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Life and Death of NWL

Posted by flairwhoooooo on April 19, 2018

Please know that the views and opinion from the writer is that of Rick Murphy and his alone. This is an OPED from him and does not express the views of MWR. I have gone on record myself from the start to rave about the team that NWL brought together from the start. I have called Chris Gough the Sam Muchnick of wrestling during the MWR years in the past as he has people skills and a resume that also includes writing for WWE. I had read Major Baisden’s exclamation on the end of NWL and felt that some of the points that Mr. Murphy was talking about could of been some of the problems that Major were talking about. So in no way did I view this as an attack on Mr. Baisden either.

In my mind, the NWL will go down as a highlight for the Midwest scene. Wrestlers and fans were treated with class and given a platform that was worthy of their talents. Wrestlers now have awesome video, promo photos and experience from NWL that would of taken many years to get if they were not around.

I will always have a special place in my heart for the men and women that made NWL what they were.

I am hoping to get into contact with someone at NWL to get answers that many fans have asked me these past couple of weeks. Keep an eye out for MWR for any updates that come in.

Brian Kelley – Missouri Wrestling Revival

By Rick Murphy

“The worse-case scenario is we all get to watch a bunch of rock stars excel at their craft for a few years.”

Major Baisden owner and creator of National Wrasslin League January 24 2017 in Facebook posting.

The NWL lasted a little over a year shutting offices down April 12th 2018.   They started out with dreams of operating out of 30 cities and being a 250 million dollar company within ten years.

After selling a tech company that he was part owner in Major Baisden decided that he wanted to get involved in professional sports.  After considering baseball and soccer he choose professional wrestling.  Major was a fan in his youth.

Major bought out existing promotions in Kansas City and St. Louis.  He hired the promoters of those promotions to help him run the NWL.   Both in the NWL office and inside the wrestling ring Major was hiring some of the best local and national talent available.

But this is also where I saw the first flaw in the NWL approach.  The NWL had great talent in regards to running a television production of wrestling.  Evaluating top talent to sign.  And knowing how to operate a successful monthly wrestling card.  But with the exception of Travis Scott Bowden no one really had experience in running a weekly circuit of wrestling.

Travis had come from Memphis so he had some understanding of what running a weekly circuit of cities was about.  Travis also was known for being outspoken, opinionated, and at times abrasive.   His stay in the NWL was brief and his knowledge left with him.  One can assume that the parting was not on the best of terms since Travis does not speak of his time in the NWL.  (Note, an attempt to get comment from Mr. Bowden was unsuccessful).

Some in the NWL did not consider themselves as an independent wrestling promotion.  They felt they were more along the lines of Ring Of Honor.  But ROH or any other wrestling promotion employees had some of the benefits that NWL had.

Several wrestlers were under contract and received what Major described as a livable wage.  Housing in a high rent corporate complex.  Health insurance and a 401K plan.  Free training in a state of the art facility.

One wrestler after NWL closed stated that during his tenure with the company he was able to buy two cars thanks to a comparison tool that helped him make the decision.  Everything was pretty much first class.  First class costs extra money.   And a lot of money was being spent.

Depending on which interview you read Major stated that the NWL needed to draw anywhere from 900 to 1200 fans to be profitable.  He hoped to get to that mark within two years.  In a June 9th interview in 2017 he said he hoped a year from now they would be running 10 to 12 shows a month and being averaging 600 fans a show.  He didn’t make it to June of 2018.  The NWL seem to have unrealistic expectations.

It appeared to me that they were drawing close to 400-500 fans at Kansas City area events after 11 months.  Their would often, even in cold weather, be lines to get into whatever location they were at.  But those numbers were often misleading.  Many were kids who received free tickets from attending anti bullying events at their school sponsored by the NWL.  Which was a great marketing strategy but obviously had some impact on ticket sales.

On two separate occasions while in line to purchase general admission tickets I had other attendees come up and give me an extra free ticket they had.

Making money is not easy.  You have to figure out price points.  I can buy a pack of M&M’s from Wal-Mart for 75 cents.   NWL would sell that same pack for 3 dollars.  That is a huge difference.   I never bought any concessions at the events but did purchase t-shirts from the John Henric US collection.

One of the first negative feedbacks was ticket prices.  Major explained that they were running an expensive operation and had to make a profit.  But he did make adjustments offering season ticket prices and eventually dropping general admission tickets to 10 dollars if purchased in advance.

NWL started off with a major marketing mistake.  They thought the promotion could center around the natural rivalry between Kansas City and St. Louis.  So the plan was to have the two cities compete against each other and be almost separate brands under one company.   For various reasons it didn’t work.  (See the premier writer on NWL Luke Raven’s Rise and Fall of NWL St. Louis at prowrestlingiowa.net for a detailed summary).  It also showed that the NWL was adaptable and once they realized that it wasn’t working to change the plan.

Major went into the operation actually thinking more highly of the potential profitability for the St.Louis market.  He felt the fans were more educated and that he had less to compete with as far as the entertainment dollar in St. Louis.

