World Wrestling Federation Entertainment C.E.O. Linda McMahon recently sat down with WWF.com to discuss a myriad of topics, including Federation storylines, being married to Vince McMahon, and her recent trip to Ground Zero.
WWF.com: First of all, Linda, thanks so much for your time. To start things off, Ill ask the question we get for you most here at the Web site: Whats it like to be married to Vince McMahon?
Linda McMahon: When Vince and I got married, he promised me two things: that he would always love me, and that there would never be a dull moment. And he has fulfilled both of those promises. It is exciting, it is challenging, it is a lot of fun, and it is really terrific being married to your best friend.
WWF.com: Do you like performing on Federation programming, being out there in front of the fans?
Linda: I like it, but Im not as comfortable as Vince, Shane and Stephanie are. I think that they are good performers. Its not what I do professionally, though I enjoy interacting with my family and being out there, and I love the crowd. The fans are so great and so supportive. Its a lot of fun to do it; I am just always conscious of hoping Im doing it well.
WWF.com: As a mother, does it bother you when the fans chant slut at Stephanie, or when Chris Jericho tears into her?
Linda: No, not at all, because Stephanie is really enjoying her character in the World Wrestling Federation, and shes getting exactly the kind of chants that her character is evoking, so I am pleased that shes able to have a lot of fun with it, and that the fans really understand where shes coming from.
WWF.com: If you dont want to answer this next question, I understand. But as a mother, how did you feel when Stephanie came to you and said she wanted to enhance herself?
Linda: No, its OK. My first concerns are always with health issues. Stephanie had thoroughly investigated the procedure, and she had answers to all the questions that I asked, and so I felt comfortable that if that was something that she wanted to do, then she should proceed, and she had my full support.
WWF.com: As a mother, whats it like for you to watch Shane perform in the ring?
Linda: He scares the bejesus out of me. He really does. He has taken some chances that I would like not to see him take anymore -- some of the really high falls. They were risky. Quite frankly, I have the same concerns for our other performers when they are involved in risky moves. The things we do in the ring are performed with such great skill, but still you watch these men and women and you want to be sure that theyre not hurt or injured. Thats why we are so emphatic about non-professional, untrained individuals not trying these moves at home.
WWF.com: Now, as hard as it is to watch Shane in the ring, whats it like to watch Stephanie in the ring?
Linda: I enjoy watching both of them perform, but it is really hard for me to watch Stephanie get slammed, because that really does hurt. Its just more difficult to watch it happening to her than it is to watch it happening to Shane. Although she does have a pretty mean slap. (laughs)
WWF.com: Heres something that Internet fans have been talking about since March: What was it like for you to sit in that wheelchair and watch your husband make out with Trish Stratus right in front of you?
Linda: It wasnt difficult for me to watch the interaction between Vince and Trish, because it really is a role. Besides, wasnt I only half conscious?
WWF.com: What do you think it is about the McMahon family that just captures the imaginations of sports-entertainment fans?
Linda: I think its because our family is so closely associated with the product. We are real people. We were really one of the first reality-based series on television, and the fans really enjoy seeing the interaction with our family even when the emotions are exaggerated.
WWF.com: When you watch RAW, or SmackDown!, or any of our shows as a fan, what interests you?
Linda: There are a lot of aspects of watching our shows that really entertain me. Im always incredibly impressed with the level of athleticism and ability to entertain that our superstars have. I have the privilege of being backstage and hearing them prepare for their matches before they go out, and theyre so focused, so dedicated, and they want nothing more than to entertain the audience. And they give it everything theyve got every night when they go out there. And Im such an appreciative fan of watching what they do to perfect what it is that theyre accomplishing in the ring, with an opponent, or with a tag-team partner -- whether its throwing someone through a table, or whether its mic work. Im appreciative of their professionalism, and their desire always to do it better the next time, even if to me it looked absolutely perfect that time. And secondly, I enjoy the vignettes and the storylines that are part-and-parcel, like when the McMahon family is involved, like the Vince and Trish stuff, the Lita and Matt Hardy scenario. All of those different aspects go into making the show what it is in its totality entertainment.
WWF.com: I read an interview with you once where you said you dont often know whats going to happen before you see it on TV -- that you like to be just as surprised as the fans. Why is that?
