Vince McMahon is so good at attaching himself to even the smallest controversy that those custom suits he wears must be made out of Velcro.
The World Wrestling Entertainment impresario’s latest “look-at-me” opportunity comes courtesy of the Denver Nuggets, who simply made an honest mistake. Stan Kroenke, who owns the NBA team, is always looking for ways to lay off the cost of another of his properties, the Pepsi Center. So back in August his people agreed to rent the arena to McMahon & Co. next week for one of those Monday Night Raw extravaganzas.
Nine months ago, no one had any reason to believe the Nuggets would need the building for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Lakers. First-round exits, after all, have become a playoff tradition in Denver. But a deal is a deal, especially with the devilish McMahon, who wasted no time staking out the low moral ground.
He mocked the Nuggets boss for having so little faith in his team, challenged him to a steel-cage match, then suggested having Kroenke “arrested for impersonating a good businessman.” That’s rich, coming from the same guy who burned through $50 million in just a single season trying to sell the public a phonied-up, third-rate football league called the XFL nearly a decade ago
It must bug McMahon to no end that a handful of the gimmicks he pioneered have been folded into mainstream sports. The cameras in the cheerleaders’ locker room and embroidering silly names on the back of the XFL jerseys didn’t catch on — with the notable exception of Chad “Ocho Cinco” — but ground-level action shots, breathless mid-game interviews and elaborate plot development have become a staple of just about every sports telecast.
McMahon didn’t invent steroids or villainy, but both players and owners in other leagues have explored the benefits of sampling those wares, too.
Two of baseball’s biggest stars, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, recently were laid low for the kind of performance-enhancing the WWE was literally built on. And only last week, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whose Dallas team the Nuggets beat to advance to the next round against the Lakers, did a passable imitation of McMahon himself, inflating small slights until they threatened to overshadow the actual games.
Kroenke won’t play along, but he will wind up paying plenty. McMahon has so far refused to name the number it will take to buy him out, but it won’t be cheap. His outfit said more than 10,000 tickets were already purchased for Monday Night Raw and that a sellout was expected.
That’s on top of all the publicity McMahon has already squeezed out of the scheduling conflict, with who-knows-how-much more still to come. He understands leverage, in all its varied applications, and his lawyers haven’t even weighed in yet.
McMahon said WWE trucks and crews were already rolling toward Denver and they’re prepared, if need be, to stage the show “in a parking lot somewhere.” Even though he’ll extract his pound of flesh, being forced out to the margins yet one more time might be the most galling development of all.
“I don’t think he’s putting on an act here,” Jeffrey Thomison, an analyst who tracks the entertainment industry, said Tuesday. “He genuinely is upset.”
Like every other sports entrepreneur, McMahon is trying to wring every dollar out of every event in a down economy. His “Raw” telecasts pull in almost 6 million viewers weekly, but the seven shows that finished ahead of it in the cable ratings last week all happened to be NBA playoff games.
Few people understand better how money talks. Yet the guess here is that McMahon would sacrifice plenty to be able to write the ending for this dispute, the same way he resolves all the fake ones that arise during every WWE event.
Little more than a month ago, the WWE took in $52 million staging WrestleMania 25 in Houston, making it the highest-grossing one-day entertainment event so far this year. Judging by the applause, the crowd’s favorite moment came when actor Mickey Rourke, who received an Oscar nomination for portraying a washed-up wrestler struggling to hang on, knocked WWE star Chris Jericho with a single punch.
If only it were that easy in the real world.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.