Friday, March 27, 2009

WrestleMania's Not-Quite-25th Anniversary of Programs

Quite a few different ideas flew across my mind to be the topic of the first true entry in this blog. While I'm not going to reveal them here, (to keep the suspense for further entries, of course!) I will say that I chose against one of the routes to make it clear that this isn't just a "wrestling figure" blog, but instead a resource which shall analyze all avenues of this great hobby.

With the supposed "25th Anniversary" of WrestleMania coming up, I decided to give a look at a collectible which commemorates nearly all of the "sports entertainment spectaculars" from 1985 to 2008. These items would be...the event programs.

Most likely tracing their roots as far back as the first time sporting events were covered in newspapers, event programs are one of the few standards that still hold up today. From Major League Baseball to the cult wrestling promotion Ring of Honor, programs have survived where many other traditions have not.

The WrestleMania programs began with the inaugural event itself at Madison Square Garden in 1985. Just like the other World Wrestling Federation publications at that point, the WrestleMania program is a full-color 16-page professional publication which, mirroring production values of WWF programming, blew the competition out of the water. It isn't to say that the NWA programs of the era weren't items to cherish (especially today), but Vince McMahon and crew clearly took it a step above from the cover art to the comprehensive lineup to the professional photography.

The cover featured a beautiful painting of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T behind "electric" ring ropes, while the inside featured photos of nearly every star involved on the card. It should be noted that most of the photos shown at the beginning of the pay-per-view event itself (to the commanding tones of McMahon's voice backed by Phil Collins' "Easy Lover") are taken straight from this program. This includes the extremely creepy photo of The Fabulous Moolah and Leilani Kai shown.

The WrestleMania 2 (What The World Has Come To) program continued to display the great pride the company had in their published product. The program featured many airbrushed and painted portraits of the events stars including King Kong Bundy attacking the Empire State Building, and an extremely disturbing artists rendering of ill-fated Burger King pitchman Herb and Silver Spoons star Ricky Schroeder. The piece located just inside the front cover. Due to it being even more frightening than Moolah and Kai above, I will allow you to seek out your own copy of the program to view the "art."

Starting with WrestleMania III, the programs slowly became more of the standard fare you expected out of other WWF publications of the era. While the same quality remained, artists renderings and disturbing pictorials for all intents and purposes became a thing of the past.

One point of interest to note, especially for younger readers, is that these programs would hit newsstands AT LEAST up to one month in advance of the event, yet you still generally had the whole card listed, and pictured, inside. This fact alone speaks volumes of how the booking process of these events has changed in the past two decades.

Even still, not every match depicted in the programs and magazines promoting the event always actually occured. Due to time restraints and other factors, occasionally a match would be shown ahead of time and subsequently scrapped, as seen to the right.

As the '90s wore on and WrestleMania entered its second decade, programs simply weren't a publication focus as they had once been. At this point, the programs get rarer as the printing runs got shorter and shorter to the point that they were no longer offered at newsstands and were exclusive to sale at the event on the day of the event.

To the best knowledge of this collector, some WrestleMania's do not have a program available at all. Some, such as the WrestleMania 2000 program, were sold at live events following WrestleMania, most likely to sell off stock not sold at the event itself.

For WrestleMania's 17 and 18 (or X-Seven and X-Eight as WWE would prefer you refer to them) a return of sorts was made to the days of the newsstand-available WrestleMania program. A few months before each event, magazines with a history of the previous WrestleMania's as well as photos of nearly ever superstar, announcer, agent, and referee on the roster were sold. These can be considered the official programs for those respective WrestleMania's.

Starting with WrestleMania XIX, the programs lept to the size of the standard WWE program, which is the size that remains today. The programs, which you can almost refer to as books, are printed on a very thick stalk paper with an extremely high gloss on the cover. These programs are available at the event and have always shown up later at the WWE's online store both seperate and as part of WrestleMania souvenir packages.

In addition to including the card, these larger program books have traditionally included full-page histories of the previous WrestleMania's as well as pages commemorating that years WWE Hall of Fame inductees. This format is the current format for WrestleMania programs and will most likely be used for the upcoming WrestleMania 25 program as well.