From almost day one the St. Louis side of the NWL proved to be difficult.  A primary problem was finding a suitable location that was willing to allow professional wrestling.  Major perceived a lack of wiliness to accept outside business and a hostility towards professional wrestling in particular.  They also had problems booking weekend dates which are more profitable.

In a controversial move Major announced that they were puling out of St. Louis and would never run shows there again.  It appeared to be an impulsive decision and no warning was given to staff.   Staff and wrestlers openly complained that they were not given this news directly and were caught off guard.  Major then held a Facebook live session where he answered questions and explained the departure.  Fascinating viewing.  Major stated that he didn’t tell the wrestlers beforehand because he didn’t the information to be leaked.

Again the NWL proved to be adaptable and resourceful.  They at least partly turned the closure of NWL St. Louis and hostile response into a wrestling angle and did indeed return to the St. Louis area but in much more limited capacity.

More instability was happening behind the scenes as NWL trainer and wrestler (though not with the NWL) Derek Stone left his position.   Speculation was this parting was also not on the best of terms.   Stone posted on twitter a picture of St. Felecia Patron Saint Of Farewells on the day NWL announced its closing.

The NWL pulled out of its original Kansas City location which some may view as instability I view as another positive adjustment.   Though it may not be fair there was a perception that the area was not safe to leave your car while your were inside watching wrestling.

Much of what else was happening with the NWL was positive.  They were producing a first rate TV show that was syndicated in four area markets.  By the time I started attending NWL cards in August of 2017, I can attest that the cards were great with at least two matches per event that were INCREDIBLE.  I often would enjoy the card from top to bottom.

Major Baisden initially played a role on camera which I personally liked.  But left that television role after losing a feud with NWL St. Louis promoter Matt Jackson (not the Young Bucks Matt Jackson).  Matt Jackson flourished in this role drawing legit heat with fans but also being able to walk that line where he made you laugh.  This is also where crowds seem to pick up.  They added a Florida market for their TV show.  My understanding were the ratings for the TV show were good.

“When something doesn’t work it doesn’t work.”  “It would be stupid to think you can will it to work.”  Major Baisden  June 9th 2017 when explaining the St. Louis closure

So if things were trending upward why the sudden closure of the operation?   They were still clearly not profitable.  My feelings are that Major didn’t see anything that they could do that would make that huge leap from 500 fans to 900 or more.  So he felt it was inevitable that he was not going to obtain the goals.  So why delay the inevitable?  While it may have been a decision that he had personally pondered and he may have asked “Guys what else can we do?”   My guess is like the St. Louis decision only a handful of people knew he was so close to this decision.

Why would you start a heel turn with a wrestler.  Bring another one back from a major injury.  Sign a new TV deal.  Promote a new company owned wrestling location.  And have a fan event scheduled with a local restaurant only days a way, if you were planning on closing the promotion?  The answer is you wouldn’t unless you were impulsive.  He just reached that point where he said this isn’t going to work and better to cut my loses now then face more loses six months from now.

Also, note that last weeks TV show was still advertising tickets for a late April show in Overland Park Kansas.  The closure was not a long planned event.

Were their any signs?   I was totally shocked.  But looking back there were a few things I noticed.  They seem to increase blood which I wondered about.  This sounds strange but a major clue were t-shirts.  When they started out they had t-shirts with a variety of colors which of course is more expensive and less profitable.  Now they were pretty much black shirts with white lettering so that made me wonder.  They also seemed slower to announce cards or they didn’t announce the entire card.  A sign of uncertainty?

The only real clue was female wrestler Marti Belle announced the prior day that she was cancelling an event due to “travel issues”.

Things that could of been done differently?  Besides the missteps already mentioned here are a few thoughts but honestly this is just nitpicking.

1-Tried a face champion.

2-The NWL name was tough.  Often on TV they would either accidentally say NWO or it sounded like NWO.  So I would of gotten away from anything that might of created confusion.

3-Build wrestlers up prior to them coming in.  I am old school.  You have promotion of a wrestler four to six weeks before they arrive even if it just a one shot.  And that’s on TV, not just social media.  They did this a little bit with a couple of wrestlers like Jimmy Jacobs and Eddie Kingston but with Skype and everything you can do this with anyone and everyone.  ACH came in with little fanfare.   I would of built up even guys like Jojo Bravo as this major event coming to town.  One of the guy’s that most intrigued me was Gregory James but to learn anything about him I had to do my own research.  Get people over before they ever step foot in the ring.

4-They seemed to be overly choosy about media representation.  Look if you are WWE you can pick and choose.  But if you are a start up and Bob who only has 35 listeners but wants to promote you…then that is 35 people that might not be aware of your existence.  I found out about he NWL based on a billboard.  You just don’t know totally what works or doesn’t work.  So create a large net to catch fish especially if it won’t cost you any money.  Giving time to someone that wants to write or podcast about you is not an expensive encounter.