Linda: Most of the time I absolutely dont know whats going to happen, and its because I like to watch as a fan. Also, I can give my reaction to how something happened, without any bias. Im not looking at it to say, Oh, I know this was supposed to happen and it didnt, Im really looking at it to say, How did that affect me? Boy, I really like that! What a great surprise that was. So its more fun not to always know whats going to happen.
WWF.com: The Federation made a big transition a few years ago, from the Showtime era of the 80s to the Attitude era of the 90s. Where do you see sports entertainment, say, five or 10 years from now?
Linda: Whats always critical for our business is that we listen to the marketplace and understand what the audience wants. We listen to the audience. We can have storylines that we believe are what theyd like to see, and they let us know. So the ability to be successful is to be able to continue to listen to our fans, and to see their reaction, to be very in tune with where they are. So for me to guess whats going to be in the fans minds five years from now, I couldnt. I can only say that in five years, we will continue to produce an exciting product, keeping in touch with our audience.
WWF.com: A lot of fans know you as the C.E.O. of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, but may not know exactly what that role encompasses. Can you tell us a bit about your day-to-day responsibilities?
Linda: I dont think we have enough time for that. (laughs) Generally, the Chief Executives responsibility is the overall strategy and direction that the company is taking. Although Vince and I share in some of those responsibilities, it is mine to be sure that the direction is given, that the operations are put into effect, that the quality-control issues are maintained, that the budgets and all of those things are taken care of. I also spend a fair amount of time meeting with financial analysts. Im now making several trips a year to Washington to maintain our government relations program. Im now a board member of the National Foundation of Women Legislators. Part of my job is networking with other corporate executives outside the company to stay in touch with the industry and where its going.
WWF.com: WWFE has made a number of contributions to the relief efforts at the World Trade Center, including a $1 million donation. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Linda: The loss of a loved one cannot be replaced. Theres no way to do that, whether its a parent, or a brother, sister, cousin, friend, neighbor, whatever you cant replace that loss. I think not only the Federation but also the other corporations who have come forward with contributions hope that those dollars can be used to help relieve some of the anxiety that many of those families may be going through, just in terms of their own financial well-being.
There are a lot of children who might not have an opportunity to go to college, just as one example. Hopefully these funds will help not just in the day-to-day living expenses, but also in coping with some of the hardships that these families are experiencing.
WWF.com: I know that on October 14, you joined a number of superstars in visiting the areas around Ground Zero, to offer some support.
Linda: We were so graciously received at the Command Center, at the firehouses, and at the police stations. The popularity of the Federation Superstars and having them be able to be there, sign autographs, and hand out hats and things like that was a great morale booster to those who are dealing with nothing but sadness and tragedy all day long. We also, in helping with the effort the first week, delivered a tractor-trailer truck of clothing for the rescue workers T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, things like that.
WWF.com: What was the experience like for you personally?
Linda: I dont really know how to describe it. Going to the Command Center, meeting people and talking to them was very uplifting. Going to Ground Zero and actually going into the area first of all, it was awful and sad. My next emotion was absolute anger, and I was enraged, at the wanton destruction and loss of life.
And watching the men and women who were still sifting through debris its still 1,400 degrees at the core, and the salvage efforts at this point are still hampered on a daily basis by the extreme heat. As we were leaving, about 75 members of firefighters families who were coming into Ground Zero, clutching teddy bears, helmets. And the looks on their faces is something I wont forget. They were sad, they were stoic, they were questioning. It was incredibly touching, but again, it added to my anger. From there, we went to the morgue. The men and women that work there on a daily basis the job is trying to make a positive identification of a missing person using the DNA of some 4,000 body parts, which are being kept in refrigerator trucks. Family members come and bring toothbrushes, hair from combs, etc., for DNA matches. Its like a huge MASH unit up and down the block. The wall that was built there out of plywood is decorated with flowers, and people who come there have signed it and written inscriptions. The humanitarianism thats being demonstrated, I think, was just overwhelming. The respect and humanitarianism was my biggest takeaway from the day.
WWF.com: As somebody who runs an entertainment company whose performers travel so much and are on the road so much, are you more concerned for their safety than you were before?
Linda: I think that everyone in our country at this particular point has a heightened awareness of the potential of something that could go wrong. But the World Wrestling Federation myself and our family included has simply said that we cannot and will not be held hostage to terrorism. We will all be prudent; we want to be safety-minded. We wont be reckless or have disregard for anything, but we will continue about our daily lives and our business.
