Turner Meets with SFX on WCW

Hoping to pump some life into its fading World Championship Wrestling unit, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. executives met recently with live-event promoters SFX Entertainment Inc.

Turner Sports spokesman Greg Hughes said executives discussed "promotional opportunities" with SFX.

But one source familiar with the May 25 meeting said SFX appeared to be interested in acquiring a stake in WCW, as executives requested detailed financial information about the company, including a three-year WCW cash-flow statement, a list of WCW employees and titles and information regarding pending WCW litigation.

TBS Inc. president of general-entertainment networks Brad Siegel, Turner Entertainment Group executive vice president of finance and administration Vicky Miller and other senior Turner and SFX executives were present at the meeting, a source said.

WCW "is not up for sale," Hughes said last week. Siegel wasn't available for comment.

SFX chief financial officer Thomas Benson confirmed that the company has met with TBS Inc. executives, but he couldn't confirm what was discussed regarding WCW. "It certainly would have to be more narrow than something as broad as an acquisition. What falls in between, it's hard to say," he said.

The talks come as WCW ratings and pay-per-view buy-rates are at an all-time low, despite several management changes. WCW projected that it will post a $61.2 million loss this year, a source said.

WCW has also been a drain on parent company Time Warner Inc.'s earnings. Revenue gains for Turner cable networks were offset by higher programming costs and lower results at WCW, Time Warner said in its first-quarter earnings report.

Meanwhile, with the fall season quickly approaching, it's still not clear which cable networks will air programming from WCW competitors the World Wrestling Federation, currently on USA Network, and Extreme Championship Wrestling, currently on The Nashville Network.

USA Cable sued World Wresting Federation Entertainment Inc., Viacom Inc. and CBS Corp. in April, seeking to force WWFE to accept an offer to keep the WWF-which produces the highest-rated shows on basic cable-on USA Network.

CBS and Viacom offered WWFE a wide-ranging proposal, which included running WWF shows on TNN and MTV: Music Television, distribution of WWFE's upcoming XFL football league and other ventures.

The trial is scheduled for June 12 in Delaware Chancery Court.

Despite the WWF's uncertain future, it enjoyed double-digit pricing and spending increases during its upfront, senior vice president of North American sales Jim Rothschild said. But he declined to say which network the ads were designated for.

USA executive vice president of sales John Silvestri said the lawsuit hasn't hurt sales of USA's WWF inventory. The company expects its WWF programming to return, he added.

If USA loses wrestling, it will offer advertisers the option of running WWF-designated ads during other programs, or it will refund the WWF ads, Silvestri said.

It's also not clear where ECW shows will run this fall. Last June, the company signed a three-year deal with TNN. But the Viacom-CBS proposal states that the company wouldn't carry a WWF competitor.

ECW outside counsel Stephen Stern said TNN executives have denied several requests for meetings to discuss the status of the contract in recent months.

Officials with TNN declined to comment.

Asked if ECW is pursuing distribution with other cable networks, outside counsel Stephen Stern said, "We have had conversations with people concerning the viability and future of our company."