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Do Steel Nerves Equal Ratings?Steel Chairs Sure Do

It's been an action-packed first year for the tag-team duo of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Ring of Honor Wrestling, and Year 2 hints at bigger things. All of Sinclair’s group of stations, expanding after late 2011’s acquisitions, air the weekly show—and general managers say corporate is making a big push for the stations to grow viewership and revenue.

Just over a year since Sinclair acquired ROH Wrestling, it is keen to expand the company’s TV programming beyond the station group’s own expansive footprint. “That’s the plan after Year One—syndication is certainly in the offing for the next year,” said Joe Koff, ROH chief operating officer. “We’ve had requests, both domestic and internationally.”

Sinclair has its roots in wrestling, said David Smith, president and CEO. The group aired programming from WWE chief Vince McMahon’s father in the early ’70s. With the major wrestling franchises having shifted to cable—Raw is on USA, Smackdown is on SyFy and TNA is on Spike—Sinclair saw an opportunity on broadcast television. Smith enthused about ROH while speaking with B&C earlier this year. “The opportunity came up to be in the wrestling business, and we know it works on television,” he said. “In some markets, it does unbelievable ratings.”

ROH shoots monthly in Baltimore, producing material for four ROH shows, and hits the highway for “Road Rage” events in various markets a few times a month. While ROH is not on TV in New York, the circuit will host a June 24 event at the Hammerstein Ballroom. That indicates the brand’s strength online (ROH sells multiple Web subscription models as well as streaming pay-per-views) and in DVD sales.

But broadcast TV is the breadand- butter. Koff said ROH is particularly strong in the Carolinas, in upstate New York and in Ohio. In Cape Girardeau, Mo., ROH airs on both the Fox affiliate (KSBI) at noon Saturdays and its sister MyNet in primetime. Mike Smythe, general manager, said ROH is doing 2 and 3 ratings in the 18-49 demo. “That’s not bad for a Saturday afternoon,” said Smythe, who recently sold a sponsorship to an auto dealer. “I’m starting to see some interest in it.”

What’s key for stations is that ROH reaches an audience that’s harder to pin down than famed Hall of Fame grappler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka—males 18-24. “Our audience is almost impossible for most marketers to reach,” says Koff.

Some 30 wrestlers, who are independent contractors, are in the ROH stable. They are considerably smaller than the pumped-up counterparts on larger stages, and Koff says there is less trash-talking and more wrestling. ROH talent is at times poached by the larger outfits.

While the whole of ROH could be an acquisition target for WWE, Sinclair brass says a sale is not a near-term goal. “It’s not something we have planned out,” said David Amy, Sinclair CFO.

Stu Saks, publisher of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, calls ROH the real deal. “They’re excellent wrestlers,” he said. “It’s a worthy comparison to [WWE and TNA], and in a lot of cases, their shows are superior. Their fans walk out happy.”

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