Eric Bischoff is one of the biggest names in professional wrestling, having spent several decades of his life commentating from the ring in front of 20,000+ people and on live television. After his wrestling career, Bischoff started his own reality TV show production company with actor and producer Jason Hervey, he started brewing and distributing his own beer and he co-founded MX Digital, a developer and distributor of branded slot and game content.
Throughout all the different twists and turns Bischoff’s career has made, it’s clear he’s an entrepreneur with a knack for identifying strong brands. Bischoff has used these skills and the relationships he’s made along the way for success in the online gambling industry, creating slots branded with celebrities such as Hulk Hogan, David Hasselhoff, Dennis Rodman and Joe Frazier.
Thanks to Ike McFadden, Biscoff’s business partner and also co-founder of MX Digital, I had the opportunity to conduct this interview and spend twenty minutes talking to one of the friendliest, most articulate, engaging and inspirational people I have ever met.
How did you get involved with the wrestling industry and how did you end up as an on-air personality?
It was right place, right time. I never had any intention of getting into the professional wrestling business, the thought never occurred to me to do so.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur – just through sheer coincidence I ended up at a meeting with an individual who owned a wrestling televised product company and went to work for him in a sales and marketing capacity.
Life just kind of took it’s own course and through another set of bizarre circumstances, I ended up unexpectedly in front of the camera. As horrible of an experience as it was for everyone involved, including those who had to watch me, it ended up eventually being OK and it just kind of grew from there.
Out of all your experiences in the wrestling world, what is your best story?
It’s hard to say- after twenty-seven years of being in a very colorful, larger than life industry that really saw some massive growth and explosion during the time I was in it, it’s hard to pinpoint any one moment- it’s like saying which of your kids do you like the best- it’s hard.
When I look back, I think of some of the radical changes I made in the industry that led to some of that explosion. Working for Ted Turner of the Turner organization was a highlight for me professionally. Being the architect if you will of one of the biggest eras in the history of an industry that has a long, long history in television was really personally rewarding for me and I learned a ton of things.
Who was the most “larger than life”, craziest character that you met during your wrestling career?
Larger than life…undoubtedly Hulk Hogan.
Hulk Hogan had a career dating back to the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. He started out as a ‘larger than life’ character even before he became well known and throughout his entire career and to this day, he and I are very close friends, probably one of my best friends. He has the type of presence and character that really epitomizes larger than life- you can’t walk through an airport or across a street without people just gravitating towards him- they feel like they know him, they feel like they grew up with him and he’s a very accessible character. And to me, that really kind of defines larger than life, because most of us don’t have that characteristic.
In the book of things I’ve learned, I’ve learned a lot of things from Hulk. One of the reasons he has such an enduring career and has been around as long as he has- 30 some years- is because he’s accessible, very friendly. In all the years I’ve been associated with him, which is going on 17 or 18 years now, I’ve never once seen him in public turn down an autograph- ever. I think that’s what’s helped build his brand.
How did you make the transition from wrestling to reality TV?
I was forced to [laughs]. I got out of wrestling in 1999 during the whole AOL Time Warner transition – there were some real genuine issues there for me personally and just the business in general. Reflecting back on it now- the AOL/Time Warner merger was a disaster for a lot of people and I was certainly one of them. I got out of wrestling and I said that’s it- I’ve been to the mountaintop, done everything that I possibly could have wanted to do in this business, I have to do something else.
The type of television I’ve been involved with for many years is non-scripted, while wrestling is what wrestling is- I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a legitimate sport- but it’s not scripted the way a scripted drama is or a sitcom is. You’re working with non-actors- performers, but not actors- and you have to tell a story. There’s an arch, there’s an outcome, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, but you have to learn how to produce it with a talent in such a way that you don’t rely on a script.
Once I got out of wresting, I realized reality television was beginning to emerge in the United States in a big way. And I thought, well I can do that. You’re working with real people who aren’t actors but you’re putting them in situations where you can predict a reaction – that’s right up my alley.
So my partner and I, who spent his entire life as an actor and a producer, Jason Hervey, decided to start working together and see if we could carve out a niche for ourselves in that industry and we’ve been very fortunate.
On a totally different note, you brew your own beer, how did you get involved with that?
It’s another long story but it’s safe to say I’m a very avid consumer of the product. I love beer.