WWF.com: Can you tell us about the controversial decision to air SmackDown! the Thursday after the attacks?
Linda: As far as Im concerned, it wasnt controversial. It was the right thing to do. It was an incredibly uplifting show, especially for our performers who were there who were able to speak from their hearts. I only wish we could have heard everyones comments; there just wasnt time within the show. We were the first entertainment company to have an event after September 11. Almost 13,000 fans from Houston came out. Two hundred people requested refunds, but there were so many people in line to buy those tickets that we had to turn people away. The decision to have the event and to air it was right for our country, right for our performers and right for our fans. I was very proud of that show.
WWF.com: To switch topics, Id like to talk a little more about what its like to be married to Vince McMahon. Were you a wrestling fan before you married Vince?
Linda: I was not. In fact, I didnt know much about professional wrestling at all. I had gone with my father who was a member of a charitable organization called the Shriners, part of the Masonic Order in North Carolina -- when I was about 8 years old to a fundraiser. That was my only experience with professional wrestling until I married into the McMahon family.
WWF.com: On the rare occasion when you get some free time, how do you and Vince like to spend your time together?
Linda: I was 13 when Vince and I met, and he was 16, and we really have grown up together. We have so much history together. We talk about the things that a normal couple would talk about, like our children. We talk about current events. Were big movie buffs; we love to go to the movies and just escape. We see all kinds of movies we love action-adventure. Next up on our list is Training Day, with Denzel Washington. Last weekend, we saw Bandits. We like comedies; we like most any kind of movie. Its just one of the ways we relax. And were both sports buffs. We do occasionally train together, but our schedules dont really mesh well enough that we can do that too often. We enjoy going out to dinner. We just like spending our free time together, and youre right there isnt a whole lot of that.
WWF.com: Obviously, the sports-entertainment business is your life, as it is Vinces, Shanes and Stephanies, and you all spend so much time and put so much into the product. Does that intense connection between your personal and professional lives ever create problems?
Linda: Sometimes you just say, Lets not talk business anymore. You find yourself out to dinner, and youre about halfway through dinner, and you realize that youve brought the day with you. Occasionally, one of us will say, So how bout those Yankees? (laughs) And thats the key to Lets change the subject lets talk about something else. It doesnt present problems necessarily, but there are challenges when you work in a family business, because sometimes its like, is it Mom talking to you? Or is it the C.E.O. talking to you? And so there is a confusion there sometimes.
WWF.com: How do you feel when the media vilifies your husband, making him out to be the Second Coming of Satan?
Linda: It depends on the article. Because of the great country we live in, anyone in the media or anyone at all has the right to disagree and have their own opinion. If Vince or our business is unfairly attacked by someone who doesnt understand or doesnt know or, more importantly, doesnt take time to try to understand who we are and what were about, and goes on the attack with absolute misinformation, that makes me angry. And Ill challenge back.
If someone writes their own opinion and you disagree with that opinion, you still might call him/her and say, I understood where you were coming from let me see if I can help you with this. My greatest annoyance comes when the press attacks and they havent called or questioned or gotten our input or our impression of what a particular situation is, and they just go on and write about it without having any opportunity for us to have comment. That makes me angrier than anything else. Because most of the time, when they do understand, and theyve had an opportunity to speak with us, they get the full picture. They may disagree, but at least they can do it in a more informed way.
WWF.com: It was about six months ago that the Federation acquired WCW. At the time, there was a lot of specifics that you couldnt talk about because the sale was still pending. But now, can you take us back in time, and give us some more insight into the process?
Linda: I think it was about a year ago when we first started talking with WCW. WCW is a well-recognized brand; its been around for a long time. So there was value in the brand and in the intellectual property. The business itself was not being operated well. Ratings had declined; all their ancillary businesses were not doing well. The acquisition timing was good for us. We negotiated and made an offer.
We were not the only group bidding, and AOL/Time Warner certainly wanted to make sure that they struck the best deal that they could for their company. We backed off when we felt the negotiations had stalled. Subsequently, we re-entered the bidding process, and were successful with an offer that was better for the WWF. Our purchase was essentially an asset purchase agreement; the brand, the full tape library, and we assumed contracts of about 24 performers at that particular time. However, we did not assume all of the contracts; for example, Booker T was someone we negotiated with after the sale, and then put him under contract to WWFE. There simply were some contracts that were too high-priced for us to assume.
