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EXCLUSIVE: ROH COO JOE KOFF DISCUSSES HIS REACTION TO THE SHUTDOWN OF RING OF HONOR AS WE KNEW IT, WHETHER ROH'S TAPE LIBRARY IS FOR SALE, DELIRIOUS' STATUS GOING FORWARD, THE PLANNED APRIL 2022 RETURN, WOW ON SINCLAIR, HIS MESSAGE TO THE ROH AUDIENCE & MUCH MORE

By Mike Johnson on 2021-10-28 11:15:00

Mike Johnson:  It was announced just a couple of weeks ago by CBS that the new GLOW incarnation is going to be distributed onto Sinclair Broadcasting stations starting December 2022. How does that impact Ring of Honor going forward given that Ring of Honor is usually the only wrestling on Sinclair Broadcast Group Stations?

Joe Koff: Well, we're a big company and programming's important, and we thought we had lots of discussions about this when it came up, we thought it would be a very good companion piece to our wrestling. CBS distribution is a lot of different pieces and there's a lot of other programmings that they provide us, and we have a very good relationship with them and they know we're a wrestling company. So we thought that for the fall of next year, for 2022, this would probably be a logical addition to our programming across our stations.

Mike Johnson: Someone's going to hear all this and assume this is the beginning of Sinclair looking to sell the Ring of Honor tape library and the rights to the company, can you discuss whether there's any current conversations in regard to that?

Joe Koff: No, I wouldn't discuss it. So the answer would be no.

Mike Johnson: Why April 2022 as a planned return for Ring of Honor? Why did you guys circle that date as that's the time period where you're looking to relaunch?

Joe Koff: That's a very good question. We always had that date in mind. Mike, just to be fair, to kind of clarify this for those listening, there are lots of possibilities as we were going through next year's business modeling. We always felt that Ring of Honor would be a product, and we've always been at Supercard and that's not going to change. Now what that card looks like, what the creative is, could change, but Supercard was always something we were going to do and it's always something we would want to do. So it wasn't just added for this moment. It was always there. The question would be, what would it be? That remains to be seen.

Mike Johnson: If you look at the last year, if there's one company that did everything right in terms of protecting the talents, putting them in bubbles, making sure they, and even independent contractors who worked for the company were paid as if they were regularly working for the company and so forth, Ring of Honor would be the shining example of a company that did everything right. Having said all that, what went wrong here in your mind that Ring of Honor is at this state?

Joe Koff: I think it's the business. The business changed and we saw another big company come in that really is doing what I think we had hoped that we could do. I think from a competitive standpoint, the cost of talent, which is the largest cost without a distribution point of rights fees makes it just very, very difficult to think of in a business model. We work every day to try to remedy that, but we ran out of time. So that's really what it was, but I don't want to minimize the last two years because Mike let's think about this, you write wrestling and I read your column all the time. This is a vibrant period for wrestling. There so much opportunity. There was no opportunity in March of 2020, there is a ton of opportunity right now and you know that our talent and our guys are the best talent wrestling.  I am proud of what we were able to do when it was the darkest and bleakest, but it's not like that right now. There's so much opportunity out there that it gives me a better feeling that our guys will thrive in this new wrestling world.

Mike Johnson: Someone's going to hear that and take that to mean that you've let talents go to see where they could fly off elsewhere, should they take it that way?

Joe Koff: They could take it any way they want. I mean, our talent has heard our conversation. They know exactly where we stand. They know exactly where they stand. Anybody can make whatever kind of inferences or judgements that they want to. I feel good about the conversation that took place. I feel good about the interaction that took place. I felt good about the comments that were made at that place. I think again, if you think about how we cared for our talent during the dark days, we didn't stop caring today.

Mike Johnson: You mentioned surprises for the audience that would be watching the programming and surprises going forward. Let's talk about what you envision as being surprises for the future.

