Thursday, November 27, 2014

AWA Meets The Press


Thanksgiving was a wrestling tradition long before the advent of Starrcade or Survivor Series.  Nearly every territory had a huge "Turkey Day" card, or sometimes multiple cards, each year.  What would be better than to finish up your feast and head on over to the matches?  One of those territories was Verne Gagne's AWA.  With its roots in the early days of television, by the 1980's the AWA's reach still spanned far and wide.  Although a few years away from its big tv deal with then-upstart ESPN, the AWA produced a press kit in 1982 to try and further its audience and maybe even go national before the WWF.

I'm a huge fan of the various press kits that have come out of the wrestling business over the years.  They're a largely untapped type of memorabilia as far as wrestling goes.  They could be described as almost a time capsule of wrestling in that you never know when you'll discover one and just exactly what you'll find inside.  Vince McMahon obviously had the marketing vision to produce various press kits for WrestleMania and other ventures, but who would've thought that Verne did the same a few years earlier?

Red, white, and blue were the standard pattern of colors on the well-remembered American Wrestling Association logo, and those hues carry over throughout this tri-fold folder.  To say that this AWA press kit rivaled the later WWF press kits in style wouldn't be a stretch of a statement.  The folder is handsomely printed and, in appearance, would make anyone think that AWA All-Star Wrestling was the top wrestling company in the world.  Some of the verbiage inside, however, might make help convince them otherwise.

On the inside is a mix of information obviously designed to sell the AWA to television stations.  The list of biggest wrestling crowds of all-time shows the top two most-attended cards as being at Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden.  With the press kit listing elsewhere where AWA matches were promoted, it wouldn't be hard for a station manager to figure out that these two top cards had nothing to do with the American Wrestling Association.  Elsewhere, a "quote" attributed to a tv station manager claims that "The wrestling crowd is a spending crowd.  But then, any sports crowd is a spending crowd."  The AWA couldn't come up with a more positive sounding quote than that?

In other areas the company did a better job of self-promotion.  Of course, Mr. Gagne is pictured as are other familiar AWA office faces of the time such as Stanley Blackburn, Wally Karbo, Al DeRusha, Rodger Kent, and our own close, personal, longtime friend, Gene Okerlund.  There's even a small and interesting "ad" of sorts promoting wrestling magazines.  Shown are titles from Stanley Weston (The Wrestler), Norman Kietzer (Wrestling News), and Japan.  For some unknown reason, Sports Illustrated is pictured in the collage as well.

In the middle of the folder are several pull-out sheets.  The first is a list of "Consistent advertisers on TV wrestling."  Every type of business from wines and dog food to ice rinks and loan companies are listed.  It seems as if someone in the AWA offices grabbed a Minneapolis phone book and picked out any type of business that could be found.  Behind this list are some great photo sheets titled "Star Power in the AWA."  Most feature several wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan (in a shot as Thunderlips), Billy Robinson, Jesse Ventura, Tito Santana, The Crusher, and Baron Von Raschke.  Being the "Eighth Wonder of the World," Andre the Giant gets his own sheet all to himself.

Two other photo sheets are included, titled "When The Little People Come To Town" and "Equal Opportunity Wrestling."  These showcase midget wrestlers and female wrestlers, respectively.  The women's sheet features a great shot of Wendi Richter and Joyce Grable with the famous Fabulous Moolah-owned Ladies Tag Team Championship belts.  Wendi looks a tad heavier than in her well-remembered WWF days just a few short years later.

As mentioned above, you never quite know what you're going to find when you unearth a wrestling press kit.  Behind the pullout sheets in this one lay an original AWA one-of-a-kind.  On a folded piece of yellow legal sized paper is what appears to be the 1984, 1985, and 1986 payoff sheet for the ring announcer at the St. Paul Civic Center.  June through October of 1984 is typed out while the rest is hand written.  It is interesting to see how the payoffs went up for large shows such as holiday events and WrestleRock.  It's always cool when something that was never meant to be saved ends up materializing after being literally stuffed away.

Items like these are why I love the world of wrestling memorabilia.  Being a sort of "wild west" industry as it was even sometime after the WWF went national, you just never know what you're going to stumble upon.  No one has a complete listing of everything that's out there, and who would really want one?  It would kill the fun of collectors coming together to show what they have, and what has yet to be discovered in an old attic or basement.

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