FrankieNYC (Twitter.com/frankienyc_biz), an avid follower of all business related aspects of both pro-wrestling and MMA, conducted the following interview with Conrad Thompson (Twitter.com/HeyHeyItsConrad) of the “Something to Wrestling With Bruce Prichard” and “What Happened When With Tony Schiavone” podcasts. The interview made available exclusively to Prowrestling.net.
About four years ago Conrad Thompson was running a mortgage company in Alabama 1fmc.com full-time and had a passion for pro wrestling. Through mutual friends, he had a chance to meet one of his idols in Ric Flair and the two formed a friendship. Through that friendship, Conrad was asked to co-host “WOOOOO! Nation” with Ric. Little did Conrad know that this fun hobby would soon turn him into one of the top podcasters in the genre. Conrad currently host two top rated wrestling podcast, ‘Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard’ and ‘What Happened When’ (with Tony Schiavone), both on www.MLWRadio.com.
Q: Conrad, thank you for taking the time to discuss the business aspect of your two highly successful wrestling related podcast. As most are aware, you began as a sidekick to Ric Flair on his CBS-affiliated podcast. At that time did you ever envision podcasting as a complete business venture?
A: Absolutely not. I thought it would be a fun way to promote other projects, maybe sell some merchandise, and make generate a little revenue through sponsors. But I never imagined it would become a part of my daily life.
Q: You mentioned “sell some merchandise”. One of your podcast innovations was having Bruce (& later Tony) call everyone that purchased a tee-shirt ( Prowrestlingtees.com. Was this your idea? Was it something you were sitting on since the Ric Flair podcast and what was the initial reaction from everyone involved (MLW, Bruce, etc.)?
A: Yes it was my idea. I never suggested that Ric call because he already had a merch store setup that was doing well. In a conversation with Bruce I learned how many shirts he was moving and I thought this would encourage sales. In this social media age we live in, fans want to be feel acknowledged by their heroes. I see tweets to celebrities, “How about a RT for my birthday?” I thought this was proof that what fans REALLY want is their moment with the celebrity. They want to be able to tell their friends about the experience. Everyone in wrestling has a “Ric Flair Story” — let’s give them that. ProWrestlingTees is a competitive space. You’re up against Steve Austin, CM Punk, Andre the Giant, Macho Man, the Road Warriors, and we want fans to buy a Bruce Prichard tee instead? Let’s offer more value for the same money, then we will win. It would only take a few minutes out of Bruce’s day but it would mean so much to the person buying the shirt. I suspected they would buy more shirts to get that experience again and they would tell their friends about the call more so than the shirt. It worked. Bruce sells 100 times more shirts today than before we started this campaign. Calling the buyer was about connecting with the fans and instilling some brand loyalty. Many of those guys are listeners for life now and they’re billboards for the experience. Whenever anyone asks about the shirt, they will mention the call. It’s unique and is a lot of value. Other wrestling personalities charge $500 for a phone call. You get that and a shirt for the same price as any other shirt.
Q: You mentioned “this social media age”. How important is social media interaction to the bottom line of your podcast. Not just giving fans access to you and your co-host, but for advertisers to witness and potentially be part of?
A: Social media has helped grow the podcast tremendously. We probably have the largest audience in the genre and we’ve done so with an advertising budget of zero dollars. We’ve never bought a commercial, an ad, or anything of the sort to promote the podcast. We didn’t have some industry giant to plug our stuff on a larger platform. This was all grass roots growth directly from word of mouth on social media. The polls are really what helped us kick that off for us and now we ask our listeners to ask us questions based on whatever wins the poll.
Q: In regards to advertisers/sponsors, do they take social media interaction into account? Is that something you promote to potential advertisers? also, I see you posting on Twitter that “we have one spot left to advertise this week”. How does advertising on your show work? Do they go through you? MLW? Also do advertisers have a say in the many creative ways you present their product (Bruce imitations, segue content, etc.)?
A: Not everyone values social media the same way so we let the advertiser dictate what social media involvement they’d like to have with us. Sometimes they don’t want their promo codes on social media, which I think is a little weird but it’s not my business. We want them to be happy. We want to “over deliver” every time. So we promise a certain number of downloads over a 60 day period and we meet or exceed that number within five days. We want to bring a lot of value. Our shows have no shelf life either. Meaning a new recap show will be “old news” in a week or two but somehow reviewing the 1990 Survivor Series never expires. The buzz word the industry uses to describe this is “evergreen content.” I don’t like those types of phrases but I guess it describes this better than anything else. We promote the products or services exactly however the client requests. They buy from us directly or through our partner, MidRoll.