Joe Koff: That I'm not ready to talk about, but there are things people have asked for, and there's things that people have suggested and we are taking very serious looks at all of those things. Again, I'd like to move us to a much more fan engaged model, and when I say that is that I really care what the fan has to say. I built a television station in Baltimore back in the early '90s and our motto was, "Your vote counts," and we actually let people choose the movies that they watched at eight o'clock that night, because I cared about what they wanted to see. We are an opportunity to explore that, to expand that and really develop that out and that excites me and it should excite the fan. So if you're looking for that silver lining, that's one.

Mike Johnson: Hunter Johnston's pretty much been the linchpin for creative, do you expect that he'll be remaining with the company as it reconfigures itself and moves forward?

Joe Koff: Absolutely.

Mike Johnson: Okay. Do you expect any other major changes to the office staff, either from production or behind the scenes or just executive levels? Should we expect some sort of shake up there or should it just be, "We're pausing, we're going to work on rebuilding and then we restart again."

Joe Koff: Yeah. I mean, that's pretty much well stated. Exactly.

Mike Johnson:  What do you say to the fan that has supported Ring of Honor? Not just through the Sinclair era the last 11 years, but the fans that were there from the first show in February 2002 on who have grown accustomed to Ring of Honor being in their lives on a consistent basis and now are wondering whether the ship is about to go off the cliff, down the waterfall, and they're never going to see it again. What do you say to that audience that has supported Ring of Honor through all its per mutations and all its incarnations?

Joe Koff: Look, I can only say this, you've been with us since that date that you just mentioned and we have been there week in and week out with live shows, with constructed shows, Ring of Honor, is a brand, it's a legacy. I can ask people to believe and trust the buoyancy of Ring of Honor, they will, or they won't. I don't think anyone has to just run away and just say, "Ring of Honor's done," but there are people that are going to do that, Mike. If they choose to do that, then we'll have to earn them back and we've done it before and we will do it again. This is a very resilient organization. It's built on resiliency. Like I said, we have faced really tough situations and we've overcome them, and if this is going to be another tough situation, we will overcome this as well.

Mike Johnson: You were the person responsible for bringing Ring of Honor to Sinclair Broadcast Group to begin with. How do you feel about everything just on a personal level? The first time we spoke, I can remember I interviewed you, and I said, "What was it about Ring of Honor that made you want to bring this to Sinclair?" And I can remember plain as day you said, it wasn't even one wrestler. It was the entire show. It was the energy of the audience. It was the energy of the fan because you were a wrestling fan and you loved professional wrestling. Another interview you told me, you could have very easily have bought the National Wrestling Alliance, you chose to buy Ring of Honor. As someone who fought to bring Ring of Honor to Sinclair, how do you feel about everything that's happened today?

Joe Koff: Listen, I have 11 years invested in this and it's very emotional, but again, one thing I've never deviated from even in our conversations is that wrestling has always been a business unit of Sinclair. We took it to heights, lengths and places that no one could ever believe a wrestling organization can go from one owned by a television company. Sinclair is so incredibly proud of what we're doing. This was not a Sinclair meant, this was a business decision and I run the business portion of that, and I had to take everything into consideration and put it into the big picture and make these decisions. Sometimes that's my job, to make the hardest decisions you can. They're not necessarily the most popular, because not everybody knows other than the people that are in the business know how complicated and complex this business can be and we react to times.

I look at this, Mike, I didn't even say this, Mike, I probably should have, we have consecutively programmed and will continue to do so over 520 weeks of television, there are not a lot of shows that have that kind of longevity on one network or on one group of stations that Ring of Honor does. That's something to be proud of, that's something that Sinclair values. Sinclair values the content, the creativity. Sinclair being part of a different community other than local news and sports. The wrestling community is special. The Ring of Honor community is so special. If they feel shunned or they feel they've been shorted, again, my goal has always been to win our every fan one at a time and if we have to start again, we will start again.

Interview concludes on Page 3.


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