Without Vince McMahon, there would be no WWE, and professional wrestling would not exist in its current form. Whether you like it or you don’t, there’s no denying that it is a true statement. By creating WrestleMania and establishing the Pay Per View market for professional wrestling, Vince turned WWE into a massively profitable organization, and made millions of dollars as a result. However, it seems like every time Vince McMahon tries to venture outside his niche of professional wrestling in order to diversify his portfolio, something always goes wrong. And not just wrong, but often horribly, catastrophically, disastrously wrong. Vince McMahon may be a man with supreme confidence, but as this list shows, he’s made more than his share of ridiculous mistakes along the way.
10. WWE Films
Nowadays, WWE Studios makes a modest profit for the company by making cheap straight-to-DVD releases and distributing already-completed small-budget films that they can purchase for peanuts and make a profit off of as long as literally anyone goes and sees them in theaters. But originally, WWE Films was a grand plan to create moderately-budgeted theatrical releases starring WWE Superstars, which was probably at least partially designed to show that anyone can be The Rock with the WWE machine behind them. Of course, that isn’t true, because The Rock is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and WWE Films lost millions of dollars under that business model, because it turns out that people don’t go to the theaters to see lukewarm action movies starring professional wrestlers. Actually, some of the movies weren’t terrible, but WWE’s mistake was actually setting their budgets so high (although modest by blockbuster standards, they were still higher than your average schlocky horror movie) that they couldn’t possibly make a profit. After a few years of failing, WWE renamed the division to WWE Studios and adopted the current model, which means that they’ll never create the next big Hollywood star, but at least they’ll make enough money that they can stop frantically justifying its existence during quarterly shareholder meetings.
9. WWE Niagara Falls
The city of Niagara Falls is basically made up of tourist attractions, which makes sense, given the presence of one of Canada’s biggest attractions, the Falls themselves. And WWE wanted to get in on that action, opening a retail store in the heart of the tourist district called WWE Niagara Falls. At one point, it was the only physical WWE retail establishment in the world, which should probably give you an idea about how this story ends. Initially, the store opened to huge fanfare and featured The Piledriver, a several-story-tall carnival ride that topped the building, with reported plans for more stores to open in other cities. Unfortunately, WWE Niagara Falls was quickly neglected, often selling merchandise that was months and even years old, occasionally featuring Superstars who were no longer under contract. The Piledriver’s popularity was short-lived, with the ride sitting unused more often than not. After stumbling along, mostly forgotten by WWE, the store mercifully closed in 2011.
8. Saturday Night’s Main Event Revival
Everyone remembers the classic Saturday Night’s Main Event of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Back in those days, it was one of the few chances you would get to see the biggest WWF stars having competitive matches against each other, rather than the squash matches of the syndicated weekend programs. Some of WWF’s most memorable angles took place on those shows. However, when wrestling took a downturn in popularity, the show disappeared. Years later, WWE attempted to bring back Saturday Night’s Main Event as a way to further promote their Pay Per Views, even getting NBC to once again give them a time slot on network television. The problem is, in the modern era, you can see the big stars of WWE all the time, on the multiple hours of programming that WWE puts out every week, which robbed the new Saturday Night’s Main Event of any sort of uniqueness. Ratings for the revival were poor and got worse from there, as both WWE and NBC gave up and quickly buried the program a second time, airing the remaining shows with little promotion on random nights during the summer and eventually just taking it off the air entirely.
7. SmackDown! Records
Much like their film division, at one point, WWE decided to diversify into another media venture, in this case the music industry. It seemed simple enough, sign some young talent and jump-start their careers with the boundless financial resources created by the wrestling product, what could go wrong? Well, it turns out it’s harder to sign talented musicians than just wanting to, as WWE’s roster of musical acts eventually consisted of their ring announcer, Lillian Garcia, and a group called Neurotica which put out a single album under the Smackdown! Records label, then were dropped and subsequently split up. The music division was eventually renamed to WWE Music Group and mostly exists to fund their in-house bands, who create the entrance music for WWE Superstars, as well as distributing John Cena’s first (and at this point, only) rap album.
6. World Bodybuilding Federation
If you ever wondered where the theory that Vince McMahon really, really likes his wrestlers to be perfectly sculpted muscular behemoths, you can look towards the short-lived WBF as proof. It’s been no secret for a long time that Vince loves bodybuilders, and if there’s one thing you can count on when Vince tries to start a venture outside of wrestling, it will always be advertised as “just like what already exists, but with the pageantry and entertainment of pro wrestling!” Such was the story of the World Bodybuilding Federation, where Vince hired a bunch of professional bodybuilders, then gave them all ridiculous gimmicks and tried to make it the next big television sensation. He even hired former WCW wrestler Lex Luger, who had a chiseled physique, as the centerpiece of the show, but Luger was in a serious motorcycle accident shortly before the first WBF Pay Per View. That show was a flop financially, and the WBF disbanded quickly, with the show basically becoming an infomercial for the WWF-funded ICOPRO bodybuilding supplement. In an effort to recoup something from the debacle, Lex Luger resumed his career as a wrestler and was even pushed as a replacement for the departing Hulk Hogan, although it was a fairly unsuccessful attempt.
