NFL executives generally are concerned when they walk into a press conference accompanied by possibly artificially enhanced athletes, who might one day embarrass the organization.
Funny. Falcons president Rich McKay didn’t seem to mind Monday when he was escorted to the dais at a Wrestlemania news conference by “Eve” and “Kelly Kelly,” who appear to share the same dentist and magical female balloon doctor.
“I would like to thank Arthur Blank, who couldn’t be here today,” the Falcons’ president said, standing between the Stepford escorts. “If not for that, I wouldn’t be here.”
How much has sports changed? So much that the once snooty and better-than-everybody-else NFL is now crawling into the same promotional bed with professional wrestling. It’s debatable whether the NFL has dropped down, or the WWE has risen up, or they’ve just met somewhere in the middle — at an ATM.
But when Wrestlemania XXVII — it turns out the Super Bowl didn’t have a copyright on Roman numerals — officially was announced for April of 2011 at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons had a high presence. Their logo was on the backdrop. Four of their players were in attendance. Their team president and former general manager, McKay, had a seat on stage — just in front of “Big Show” and “Rey Mysterio” and “Edge” and “Kelly Kelly.”
Go ahead, laugh. But this is where we are. How many millions did Vince McMahon have to make before the NFL realized he might not be a bad guy to partner with? And isn’t this the same Vince McMahon who was mocked by “real” football people for his XFL experiment? And it seems to me the WWE also has at least one edge over the NFL in 2011: There’s no threat of a lockout.
McKay — whose brother J.K. was the general manager of the XFL champion Los Angeles Xtreme — acknowledged the Falcons are helping promote and market Wrestlemania. They will sell corporate sponsorships. The Arizona Cardinals have a similar arrangement with the upcoming Wrestlemania event in Phoenix in two months. As part of the Falcons’ deal with the Dome, they share in profits from the stadium. So there could be an obvious benefit to their participation, even if, as McKay said, “We’re doing this for the community.”
And that is why Eve and Kelly Kelly looked so happy Monday. Because they’re all about the community. And we, gosh darn, care all about them.
McKay: “They distracted me.”
Go ahead, laugh. Wrestling isn’t going anywhere. The numbers scream people don’t care that it’s a scripted exhibition. Vince McMahon’s little venture reportedly has generated over $2 billion in pay-per-view revenue and $600 million in annual retail sales.
The WWE speaks NFL.
It’s scripted. It’s a sideshow. It’s a bizarre mutation between sports and entertainment. Pro wrestlers are the most lampooned individuals on earth, outside of those who hold public office.
But an interesting observation from Mark Henry, a former Olympic weightlifter in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, who has done this for 14 years: “What we do is Broadway. It’s Broadway plays with physicality and life-threatening injuries.
“Some people who criticize feel like we’re such intellectuals that we can’t enjoy ourselves and [escape]. The fact is, that’s why we read books. Maybe we’re not always high-brow, but it is what it is.”
He also said this: “Anybody who wants to trivialize it, say it to my face.”
“The consumer knows who we are,” McMahon said. “The media doesn’t understand us very well because we’re not sport, and we’re not the strictest form of entertainment. You can’t put us in a box. We’re not Beyonce. We don’t we fit anywhere. We’re a hybrid. But our audience understands that. We’ve been an exhibition since Abraham Lincoln wrestled.”
Erik Coleman of the Falcons stood next to the “Big Show.” “Walking into here with a 7-foot, 485-pound makes you think about things,” he said, laughing. “Anybody who thinks these guys aren’t athletes is crazy.”
For the record, McKay joked that he tried to recruit “Big Show” for the Falcons’ offensive line, “but Vince McMahon pays him too much.”