My wife and I live in a small town in Wyoming in the summer, just outside of Yellowstone national park in a little town called Cody. I’m a brand guy at heart. I recognize the value of a brand and try to find ways to monetize them…or exploit them. We’re in Cody, Wyoming and the town was built by Buffalo Bill Cody who was one of the most prolific and well known showman in the world back in the late 1800s, early 1900s. He put on Wild West shows in London. Living there, knowing the history, sitting on my deck one way with my wife, we said, ‘God, somebody should have a beer called Buffalo Bill Cody beer’. Cut to, we’ve got a beer, called Buffalo Bill Cody beer and we’re distributing it now in Montana, Wyoming, North & South Dakota, Arizona and soon in Nevada and Colorado.
So what started out as a vanity, fun project, has turned into an interesting business.
How did your experience in all these things you’ve mentioned influence what you’re doing with MX Digital and the online gambling slots that you create?
From my experience in building a brand for Ted Turner and the wrestling company that I built, utilizing wrestlers and their brands to build that monster, that’s where it became so important to me and where I really learned the value of a brand.
A long time after I got out of that business I met a gentleman by the name of Ike McFadden through another contact. He was working for a company that was producing terrestrial games and specifically trying to develop a terrestrial slot machine business model whereby we would take the Hulk Hogan brand on a slot machine and distribute it throughout the Native American casino network and part of the profit from those machines would be returned to the Native American casino tribes through an organization called NIGA.
We tried very hard for a number of years to get that project off the ground. We were ultimately unsuccessful, but through that relationship I was exposed to the Casino industry, I was exposed to brands and how they were utilized in the terrestrial business. About that time the online gambling industry was really beginning to emerge and we saw an opportunity- to take my skill sets and relationships, quite frankly – those and my business partner Jason’s- because we were very immersed in Hollywood and we still are. We have great agents, we have just a lot of people that we know, so we can work through the agency hurdles and go out and get a couple brands.
So we started with Hulk and that turned into the David Hasselhoff and it turned into Dennis Rodman, Joe Frazier, James Dean, The Blues Brothers. But all that started with Ike and I meeting about 5 years ago in the terrestrial business.
What are some of these big brands doing for you on Social Media? How do they work with MX Digital to get the word out?
They’re so great. I can’t say enough about Hulk and all of them- David, Dennis.
Our marketing team reaches out to them three times a week, sometimes more, and reminds them to tweet, tells them what’s going on, so if we have a special program or promotion where we’re offering bonus points or offering merchandise, or whatever it is we’re promoting that particular day, we’ll feed that information to our partners, our licensors, whether it be Hulk Hogan or anybody else, and they in turn immediately, religiously, tweet about it.
So not only do we have a great name and a picture on a machine and all that good stuff that everybody else has, we have people that are passionate about promoting their games and helping us build that audience and awareness. I think that makes us pretty unique in that respect.
You’ve also recently entered the social casino space, how did you decide to make this move?
There are a lot of great things about the wager side of the business but there are some challenges there in terms of the length of time it takes to not only develop the game, but then you’ve got to get the game integrated, out into the casinos- it’s got a long gestation period at times. We were watching what was going on in social and social is very real time- it’s right now, you collect your money almost every day – and it was growing fast.
We had conversations with Double Down right before they were acquired and we were contemplating doing some deals because they loved our brand and loved our content. But once the merger happened, it no longer made sense for anybody and we determined then we really wanted to put the emphasis on social. It took us a while to find the right partners, to find the right business model.
Six months ago is when we felt like we really had the right partner in TraffGen and they moved quick, developed great games, brought in the right marketing people and here we are.
What’s the next big thing we’re going to see from MX Digital?
I have to be honest, I’m not a gaming guy. I’m not immersed in the wage industry or the social industry in terms of gaming, but I’m an entertainment guy and I look at gaming as just another form of entertainment.
Years ago I read a book called “The Entertainment Economy”- in reading that book, it became clear to me whether it’s news, films, movies, commercials- whatever it is that you’re putting out there- so much of it is just really another form of entertainment.
The opportunity I see here is to take games that are traditional games – slot machines are slot machines are slot machines, some are cooler and more sophisticated, but at the end of the day they are just entertainment too. If I can bring my skill sets and my point of view to the gaming industry and create games that are everything a traditional waged casino gamer would enjoy, but has a new feature, something that makes it just a little cooler, a little more entertaining, then that’s my goal.