?

JK: “To be successful, we have to keep putting out a product that fans want to see. Our growth in the arena business has grown every single year [since the Sinclair Broadcast Group bought it]. Our rating are solid. Our pay-per-view numbers keep going up. So as a business, we are progressing very nicely. It’s not at a fast pace, because we’re not built to grow at a fast pace, and we don’t have to. Don’t forget, we’re backed by the largest broadcast group in the country with 172 stations in 70 markets.

‘One of the things about business -- and I look at our business as a business -- is that when we went into this wrestling business in 2010 and then started it in 2011, is because at that time WWE, which was the only national scoped promotion on TV, chose to leave the over-the-air platform to go to a cable platform. I saw that it was a great opportunity for our company [Sinclair Broadcast Group] to get behind this product [Ring of Honor], which has always been on TV from its inception.

“TV and wrestling are synonymous as programming and delivery. In the old days, TV was needed to drive these wrestling events on a weekly basis throughout their territories. So there’s always been this warm and loving relationship between TV and wrestling. So from the business perspective, what was attractive to me and what was attractive to David Smith, our CEO and one of the most visionary men in business, was the fact that we were able to create something that had a very strong barrier of entry. We had the distribution. At that time I think we were on 33-percent of the country. Now Sinclair covers 40-percent of the country. With Comet TV, we add another 80-million homes. With our syndication on NESN and Cox Sports South and in Atlanta and markets like that, we get another 15-percent of the country.

“Distribution is what wrestling needs. We have the distribution. It would be very difficult -- and that even includes WWE -- if the fortunes changed where the big cable networks decide to go, ‘You know what? Instead of paying you guys, you need to pay us to show your programming.’ I’m not saying that’s coming soon, but I don’t think it’s far fetched to think that could happen.

“I like what we’re doing as a business, and I think our business is content, and our business is distribution, and our business is putting together a product that the fans are willing to pay money for, and when they leave the arena, they felt they saw the best wrestling that they could ever experience.”

How is the international distribution for Ring of Honor?

JK: “We just signed a deal with the Fight Network in Canada, and that’s a long term deal. We’re going to be on there every week, and I believe their wrestling night is going to be Tuesday night. It’s a deal that took some time to develop.

“We love being international. We had a 26-week run in France on one of their sports channels L’Equipe 21. We have continued interest from other countries to run our product, and we have a huge fan base in the UK.

“We just ran in Dallas, and I would say that probably 15-20 percent of the people who came to that event were foreigners. WrestleMania was the driver for those people coming into town, but it was very exciting to us.

“They’re very loyal fans. This was my fourth time going to the WrestleMania Weekend events, and these people come up to me and hug me and thank me. They just love being part of the Ring of Honor experience, because we’re accessible. We’re authentic. We really know who we are, and because we have that identity, it comes off as real, and I think that’s one thing that sets us apart from other organizations.”

How has Ring of Honor dealt with social media, Apps, YouTube, technology and challenges they present, if any?

And you think TV is still a big deal?

JK: “Absolutely, and I don’t think anyone can dispute that.

“I don’t see [social media, Apps, technology] as a challenge. I see it as an opportunity. Ring of Honor has always been more forward than a lot of wrestling promotions in using technology. We were the first wrestling promotion -- even prior to me -- to go on the iPay-Per-View marketplace, using the internet stream for pay-per-views as opposed to the cable channel traditional pay-per-views.

“We’re a hybrid now where you can get us on the internet and traditional pay-per-view deliveries through the cable systems.

“Social media, Ring of Honor is very sensitive and aware that the business for the most part is exposed. In the old days, you had to wait for TV to see when the next champion was going to come around or what the next match was. Now, we do a taping, and it’s all out there. You can’t over-react to that because it would make you crazy to try and pander to every dirt sheet or fan who’s out there. So you can’t react to it, but you have to be aware of it. I think we’ve done a good job keeping up with the technology that’s current.

“Interestingly enough, Ring of Honor is owned by a company that is a leader in forward technology. Sinclair is behind one of the new products that’s going to be delivering video to every kind of device possible through an internet protocol. So we’re ahead of the curve on that. The other thing is that because we are a broadcast-based company, everything is free. You don’t have to pay anything to get a Ring of Honor television show. We are available. If you’re in a market that has a Sinclair station or one of our affiliates, all of that is available with an antenna. It might be inconvenient, but you don’t need cable to get us. There isn’t another wrestling promotion that has a visibility like that which can make that statement. We’re free; we’ll always be free, because a broadcast platform is a free platform.