5. Black Saturday
Some say that the worst part about how WWE bungled the purchase of WCW and the ensuing Invasion angle was the fact that they’d already bought World Championship Wrestling once before and somehow made an even bigger mess of it the first time, so you’d think they would have learned. If you didn’t know the story, back when WWF was originally breaking out of the territory system and becoming the international wrestling juggernaut that we know and love, one of the tactics they would use would be to buy the airtime of existing televised wrestling programs and replace the shows with their own. Such is the case of Georgia Championship Wrestling, an Atlanta-based organization that aired a show on Turner Broadcasting called World Championship Wrestling. However, Ted Turner wouldn’t let WWF buy the time slot, so they bought GCW and started airing the WWF-produced shows instead. Fans of GCW rebelled against the WWF product, preferring the more wrestling-oriented WCW program to WWF’s entertainment-based shows, and the ratings tanked so badly that WWF sold the time slot to Jim Crockett, who owned the territory that would go on to become the World Championship Wrestling everyone remembers to this day.
4. Girls Gone Wild Pay Per View
Anyone looking at the headline there can see “bad idea” written all over it, but somehow WWE did not. Yes, in association with former WCW President Eric Bischoff, who also spent a lot of time trying to create media ventures outside of wrestling, WWE hooked up with the guy behind the “Girls Gone Wild” videos to produce a Pay Per View based around the concept of asking drunk girls to flash the camera. Things got off to a rocky start as they were forced to change the city that the event was taking place in at the very last minute, when the mayor of the original city banned them from filming, not wanting to be associated with Girls Gone Wild. That probably should have been another warning sign. And then they turned the entire show into some sort of weird beauty pageant, where half the contestants didn’t even show any nudity (which was the entire point of Girls Gone Wild), and finished with a promoted showdown between WWE Divas Torrie Wilson (who had appeared in Playboy) and Nidia, in which absolutely nobody actually took off any clothing because WWE turned it into an angle where Nidia’s boyfriend, Jamie Noble, didn’t want anyone seeing his girlfriend’s breasts. To make matters worse, the people behind Girls Gone Wild later got in legal trouble for potentially letting underage girls go topless on their videos, forcing WWE to deny all association with them. This was such a gigantic mess that it’s only appropriate that opponents of Linda McMahon’s attempts to run for Senate used this flop of a Pay Per View to attack her campaign’s moral fiber. Actually, she lost both times she ran, so maybe they were on to something.
3. WWF New York
At the height of The Attitude Era, opening a WWF-themed club in Times Square seemed like a smart plan. Wrestling was hugely popular with a mainstream audience, surely opening a restaurant in New York’s most recognizable intersection would make lots of money, right? Well, in case you haven’t listened to a dozen different “restaurant rescue” shows on the Food Network, restaurants fail on a regular basis, most of them within their first years, and a lot of those failed restaurants were probably of better quality than WWE New York. The food was average, the service was sub-par, and once wrestling started to fall out of favor, the business model was unsustainable. Even renaming it to the much more generic “The World” (after the World Wildlife Fund lawsuit forced WWF to change to WWE) couldn’t erase the early failures, and the club folded within four years of opening.
2. WWF Hotel and Casino
What, you mean you’ve never heard of the WWF-themed resort that was going to open in Las Vegas and make so much money due to being a casino that WWE would have to make a big Scrooge McDuck-style vault to hold it all? Well, that’s because after buying land containing an already bankrupt hotel on it (which probably should have been a warning sign), showing off some flashy concept art, and telling everyone that it was coming soon, it turned out that starting up a hotel and casino in Vegas isn’t actually that easy, and a lot of them fail pretty badly. WWE quickly gave up on the entire concept and sold off the land for a small profit, so at least they got that much out of it.
1. The XFL
Fifteen years later, and still nobody knows what the “X” actually stood for (there was actually already an Xtreme Football League in existence at the same time, so it wasn’t that). Also, it turns out that there’s a reason why nobody has managed to challenge the NFL by using players that weren’t good enough to make it into the NFL. The games featured some of the worst non-weather-affected football ever played, and were either ridiculously low-scoring or massive blowouts. The rules kept changing during the season because it turns out, all those “boring” things that the NFL has like fair catches and “no hitting receivers after five yards” actually made the games safer and more offense-oriented (in other words, more fun to watch). In a desperate attempt to draw in viewers, they promoted halftime shows that would show real footage from the cheerleaders’ locker rooms, which, of course, was never going to happen. WWE and NBC each lost 35 million dollars when the league folded after a single year due to abysmal TV ratings (one game set the record at the time for lowest rating for a first-run live broadcast airing in prime time). It did popularize the use of the “Skycam” in televised football coverage, and after the league folded XFL MVP Tommy Maddox started at QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers for a while and wasn’t terrible, but that is pretty much all the good news that exists in regards to the XFL.