Meet Martin Goldsmith, the man who helped introduce WWE to the United Kingdom

By On September 02, 2018

Meet Martin Goldsmith, the man who helped introduce WWE to the United Kingdom

Paris, 1993. Martin Goldsmith had a problem. The man who looked after much of WWE’s European activity had just reached the hotel lobby. It was 9.30am, an hour after the wrestlers had left the hotel and began their trip to Bournemouth, England for a show that evening.

As Goldsmith attempted to start his day, his eyes were drawn to the unmistakable view of Yokozuna, a 600-pound behemoth who was one of WWE’s most unforgettable characters.

‘He looked lost,’ said Goldsmith. ‘So, I said what the f*ck are you doing here, you should have been on the bus!

‘You’ve got no idea what happened! he says, and he told me that he was sitting on the toilet and it collapsed underneath him, so the whol e place got flooded.’

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With a show scheduled for that evening in a different country, Goldsmith had to think fast. An irate and embarrassed giant was standing in front of him, and he needed help.

‘I just about got off the floor in the bathroom’, pleaded Yokozuna. ‘You’ve got to get me to Bournemouth!’

In a hurry, a flight was secured to take Yokozuna to Southampton Airport, with Goldsmith then making new arrangements to get Yokozuna to Bournemouth.

‘I ran up a car company to take him to the show. They said yeah, no problem, but I didn’t tell them the guy weighed 600 pounds!

‘The driver turned up in the car, and the first thing that happened was that an angry Yokozuna opened the door and the handle fell off. He got into the car, and he was practically on the floor because of the springs in the seat.

‘Once they got to Bournemouth I had to make good with the car company who were not happy!’

Such drama was a constant fixture of Martin Goldsmith’s life in the 1980s and 1990s, as he was instrumental in helping WWE, then known as WWF, achieve major success and popularity in the United Kingdom and Europe.

The story began in the early 1980s when Martin’s brother, the events and rock ‘n’ roll promoter Harvey Goldsmith, was working with pop star Cyndi Lauper.

Lauper was heavily involved in the wrestling scene at the time, having established a working relationship with WWE talent including Hulk Hogan, and she suggested to Harvey that WWE could be a popular product to promote in the United Kingdom.

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The allure of British wrestling had faded into the 80s, and the Goldsmith’s believed that they had found a slicker way of promoting the industry in their home territory.

‘Harvey had no idea who ran WWE, so they made contact and he was then put onto Vince McMahon who said that they were negotiating a deal with Sk y television,’ recalled Goldsmith.

‘Vince said they were in the middle of negotiations, so Harvey said fine, if it comes off, we’re very interested and once the TV is established we think we should do some live events.

‘I knew about WWE anyway and we had a long chat about it. Once Sky was established, I went over to Connecticut, met with the guys there and we came up with an idea of doing some dates in the UK.’

Despite some trepidation from the WWE office in America, an inaugural British date was booked at the London Arena, in the Docklands area of the city.

‘We put one advert in The Sun, and maybe one in The Mirror, and it sold out in five minutes,’ said Martin, who was soon to hear the reaction from WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.

‘Vince and co couldn’t believe it, they were absolutely over the moon. I did a contract with them which gave me the domestic rights for all merchandising and licensing products with WWE branding on them. W e did a couple of shows, and WWE couldn’t believe there was 10,000 people in the arenas.’

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Within a year, a licensing program for WWE branded products had been set up, and the company continued their foray into the UK and European market.

‘The merchandising aspect of WWE was quite incredible. In the world of merchandising you can say heavy metal has always been number one, but WWE products outsold all of that stuff at the time.’

Despite the many talented wrestlers WWE had at their disposal in the 80s and 90s, it’s unlikely that the promotion would have achieved significant mainstream success without the leadership of Vince McMahon.

One of the most divisive and controversial figures the wrestling industry has ever seen, McMahon’s obsessive ambition drove WWE forward after he purchased the company from his father, with his relentless drive a catalyst for WWE’s Blitzkrieg-like dominance of the American wrestling landscape.

But though Vince reigned supreme at the top of the WWE pyramid, it was another member of the McMahon family who impressed Martin Goldsmith during their early meetings.

‘Vince was never a friendly type, but he was very businesslike and dogmatic. His wife Linda was very much part of that company and she had quite a lot of impact in the meetings we used to have.

‘I think she was the visionary in the way that she could see that the stars in WWE could become more than just wrestling stars. Vince was the man who made the decisions though, and whatever he said, the rest of them had to do.’

With WWE’s larger-than-life wrestlers attracting much attention on television and at live events, merchandise soon began to sell as fast as the tickets.

For Goldsmith, one name in particular stands out as someone who cared deeply about how he was being marketed.

‘Ah, yes, Hulk Hogan. The yellow shirt with Hulkamania was always a bestseller and he was always ve ry commercially minded. He would always make sure that his product was pushed.

‘When you’re on the road, you might have 20 different t-shirts with wrestlers on, but he was always the one guy who took interest to make sure his product was front and center.’