“That goes back to that barrier of entry. If the tide turns, and promotions are forced to pay [cable channels to show their product], that’s going to change all the dynamics of this business. We don’t deal in that world. We don’t have to deal in that world, because we’re on free over-the-air TV.

“So social media, Apps, all that stuff, yes, absolutely, we all have to be aware of it and respect it but not pander to it. We have to be true to who we are, present our product that way it should be presented, deliver a product that the fans’ expectations are met, be the promotion of choice for the [TV viewing] fan, the wrestling talent and the people who come see us live.”

What makes a TV hit?

JK: “Brandon Tartikoff, who used to be the head of NBC, who died at a very young age, made a comment about television hits. What’s a hit in television? He said, ‘All television hits are flukes.’ That goes for the movie industry. That goes for anything, because you never know. Things that are successful, and things that happen that really take off are really flukes. Because if you could pre-plan it, then everything would be successful.”

Why was there so much interest from the Sinclair Broadcast Group to get involved with Ring of Honor and this type of wrestling?

JK: “I don’t want to sound egotistical, but it really was because of my passion for the business. [Sinclair] is a company that’s a very innovative company, when it comes to creating ideas and creating marketplaces and creating opportunities. Nobody knew about my wrestling past, until this opportunity came up.

“Wrestling is wrestling, and unless you’re talking to someone who loves pro wrestling, it’s not a conversation most people want to engage. They look at you funny if you want to do that.

“I actually produced and presented the first prime-time wrestling event ever, before WWE, before anyone. It was called Battle of the Belts, and it was done in conjunction with Championship Wrestling from Florida in 1984, 1985 and 1986. I knew the power of television to get this product across. I’m living the Fantasy Camp life. I’ve always loved wrestling from when I was a little kid. I sat in Madison Square Garden. I sat in Shea Stadium. Back then I thought the universe was WWE, until I went to college at the University of Miami. From there I got exposed to Championship Wrestling from Florida, and that was a whole different style of wrestling. Because of that, I saw that it wasn’t just all about big guys. It’s smaller guys, too, who are incredibly talented, who can do so many different things.

“My love for wrestling went through college, and I stayed with it and stayed with it. I had this unbelievable opportunity in the mid-1980s, when I worked at WTOG [Tampa], which happened to be the station that produced and hosted Championship Wrestling from Florida. When I was in college from 1968-72, I was at the Miami Beach Auditorium on Monday night; I was at Miami Marine Stadium the following Monday night. I understood how that business worked, and I loved that business.

“I think Ring of Honor is closer to the old NWA style or the Mid-South style or even the AWA style, because it’s not about the big men. It’s really about the product. Ring of Honor is a brand, and we have unbelievable talent. We have the greatest talent wrestling right now. The Young Bucks, Jay Lethal, Adam Cole, the Briscoe Brothers, Roderick Strong and more. They wrestle a style. They wrestle the Ring of Honor style, which is what is so important to us. We home grow our talent. We’re an organically-based organization. We don’t rely on huge names to compete that way, because that’s not what the fan wants. The fan wants a style of wrestling. They want artistic integrity in the ring. They want athleticism. They want guys who look good. They want women who are really talented enough to be in the ring. We have honor. We have integrity.”

Ring of Honor brings its honor, integrity and talent to its Global Wars pay-per-view on Sunday, May 8 from the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago Ridge, Ill.

ROHShowInfo

ROH on FITE TV

FITE TV offers Ring of Honor’s Global Wars on Sunday, May 8.

GetROHGlobalWars

ROH on TV

Ring of Honor is on Comet TV at midnight Wednesdays.

In South Florida, Ring of Honor is midnight Saturdays on WPEC Ch.12, based in West Palm Beach.

Socially acceptable

Twitter @ringofhonor

Shake Shack Connection

Koff’s son, Zach, works for Shake Shack, which has a few locations in South Florida including Miami off Dixie Highway near the University of Miami and Boca Raton off Glades Road near Florida Atlantic University.

ShakeShackBocaRaton

- Pro Wrestling On The Web

http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/fighting/

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