WWF.com: It can be argued that you and Helen Hart are the matriarchs of the two most successful families in sports entertainment. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with her over the years?
Linda: Stu and Helen Hart were contemporaries of my father- and mother-in-law. So I first met them when my father-in-law was still alive. I thought that Helen Hart was one of the sweetest people I had ever met in my whole life. I would look at this kind lady you cant imagine she would ever say an unkind word about anyone and she has born 12 children. Shes just so unruffled about things. Shes always there, she was strong, compassionate, always the caring mother-hen type but always such a strong companion to Stu.
Helen has been so sick the past few weeks, and one of the most touching things to me was when I called Stu one evening at the point I talked to him, Helen had not regained consciousness and he was telling me how he went to the hospital every day to visit with her. He would hold her hand, and talk to her, and he said, I just keep hoping shes going to open her eyes. It was about three days after that that she finally did open her eyes. Its so touching, that kind of a relationship for two people who have been together for so long. Neither of them are in great health; Stu suffers with arthritis, but still his mind is so sharp, and he tells all of the old stories, and you just sit at his knee and listen. Helen is someone for whom I have a great deal of admiration.
There is another lady also in this industry who player a much different role, but for whom I also have the utmost respect, fondness and admiration, and thats Lilian Ellison the Fabulous Moolah -- who I think is probably one of the all-time strongest, best women I have ever known. Every day for her is about doing something positive and constructive. She has a love of this business that I dont think is exceeded by anyone, and just a true dedication to it. It has been her life, doing something that she really loves. And if I recall correctly about Lil, shes the youngest in a family of many brothers, and the only girl, and she learned to wrestle out of defense.
(laughs) Doing stuff in the ring just came naturally to her, because shed been doing it all her life with her brothers. Lil is a rare treasure.
WWF.com: Can you give us an update on the lawsuit with the Parents Television Council?
Linda: The PTC lawsuit is in what is called the discovery phase at this point. We are taking depositions. We have filed interrogatories, which they are required to answer, and respond, and turn over documentation, so were still in that mode at this particular point. It is progressing. In fact, we recently moved for sanctions against them, because they had in our view withheld evidence. The judge required briefs be filed re the request for sanctions, and that has happened. So the PTC case is moving along. And the PTC is a case that we filed simply because they stepped over the line of First-Amendment rights. Its OK to have an opinion, or to say things that are correct, but in our view, the PTC lied. And once you lie, we will challenge you, because you were lying to harm us and our reputation, and we can never let that stand.
WWF.com: How about the lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature?
Linda: In the first hearing, we were pleased that Judge Jacobs recognized that the Funds position is in fact a restraint of trade, but we disagreed with his opinion that it was not excessive, and we hope that the appellate court will view it differently. We filed our appeal on October 15, and we expect that hearing to take place sometime next spring. I do not believe that the Fund has ever proved that we, in any way, caused confusion in the marketplace with the letters WWF or our logo which has caused them harm. In fact, the Funds public reports indicate nothing but growth and success over the past few years. The whole case is mind-boggling to me.
WWF.com: Can you talk a little bit about what Madison Square Garden means to the World Wrestling Federation and to the McMahon family?
Linda: Madison Square Garden, as far as the McMahon family is concerned, is one of the primary arenas in the world, because so many generations of McMahons have been there Vinces grandfather, his father, Vince, and now our children. Vinces father used to say, Vinny, the Gah-den is the Gah-den. That was really it. There was no place like Madison Square Garden. It has very special memories for us, and is in our backyard, and is in one of the worlds most famous cities, New York. Its just always special to be in Madison Square Garden.
WWF.com: Speaking of special venues, WrestleMania X-8 will emanate from SkyDome in Toronto. I wanted to get your memories of WrestleMania VI in 1990, which also emanated from that facility.
Linda: Let me tell you my most predominant memory of the first WrestleMania at SkyDome in Toronto. It was before the Pay-Per-View event started, and it was the first match. I was standing off to the side in the main arena, because the referee for that match was Shane McMahon. So the crowd is waiting in anticipation for WrestleMania to start. When the lights went on and Shane McMahon walked to the ring, as far as I was concerned, as his mother, they were all cheering for him. (laughs) So my fondest memory of that event was simply standing there as Shane walked by to go to the ring, feeling the surge of that crowd and looking at how apprehensive he was. It was also a moment of reflection, because I was sitting in the audience at Madison Square Garden when Vince McMahon went out for the first time and was the ring announcer for an event. So I have very special memories of watching my family being involved.
