Fledgling Florida group is looking to break WWF's stranglehold

November 10, 1991|By Jim McNair | Jim McNair,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Professional wrestling is bizarre enough with the flying tackles, the fake blood and the fenced-in rings. But to Patrick Schaefer, wrestling in women's makeup or chasing opponents around the ring with a snake has gone too far.

"To a certain extent, many, many things they're doing now are insulting to the intelligence of wrestling fans," Schaefer said. "It sells, but it's not good professional wrestling."

Schaefer is president of a Deerfield Beach, Fla., company that wants to begin promoting and televising wrestling in Florida and England. The company, Euro-American Wrestling Group Inc., wants to take on the titans of the industry, the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, in a corporate version of WrestleMania. To do that, Euro-American is selling $2.5 million worth of stock.

Here's what Schaefer plans to do with the money: In Florida, he'll form 4-Star Wrestling, hire some wrestlers -- no Hulk Hogans, but some familiar names -- tape a weekly TV wrestling show and sell it to stations around the state. Where the show has high enough TV ratings, he'll offer live wrestling events.

In England, Euro-American plans to give Britons a chance to watch American-style wrestling on a regular basis. Wrestling fever has already caught on there in the form of hot-selling videos and live matches. Schaefer believes there's ample interest in a heavier dose of the sport -- in England and in Europe.

"The European people have really taken to the American style of wrestling on occasional cable broadcasts," said Schaefer, 43. "This has whet the appetite for American wrestling, and what we want to do is give it to them on a weekly basis."

In an industry dominated by one organization, wrestling promoters tend to fall victim to the sleeper hold. The Stamford, Conn.-based World Wrestling Federation, whose stable of wrestlers includes Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage, is a consensus king of the ring. Not even Ted Turner, owner of World Championship Wrestling, comes close.

"The wrestling business is really a tough one to make money in," said Dave Meltzer, publisher of Wrestling Observer newsletter in Campbell, Calif. "There are millions of wrestling fans all over the country and the world, but most of them see the WWF as the big star and, to a lesser extent, the WCW. They aren't going to support a minor-league operation, and that's what these other companies look like."

Schaefer said Euro-American has the people to make it in the wrestling arena. His partner, Jack Gutteridge Sr., is known in England as Jackie "Mr. TV" Pallo, a legendary figure in

British wrestling. And one of his proposed matchmakers is Angelo Poffo, who has distinguished himself in three ways, as a professional wrestler, as father of Macho Man Savage and as the world record-holder for consecutive sit-ups. He did 6,033.

Schaefer plans to avoid a direct confrontation with the bigger wrestling promoters. By staying in Florida, Euro-American will have to contend with WWF events only occasionally. Schaefer thinks that will give him an adequate piece of the $450 million paid annually for live wrestling events in the country.

"The real money in wrestling is in television pay-per-view and merchandise," Schaefer said. "When you watch a weekly wrestling show, you're basically watching a 60-minute commercial for pay-per-view events, the 1-900-HULK numbers and merchandise."

People buying stock in Euro-American Wrestling will pay $10 for two shares and warrants to buy two more at a price to be determined. The offering prospectus warns that the high-risk shares should only be bought by people who can afford to lose their entire investment.

It doesn't take a warning label to view Euro-American with skepticism. Assuming that the offering is a sellout, investors will have paid $2.5 million for 500,000 shares while Schaefer and Gutteridge paid $2,000 for 1.6 million shares. After the new money is raised, management will still control 76 percent of the stock, effectively giving new shareholders no say in how the company is run.

Schaefer, moreover, has a spotty track record. He left Global Wrestling Alliance in Boca Raton, Fla., in 1988 -- a year before the company ran out of money in a futile effort to develop an audience in Florida and the Caribbean in the late 1980s. Since then, he has held short-lived positions with wrestling and roller-derby promoters. In 1990, he declared personal bankruptcy.

But with Pallo and Poffo, Schaefer believes he has the tag team to make his latest venture succeed. A fellow officer at Global Wrestling Alliance, Michael Brannon, said that's the main thing going for Euro-American.

"Any wrestling company right now is a tough go because of all the competition out there," said Brannon.

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