‘As time went by, Steve Austin took over from Hulk Hogan as the number one seller, and we had a huge range of his products. The 3.16 became a big slogan. Other big sellers included the replica Legion of Doom shoulder pads which always sold well, plus the Bret Hart imitation wraparound sunglasses too.’

Perhaps the perfect mix of calculated business and supreme entertainment took place at the record-breaking Summerslam event of 1992, which took place at Wembley Stadium in London.

Capitalising on WWE’s popularity in the United Kingdom, over 80,000 people packed the legendary stadium, a paid record for WWE at the time.

The event defined WWE’s appeal during the era, but as the likes of B ret Hart, British Bulldog, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels took to the ring, Martin Goldsmith was concentrating on something elseâ€" how much merchandise was being sold.

‘WWE had the vision of Summerslam, but there was a lot of doubters at the time who believed that WWE was an American product which should only be in the US. But Vince was convinced it would work here, and Harvey put the whole promotion together.

‘It was one of those remarkable things, within the first days it probably sold 40,000 tickets, and the end of the week 80,000. Wembley Stadium had never had such a response to an event like that with such little promotion.’

‘We were the merchandising company, and I don’t know if this record still holds, but for many years, we had the record for one days merchandising sales at a venue. It was just under a million pounds for one day’s trading, something like £995,000 in the end.’

Following the main event which saw ho me favourite Davey Boy Smith pin Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Championship, Goldsmith was finally able to soak in the magnitude of what had taken place.

‘The audience were phenomenal, and the main bouts were sensational, and it always stands out as one of the best events. All in WWE was bowled over, because of all the doubters in America, Vince was happy because he proved them all wrong.

Further success was inspired by innovate strategies devised by Goldsmith in an attempt to widen the reach of WWE in the UK market.

With the internet still very much an enigma for the majority of people, the nascent era of satellite television piqued Goldsmith’s interest. WWE’s long-affiliation with Sky Sports was a proven success, but it would be another Sky owned station that would allow Martin to really thrive.

QVC was one of the first, and most successful home-shopping networks on British television, and the station quickly developed a reputation as a mone y-making opportunity â€" providing the product was right.

Whether it was rascal hoovers or hideous earrings, anything was available for the right price, and consumers suddenly had a choice away from that shops that wasn’t a Littlewoods catalogue.

‘When QVC was in its infancy, the guys who ran it contacted me because they were trying to get into character merchandise,’ said Goldsmith.

‘I suggested to them that we do a WWF merchandising hour, and they thought I was mad, and wondered who on earth would buy that stuff. The very first show that we did on QVC, believe it or not, we took £100,000 in one hour selling merchandising. That was quite phenomenal.’

Following the success of the first hour, Goldsmith raised the stakes for the second show, with the help of a couple of New Zealanders.

‘For the next hour, I thought it would be a good idea to bring over a couple of guys from WWE, so we got Luke and Butch, the Bushwackers into London.

‘It was another success, and I was so delighted that I took them out to dinner to celebrate.

‘I took them to an upmarket restaurant, up to the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols where there was a very good restaurant. As we walked in, you could imagine the face of all these straight-laced people because the guys were still dressed in their wrestling gear.

‘All the waiters knew exactly who they were straight away, so we had a great evening after all!’

Goldsmith’s affiliation with WWE came to an end in the early 2000s, around the time the company was forced to change their name due to a prolonged legal battle with the World Wildlife Fund, who felt that an agreement on overseas name rights had been breached, particularly when it came to merchandise.

A legal letter was sent to Goldsmith from the World Wildlife Fund which requested an injunction be put into place against the World Wrestling Federation for use of the brand ‘WWF.’

‘This was just as the internet world was just starting, so they sent a cease and desist to stop us using the three letters WWF,’ said Goldsmith.

‘I looked at it and thought that nobody can claim to own three letters, but they replied saying that they owned the brand WWF, and we don’t want the people who support us to think that they are supporting wrestling.

‘I sent the letter over to Vince McMahon and his legal department, and I remember him saying to me ‘don’t talk f*cking sh*t, we’re bigger than the World Wildlife Fund.’

Despite McMahon’s typical confidence, there was not a happy ending for his company against the dogged World Wildlife Fund.

‘Vince was convinced that if it went to court his company would win, but we all know that happened. He even took it to the European court when it got thrown out of the UK courts.

‘Eventually it cost him millions of dollars to fight the injunction. He was very dogmatic that he was bigger, but he wasn’t.’

Now 76-years-old, Goldsmith is still strongly associated with the wrestling business, working with Impact Wrestling, and the recent World of Sport revival on ITV.

With no sign of stopping down, he will be inducted into the inaugural Wrestling MediaCon Hall of Fame next weekend in Manchester, alongside Dave Meltzer and Findlay Martin.

‘Paul Benson came up with the idea,’ said Goldsmith.

‘He thought it would be a good idea to have a UK version of the American Hall of Fame and he decided that because I’d put so much of my life into the world of wrestling, I would be one of the inductees. I was highly honoured, and it’s quite interesting how many people have found out about it and sent messages to me.

‘I didn’t think people cared, so it’s nice that they do!’

AdvertisementSource: Google News United Kingdom | Netizen 24 United Kingdom

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