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SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP LOOKS TO ACQUIRE FOX SPORTS' REGIONAL CHANNELS, WHY THAT INVESTMENT IS ALSO THE RIGHT TIMING FOR SINCLAIR TO RAISE ROH TO THE NEXT LEVEL

By Mike Johnson on 2019-04-29 13:38:00

Beyond Tennis, we really haven't spent significant dollars on content and Ring of Honor, I think, we bought for a couple hundred thousand dollars. And it's, we think that's an unpolished gem that ultimately should be something in the same light as WWE. We actually sold out Madison Square Gardens for an event next year in 11 minutes. So, we know that that that brand has potential. It just – it hasn't, we haven't quite found the right dials to turn yet, but we keep increasing the grass roots support on it and it has just a very, very loyal and avid fan base which is what you really need to explode a brand.” – Chris Ripley, President & CEO, Sinclair Broadcast Group, 11/18/18.

Over the last several days, reports have come out that Sinclair Broadcast Group has come into a handshake deal to move towards acquiring the regional FOX Sports stations that the Disney company has to divest themselves of after acquiring 21st Century FOX.

The announcement is a fascinating one when you consider that Sinclair has still yet to land a national outlet for Ring of Honor, despite all signs that ROH has been primed and ready to move forward on a grander stage once they are tapped to do so.

Whether it be the recent G1 Supercard that sold out Madison Square Garden, last year’s ROH-produced “All In” event or the 2017 ROH Final Battle PPV, which doubled as a privately produced (and never released publicly) two-hour TV pilot that showcased how the brand could be presented on a larger scale with grander lighting, pyro, etc., Ring of Honor has been in prep mode for a potential moment such as this, when Sinclair Broadcast Group finally decides to put all its corporate muscle behind the wrestling promotion it purchased back in May 2011. 

They could hit the ground running if and when they are asked to do so by their corporate father, and it's really a grander vision of why Sinclair acquired ROH in the first place.  When Jim Cornette first pitched ROH to Sinclair in an attempt to build a partnership between the two sides, Sinclair instead opted to buy ROH outright from Cary Silkin in order to provide affordable and easy programming for Sinclair TV affiliates.  Believe it or not, even with the "live to tape" nature of pro wrestling productiom, it's still far easier and cheaper for Sinclair to produce an hour of ROH TV and present it to affiliates as a must-carry  piece of programming (with the affiliates selling local ads and paying its corporate father back a rights fee for ROH) than it would be to purchase several episodes of a “Seinfeld” or “Friends” to place it in the same one-hour weekly timeslot.  That leaves more money in the black for Sinclair and with the the symbiotic nature of owning the content outright, it also means ROH can be repurposed any way Sinclair sees fit.

Ring of Honor has shown they can scale upwards as grand as they are needed (see MSG) or to run events as intimate as possible (see Atlanta TV tapings.)   That’s a versatility that is unique in the television marketplace, even for programming that is seen as cheap to produce and easily profitable within the Sinclair machine.

While Ring of Honor has had a good amount of TV clearances across the United States, if and when the FOX deal is done, it will give them something they haven't had since their short run on Destination America years ago - a singular destination timeslot and location, a prime destination for television viewers to discover the product.  This is especially important in major markets such as New York City where the series doesn’t air locally and only occasionally pops up on cable, depending on sports programming that consistently preempts it.

Even more interesting is the fact that Ring of Honor could, for the first time, be tapped to provide different kinds of content for FOX Sports cable stations.   Whether it be Honor Club-style live events produced at a lower cost or a full-fledged “G1 Supercarcd” style production budget, ROH has shown they can versatile and fit their production and look into whatever vision is needed.  Sure, there is always room for improvement, but that is something that could and should come with the finances flowing into the right places at Sinclair’s behest.

The possibilities of ROH on the FOX Sports Network channels, should a deal be made, are endless:

*Imagine a two-hour weekly, episodic ROH series as the flagship of a weeknight on a FOX Station, becoming the “Raw” for Ring of Honor as the series that currently exists can be re-purposed to show highlights or even shift into a secondary series, in a role similar to what WWE Main Event or the old WWF Wrestling Challenge used to fill for WWE, promoting the flagship while showcasing some original content of its own.  Should ROH want to expand the series to two hours, it would be far easier to do so on a national cable network outlet vs. a number of syndicated markets where each station would now have to rearrange their own regionalized programming.    It's something ROH has wanted to do for a long time, but has been constrained by the reality of not having the proper home to broadcast on.

