Tim Hornbaker’s “Death Of The Territories: Expansion, Betrayal, and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever” (ECW Press, 2018) is a historical lesson covering how the end of the wrestling territories came to be and the reasons for the demise.
Before the WWF took over wrestling in the 1980s, there were many different territories where wrestlers could go and , in some cases, get quality television exposure. If a wrestler’s appeal with the audience was wearing thin, they could go to a territory and either revamp their characters, or learn more skills before returning months or years later.
Some of the many states that had their own territories included Memphis, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, California, and St. Louis, which were all run by different promoters. Many of them bonded together as part of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), until divisions started when Vince McMahon Jr. bought his father’s company and started invading the territories for their stars.
Hornbaker’s book covers many of the different promoters like Bill Watts, Joe Blanchard, Leory McGuirk, Jim Barnett , and Verne Gagne. Other promoters covered in his history include The Poffos, The Sheik (Ed Farhat), Ann Gunkle , Don Owen, and the Fullers.
The book covers how each of the special territories ran their local television productions. Some of the main television programs were WCCW (from Texas) and the AWA (Minnesota) on ESPN, Jim Crockett Promotions and Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS, and the WWF’s syndicated programs, which started invading the other television stations with better deals for the advertisers by giving them bigger star names, which became a main reason the other leagues folded.
One of the interesting parts of the book is when the author details how some companies would try and enter the other’s area, and with the help of researched attendance numbers, show that some of the fans in certain areas of the United States did not accept the WWF when they ran shows. Memphis was one state that held better television and attendance numbers for their own stars, like Jerry Lawler, as opposed to lower numbers when the WWF tried to come into the area. There were areas where the WWF ran shows that barely drew at the time, as opposed to the myth that every state wanted the WWF in its town.
The story of Vince McMahon Jr’s rise to the wrestling empire by using business techniques such as banning other photographers from his ringside area, to his use of pay per view to help the product, and grabbing stars from other areas are all covered here, including when he aired WWF programming on WTBS. Georgia Championship Wrestling’s booker Ole Anderson’s counter to this time is also interesting, as well as how the other promoters and bookers handled the WWF invading their areas.
I was also intrigued when Hornbaker writes in 1983, McMahon Jr. took over the Ohio region with his show being on Channel 23 in Akron (one of the channels I watched WWF on when I started fully watching in 1986), and also held shows in East Liverpool and Struthers, Ohio (both not far from where I live). It was nice to see my local area covered in the book (mostly the WWF was big in Warren and Youngstown when I started watching and attending, although an occasional Struthers show would be held).
The book covers the rise of Jim Crockett Jr.’s taking over the Carolinas, which became so popular that most of the fans called his league the NWA, although there were many other members of the NWA, until Ted Turner bought out Crockett and renamed it WCW (World Championship Wrestling) to avoid confusion with the other NWA territories that were still running shows.
The history of the territories would not be complete without covering the AWA, Memphis, and World Class mergers in trying to keep their leagues afloat, with the WCW and WWF being the big two leagues. The AWA at one time was considered one of the big three leagues, but with Verne Gagne losing steam, the idea to try and co-promote was attempted.
Hornbaker’s writing is entertaining without having a bunch of dates confusing and boring the reader, and his research is wonderfully detailed, so those that want to know the historical dates won’t be disappointed either. He covers the events in readable chapters without bogging down the reader that they are reading a textbook. There is so much information on the topic, he could have easily have made it 300 pages long, but Hornbaker keeps it at a pleasant 241 pages of text (not counting the pages of book notes). The author also doesn’t become one of the “I hate the WWF for taking over” people, nor does join the argument that “All things WWF is great” either. He writes a nice non- judgmental book where the numbers and the research makes the readers decide for themselves.
Being a lover of the territory days (I am in the minority apparently who loved the AWA years after 1983 when they lost many stars like Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Bobby Heenan- the Bockwinkle/Hennig matches are still some of the most underrated matches ever). This book is a must read for those who want to re-live the days, along with learning information that you may not have known (I for one did not know that Gagne once tried to negotiate a deal to sell out to McMahon Jr, long before he folded the league). “Death of The Territories” is a book that needs to be on every wrestling historian and fans’ book shelf.
This review copy was given courtesy of ECW Press.
“Death of The Territories” by Tim Hornbaker (ECW Press, 2018) IBSN: 978-1-77041-384-9 (softcover), 978-1-77305-232-8 (ePub) , 978-1-77305-233-5 (PDF) can be found at http://www.ecwpress.com
For information on the author, go to twitter@TimHornbaker.