Q: I’m glad you brought up the “evergreen” aspect to your show with Bruce. When you first started, the content included Bruce discussing modern day wrestling. I also noticed the last few weeks the direction of your show with Tony has changed (to doing live play by play of past broadcast). What made these changes occur and were they brought up by your advertisers, MLW or was it something you and your broadcast partners thought was best for business?
A: I realized if we were talking about current wrestling to start the show, we were doing the same thing everyone else was. I wanted our show to stand out and I didn’t want to distract the focus of the show away from the nostalgia format. So we dropped the current stuff. Tony’s show evolved accidentally. I was trying new things and thought it would be fun to call Halloween Havoc 92 as silly as it was with Jake, Sting, and the Coal Miner’s Glove on a pole. So we did that and it was a hit. We didn’t want to just embrace it but on the heels of the Steve Austin in WCW episode, I may the decision to just commit. It will be unique to the genre as a full time format and who better to do it than an announcer?
Q: Regarding the shows format; a large part of the success of the shows is your research. You openly credit Dave Meltzer as a primary source. That obviously opens up a chance for your co-host to take jabs at Dave with their rebuttals. I don’t think a lot of listeners understand what exactly is going on, because I see people tweeting you constantly that “the podcast teaches listeners to discredit and dislike Dave”, and you respond that it is not the truth. Can you bring us behind the curtain to the relationship and business reasons for using Dave’s info and how you think both Bruce and Tony truly feel about him and his work?
A: There is no “business reason” for using Meltzer. We don’t have any agreement formal or otherwise. I pay for my subscription and have for over 20 years. But if you’re going to dissect every move in the wrestling business with great detail from the 80s to now, there is no better resource than the Wrestling Observer. That’s not an opinion. This is widely agreed upon by nearly everyone in the business as fact. Bruce and Tony both understand the need for a Meltzer type figure in the business but it’s easy to see how someone could be offended by criticism of their work, employer, or co-workers. Being frustrated with a “beat reporter” isn’t new in any sport.
Q: You are also a fan of Howard Stern. Is he an influence on your approach to broadcasting?
A: Howard Stern is the greatest radio broadcaster of all time. I don’t try to be “radio guy” on the shows because Howard Stern has made me comfortable with a slower pace, pauses when needed, etc. His style of interviewing is sadly not given enough credit. I learn as much or more than I would from a 60 Minutes piece on the same subject.
Q: Speaking of “slower pace”, your podcasts are among the longest I know of. As silly as it seems, I seen people criticize the format of giving more content than 90% of others and doing it at no cost to the listener. Can you address that and also discuss any possibility of a ‘pay area’ for the shows? I know that was a hot topic about a year ago, but since seemed to die down.
A: I love the idea of there being extra content for paying customers but we’re satisfied with the format we’re doing right now. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I don’t aim for any guidelines for any show. So like there’s no rule about length, language, commercials, etc. We just want to do our best with each show and cover a topic as completely as possible as opposed to trying to some “make believe” time limit work.
Q: Since we are discussing content and the fact you admit to being a long-time fan of the genre, were you a fan of the “shoot” style interviews that were very popular in the DVD age? Seems like podcasting replaced that form of information distribution with the current fan base.
A: It’s been my favorite video content done on the Network and really for the last 20 years. I’m a fan of the wrestling product but the behind the scenes info is what captivated me. Feinstein was the innovator but nobody has done it better than Sean Oliver with his Timeline series for Kayfabe Commentaries.
Q: Within that context, you cover some controversial subject matters. Have you ever received blow-back from anybody you discussed in a negative light? Do advertisers have any content issues?
A: We got some good advice after the Sunny episode but no real blowback. No advertiser has an issue, ever. They sign up for X of listeners and they get twice as much. We’ve been lucky.
Q: That leads us to your live shows. While not your innovation, you certainly took a live podcast event to new heights. You advertise that things will be discussed that you cannot discuss on the actual recorded podcast. Can you go into detail on that and tell the readers what they will get from you and your co-host live?
A: Absolutely not. 🙂 We just have a handful of stories about drugs and sex where we can’t tell the stories without naming names. We name names at live shows. It’s one thing when 500 people hear it. It’s quite another when nearly a million hear it.
Q: Sex, Drugs and The Mortgage Guy!!! Two more queries. You mentioned a “million people hearing it”. Can you give readers and potential advertisers an idea of your listener numbers?
A: New episodes do around 500k in their first week they’re posted. The archives make up another 500k downloads per week.
Q: Last question. As we are doing this, your partner on Something To Wrestle With (Bruce Prichard) is part of a media storm regarding Sean Combs aka P-Diddy, aka Puff Daddy, wanting to add Brother Love (Bruce WWE character) to his list of aka. How has all that attention helped the podcast or is it too early to tell?
A: Probably too early to tell exactly what impact it will have but free mainstream press for three or four days is hard to beat.
Thank you Conrad. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com and at Twitter.com/frankienyc_biz.