While some are rarer than others, the WrestleMania programs are an extremely fun commemoration of the event. Some of the most common of the lot are surprisingly among those from the earlier events, while the mid to late '90s editions will be the hardest for most collectors to acquire.

It should be noted for any so-called "completist" (a disease I'll note my displeasure for in later entries) that many of the earlier event programs that were sold on newsstands actually have two versions. As depicted with the Survivor Series '89 program, there is the newsstand version with a red bar or other sort of notation in the upper right corner as opposed to the actual version sold at the event without such graphic. These arena exclusives also feature a higher price in the upper left corner. It has yet to be determined by market value as to if either holds any significant value over the other.

Questions? Comments? Feedback? All welcome. Spread the word, and enjoy!


Lisa said...

It is good to see your blogging presence, even if I know absolutely nothing about wrestling. I did get a flyer about Deaf Wrestelfest. Will you attend?

Re: garage sales-never again! I will shop at them, though. That is always fun. I just like looking at junk.

LP1 said...

I came across your blog through a google search. It's very interesting. I too am a collector of rare wrestling items like magazines and T-shirts. I thought I'd give you a little info on the WrestleMania programs. Every WrestleMania(27 as of this writing) have had programs.

-WrestleMania 1 was available at the arena and closed circuit locations and then later on in the merchandise catalog. It wasn't available on newsstands.

-WrestleMania 2 through WrestleMania 9 each had two different versions. There was the newsstand version, like you mentioned, that had additional writing near the top of each program with the price listed as well as barcodes. The arena versions didn't have any barcodes nor any additional writing at the top.

-WrestleMania 10's program was only sold at the event. There was a magazine called "The History Of WrestleMania I-IX" sold on newsstands prior to Mania 10 that had an orange-colored cover with pictures of several wrestlers. That is not the program however. The program had a different cover with only Yokozuna, Bret Hart & Lex Luger pictured in front of a black background. The insides of both the arena program and the newsstand "History" magazine are exactly the same with the exception of the arena program including a seperate sheet with the complete match listing.

-WrestleMania 11 was sold at the arena and then later through the merchandise catalog. It was an oversized program that included a full-sized poster inside.

-WrestleMania 12, along with WrestleMania 14, are the two hardest programs to find. Mania 12's program was only sold at the event. It was essentially a modified version of the debut issue of Raw Magazine from May/June 1996. The version sold at the arena has a similar cover as the newsstand version of that Raw Magazine with Vader on the cover, but the arena version also had a print in the top right corner that said "WrestleMania XII Program". Inside the front of the program was a 6 page preview of all the matches at Mania 12, like any other program. The rest of the program was exactly the same as the normal issue of the May/June 1996 Raw Magazine.

-WrestleMania 13 was only sold at the event.

-WrestleMania 14, like Mania 12, is the other hardest program to come by. The program sold at the event is basically the exact same issue of WWF Magazine from April 1998 with Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin and Mike Tyson on the cover. The only difference is the newsstand issue had a barcode on the cover while the arena program had a "$5.00" printing where the barcode should be. Also, the arena program included a seperate sheet with the complete match listing(like Mania 10).

-WrestleMania 15 & WrestleMania 16 were only sold at the arenas.

-WrestleMania 17 is a tricky one. The version sold on newsstands is slightly different than the version sold at the Astrodome. The newsstand version had a barcode on the cover. The stadium version was sold in a sealed bag with a double-sided poster of The Rock & Steve Austin included. The event version also did not have a barcode on the cover. The only thing I'm not 100% sure of is if the arena program came with a seperate sheet with the complete match listing like Manias 10 & 14 did. To the best of my knowledge it did not. Seeing as how the arena version was bagged, I don't believe there was a sheet included. It's been over a decade and I've never seen one.

-WrestleMania 18 is a similar situation as Mania 17. The newsstand version had a barcode on the cover, but the arena program did not. The arena program also included the seperate sheet with the complete match listing.

-WrestleMania 19 through WrestleMania 27 were all sold at the arenas as well as on afterwards. They were all oversized programs.

I hope that helps you out. Take care.