That WrestleMania, there was so much going on backstage. To get from the green room in the backstage area all the way around to the other side of SkyDome where the production group was, we actually used golf carts to get around the perimeter, because its such a huge facility. It was very, very exciting to be there. It was the largest crowd at that time in the history of SkyDome. It hadnt been in operation that long. The suite in our hotel looked out into the arena, which was really very cool. So returning there for WrestleMania X-8 will be fun, with lots of memories.
WWF.com: Can you tell us about your new role as a member of the National Foundation of Women Legislators?
Linda: Its an organization that was founded to not only bring women legislators together, but to also offer them support, in terms of how to approach business leaders, how to be in touch with their community, how to organize campaigns for election and re-election. I believe that having someone with a business background come and speak to them or be involved with them is beneficial. It helps me with relationship-building; it helps me to have an appreciation for also what has to go on behind the scenes in the representation process. One thing that we found with our Smackdown Your Vote! campaign through research that was conducted and reported by the National Foundation of Women Legislators after the last election was that of the new, young voters who registered, more of them voted for women.
And the reason for the vote for the women was because women represented change. And they felt that having women involved would represent change that they were looking for in government.
WWF.com: Speaking of the Smackdown Your Vote! campaign, can you give us an update on how thats going?
Linda: Weve been heavily involved. As a matter of fact, we are sponsoring the mayoral debate that will be going on in New York City. Weve been involved more now on the local levels as opposed to federal, and still, in order to vote, you have to register. So we are involved with the National Association of Secretaries of State around the country. Weve been organizing registration events at our live events, still with the message that whether its your state, local or town election, its important to register to vote. This spring, we will be touring college campuses and high schools, especially high schools, when a lot of seniors are turning 18 and are at the age to register, to raise the level of awareness. Kurt Angle is the honorary national chairperson for Smackdown Your Vote! So our efforts are just to continue to register people to vote and to encourage them to participate.
WWF.com: WWFE is also supporting Teen Reading Week. I know you appeared at a local library, as other Federation Superstars have. Can you tell us about that?
Linda: Its so incredibly well received. Because of the popularity of the Federation Superstars, we have been able to have teens come and listen to WWFE Superstars read. All summer, weve been having some of our superstars read at different libraries, and its just amazing. Spike Dudley was a former grade-school teacher, so he really enjoyed being back and visiting with some of the students. The Teen Read program flows into Get R.E.A.L. program, which I think is one of the best programs we have in place to reach out and give back to the communities. It stands for Respect, Education, Achievement and Leadership. Several of our superstars have gone into different schools at the junior and high school level. For example, Albert went as part of the first group that went to the Anacosta area in Washington. Albert told the group to focus on their short-term and long-term goals. One young man came up to Albert and said, My short-term goal is to still be alive on Friday. If I can get past Friday, then I will think about long-term goals. And it was for real that he expected a gang to kill him sometime during the week. So Albert who has been a special-ed. teacher and involved with kids took this boy aside and worked with him independently.
Its all about utilizing the popularity and the power of the World Wrestling Federation to reach young people who might not be listening to anyone else, and to establish a confidence with them, and let them know that theyre hearing the real deal. Nobodys in there to B.S. the students. If our guys have ever been in jail, they tell the students. If theyve ever been arrested, they tell them that. They tell them what its like; they tell them that you dont want to go there, that you need to focus. They say, Look, I did what youre doing, and this leads nowhere. And they say it in ways and talk the language that teens understand. And they reach them. And weve had reports from principals where it had a real impact for our superstars to go and have these sessions. So thats something that were continuing.
WWF.com: Any final thought for the fans?
Linda: I think Id just like to end by saying that for me, its an incredible privilege to have been part of the growth and development of WWFE, working side-by-side with Vince, and all of the wonderful people that we have here as part of this organization, and the superstars. Its a joy to come to work every day. Its challenging. It has been so educational; Ive learned so much, and hope that every day Ill learn something new.
WWF.com: We cant thank you enough for your time. Thanks so much for talking to us today.
Linda: Thank you.