*Imagine Future of Honor on Saturday AM, providing a look into the future ROH talents, giving them experience while also cheaply filling an hour of programming as its taped in an intimate venue with feature pieces on the rookies wrapped around the in-ring action.   A series like that could give TV time to undercard talents, freeing up the flagship show to have more time for the top acts.

*Imagine a beefed-up Women of Honor roster featuring talents from STARDOM (and even matches from Japan) as the nucleus of a WOH series, finally giving fans of women's wrestling a full-blown Women's presentation under the ROH banner.

*Imagine a Best-of series featuring hours filled with grand moments of the early days of Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe, among others, presented in an anthology format similar to the old UFC Unleashed series, with a studio host setting the stage for where the talents were in their career before going to old tapes that are repurposed.   There could be anthology series - best of tag team matches, ROH around the globe, etc.

Of course, with the very entertaining Crockett Cup over the weekend, one could also envision a world where Sinclair has Ring of Honor alongside and a ROH-produced National Wrestling Alliance series, complete with all the 1980s throwback graphics and storytelling that were on full display during the Crockett Cup in North Carolina, being taped, either as a studio wrestling series or as a full-fledged series of larger-scale events.  The relationship between the NWA and ROH has never looked stronger coming out of the Crockett Cup PPV and leveraging that relationship alongside Billy Corgan’s name value would be a no-brainer if you are seeking to create unique programming.    Corgan’s team could bring a fresh outlook not just to ROH but to pro wrestling programming by tapping into the nostalgic feel that they presented this past weekend, where the idea was you had stepped into 1986, complete with an old school NWA Championship match that felt as vital and legitimate as any Ric Flair title bout on TBS ever did.    If there was ever a time where brand nostalgia is at a peak, it's today, and over the weekend, ROH showed they could produce and present such a product as well.

Sinclair, with the power of the FOX Sports Stations, could even go all-out Avengers: Endgame style and create a hub, showing different ROH partners such as CMLL or New Japan on different days but the same time (as ESPN did with World Class and Global content in the early 1990s) or even as a complete package of programming airing over a day, similar to the old Joe Pedicino TV wrestling packages that aired on Atlanta’s WATL in the 1980s.   Add in some ROH personalities to do wrap-arounds in a studio and it becomes something grander than just a bunch of tapes you are hitting play on.

Of course, there’s always the potential for live wrestling specials to draw in live viewership, something that is even more of a premium for television programmers in 2019 than it’s ever been before given the level of cord-cutting and streaming services pulling eyeballs off cable – and that would be programming that ROH would easily be able to plug into FOX Sports stations for Sinclair.

ROH COO Joe Koff has for years discussed the possibility of Ring of Honor doing live programming for Sinclair but given the number of different affiliates and markets involved, it would be quite the undertaking to market, promote and present across the board nationally.   However, If the FOX Sports deal goes through, finally ROH could do "Clash of Champions" style specials there should Sinclair wish to go in that direction. 

ROH could be an endless funnel of programming for the FOX Sports stations.   We've noted and written a number of times in the past that Ring of Honor was in a far better position when compared to most independent promotions, because they were getting paid to produce TV content for their owner.  Now, ROH could be tapped to do the same for that same owner, only for a national cable audience - and on channels that would be cleared pretty much across the board on cable TV.

ROH has been a dutiful asset for Sinclair Broadcast Group, slowly growing every year.  If the FOX Sports deal goes through, the timing may be right for Chris Ripley and his band of merry men and women to finally truly invest "significant dollars on content and Ring of Honor" and weaponize it as an important piece of programming for Sinclair’s next massive TV investment – to raise it in prestige and to truly show ROH as the polished gem it deserves to be, monetizing it far greater in the process on a much larger stage.

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.  He imagines he’s the only person who remembers the eight-episode run of the NAWA on Sportschannel New York that featured The Lightning Kid, Tommy Dreamer, The Hater and other assorted talents of the early 1990s.

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