5-Baisden appearing with wrestlers was a mistake.  Major is a TALL guy.  So he accented that he was bigger then most of the wrestlers.  Learn from Andre the Giant.  You are only a giant if you appear to be a giant.  Standing next to an NBA player is not a smart move and you don’t look like a giant.  Standing next to Major took some mystique away and made reality present.  You want limited reality in wrestling.

6-They seemed to be unsure who their target audience was.  In the beginning they clearly stated in interviews that their target audience was males between say 25-45.  Later they would talk about how they were family entertainment.  You can’t have Marti Belle’s butt be featured in the opening of your TV show and call yourself family entertainment.  Also the Buddy Shepherd stuff could be funny but sometimes made me cringe with the “Let Buddy come inside you” stuff.  Clearly double entendre galore.  That being said.  Maybe they simply got to the point where they felt “Our target audience is anyone that will buy a ticket,  we can’t afford to limit things to one section of the audience.”

7-I have no clear idea why this has become a thing of the past.  I think it is because of the perception that everything should be done online.  But this is such an easy way to make money and unlike the old days where you had to find a printing company and it was expensive.  Now you can do it yourself.  But create programs to sell at events.  You can advance your story line, use it to promote your sponsors (coupons in the program?), and is a great souvenir that a kid will take to school the next day to show friends.  You can’t hang a phone on your wall like you can a picture of a favorite wrestler that you got out of a program.  Simple and easy money.

Things they did not get full credit for.

1-They had these incredible promotional campaigns where they would have a theme.  Including their last one which was Dawn Of A New Era.  It was really good promotional work.  But unless you were a Facebook follower you most likely were not exposed to it.   This also goes back to the program idea.  If you got a program more people exposed to your theme.

2-WOW the wrestler’s entrance music was something someone obviously put a lot of time and effort into.  It would match exactly what you were trying to say about the wrestler.  I was blown away by the quality of this music.  I especially liked Thor Theriot’s which was majestic in tone.  Always made me get out of my seat.   Awesome work with this.

3-I’ve mentioned it throughout but the ability to adapt.  You saw it through out the tenure of the NWL.  Besides examples already given in this commentary, they adapted on some of the wrestlers names and went back to who they originally were.  I also felt they made the right moves in not changing those that worked like Jack Foster or Royal Blood.

4-Creativity.  Just like any promotion they had some misses but in general they had creativity excess.  I think one of the keys is that they got wrestler input and worked with them.  Baisden, Chris Gough, and Matt Jackson were clearly open to feedback besides being creative themselves.

Ten highlights in no particular order.

1-ACH vs Thor Theriot

2-Those that embodied their characters like Matt Jackson, Dak Draper, Ace Steel, Ken Dharma and so many others.

3-Fuego Del Sol.  If there is anything good and fair about this business you will have a bright future.

4-Jeremy Wyatt really recreated the essence of an old school champion in the way Harley Race was.  He wrestled different people with different styles and skill sets.  Wyatt  always had a consistently good match.  He did subtle things and knew how to play the temperature of the crowd.   Truly a classic.

5-Quality TV production.

6-Wrestlers that worked hard and gave it there all producing top cards that were comparable to anything in the country.

7-Beasties vs The Foundation in a Chicago Street fight.

8-Besdies the already mentioned Gregory James I was impressed with Kiera Hogan and her ability to elevate.

9-Major Baisden giving me a new perspective when in an interview he compared wrestling to figure skating and gymnastics when talking about kayfabe.  Baisden had some good insights into wrestling.

10-Wyatt and I getting in to it and him calling me an old man.  I think we are in the same age bracket but yeah dude you look 100% better.  If you need a fat transplant let me know.

Some have suggested a final farewell NWL show.  I would love this.  It could also answer story lines.  Will loveable loser Gil Rogers ever get his job back with a now non existence company?  Is Sharkbait turning?  One final dance with the Royal Blood vs the Besties?

Rick Murphy

*By receiving this you are being granted permission to use it in any forum.

*You are also being granted permission to edit or just use excerpts of the content.

*Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.  I am solely responsible for any errors or omissions.

*Besides the already mentioned Luke Raven who’s writing greatly inspired me I would also like to thank Rene Martinez and Joe Lance for them featuring NWL staff on their podcast www.wrestletalkpodcast.com.  A great read of NWL TV was found on hookthelegman.wordpress.

*I researched a lot for this.  If you would like to listen to a awesome interview with NWL’s Chris Gough especially in relationship to his time in WWE check out brosouptime.com.  This was the first show done on the podcast on 3/20/18 on Mercer On Fire which is part of the Brosoupteam.  In case you are wondering little was said that would of given indication that NWL was just weeks away from closing.  But GREAT interview nonetheless.

**If you have made it this far I have a request.  The one thing I could not find was Matt Jackson’s facebook live after St. Louis closed.  I would love to view that so if anyone has that please send to me or tell me how I can access it.  Also I don’t do social media so if you are currently yelling at Rick Murphy on Facebook, Twitter, or some other place….it ain’t me.  Yell at me via this e-mail.    Thank You NWL and everyone Rick

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