Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff Talks Short and Longterm ROH TV Goals, Talents Leaving ROH For WWE and TNA, ROH’s Destination America Run

Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff recently spoke with Ring Rust Radio and below are some interview highlights.

Ring Rust Radio: Ring of Honor is known for producing some of the best matches every year, but what are some of the areas of the product you feel ROH could improve the most?

Joe Koff: Well that’s a very good question. I would tell you that from a talent perspective, from an excitement perspective, the pure product, the craft, the art of our wrestlers, the sensibility of our fans and our relationship to the fans overall, I think we can always improve. I would never want to be at a day of work where we think we can’t get better. I think a couple of areas that I’d like to see us do better is that I would like to toy around with the idea of a two-hour program. We are a very sleek one-hour program on a weekly basis. We have fairly good distribution and I’m very pleased with that. I would like to see us get to a broader national place like we had with Destination America. Since we are not in a set place and we don’t travel with 10 semi-trailers, production will always be something we look at to improve, but a lot of that is building based. I think it’s important that we go where the fans are and that’s why we took our show on the road. I think that’s a couple of things I would like to see us do a better job with.

Ring Rust Radio: Television distribution is a major key to success for any company. What is the short-term future of ROH TV, and what are the long-term goals of the company on TV?

Joe Koff: That’s a great question as well. First of all, there is no short-term. Sinclair Broadcasting is a broadcaster and we own 172 television stations in 81 markets. We control programming and content on over 400 channels. This is a part of Sinclair Broadcasting. The short-term is exactly as you see it. The long-term is even better even for the fan. I’m really excited about it because of the company we represent. There are a lot of companies that wait for technology to happen and we’ve always been a company that’s been very innovative. I always liken ourselves as almost a tech incubator. A lot of the things we have done with Ring of Honor have come from inside the company. One of the things technically, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this because I’m not that well-informed enough to talk about it, but there’s going to be a new standard of broadcasting that’s being developed and accepted right now called ATSC 3.0. It’s going to be television transmission on an IP level. It’s going to allow us as a company and anyone else adapting to it to really bring free television platforms anywhere and on any device people are viewing them on. That’s another key to Sinclair is that we are a free television platform company. So Ring of Honor is always available for free. If you can get our signal no matter where you live or get one of these signals from a station that carries us across the country, you can get Ring of Honor for free without paying anything extra for it. That is something we believe dearly in and that says a lot about us.

Ring Rust Radio: ROH had a short run on Destination America last year which allowed the product to reach more homes than ever before. Why didn’t that end up being a longer-term partnership, and how successful do you regard that venture in retrospect?

Joe Koff: Well I think it was very successful in retrospect. It expanded my brand even for that short period of time that we were on and it allowed more people to see us and more people to experience us. As far as why it didn’t go longer, I think it had to do with the management shift at Destination America which is not uncommon in the programming business. We are all fighting for audience and we are all fighting to do the best thing for our station. Destination America is a programming channel and I think they wanted to go more into the, I don’t want to call it the occult, but shows like Ghost Whisperer and stuff like that. Wrestling as a product has a tendency to be an isolationist product unless you are on a full wrestling channel, which doesn’t exist except in over-the-top with the WWE or on my website or ROH wrestling on demand where you can get tons of videos on demand. It doesn’t lend itself around other products unless you’re a male oriented station or a combat oriented station. I think Destination America just made a programming choice. I was thrilled to have that exposure. With Comet TV, which is a science fiction genre channel, we are in more homes than we were with Destination America so we didn’t lose out on that part.

Ring Rust Radio: Ring of Honor has one of, if not the most, passionate fan bases in wrestling. How or what would you like to see ROH do to further grow the audience?

Joe Koff: I would like to go international and take us to more countries. We’re embarking on our first international tour that we are promoting in the UK in November. I would like to be able to get to the point where we can get into some bigger buildings and we are getting there. This has been an amazing journey, and it started in 2010 when I met with Cary Silkin, the owner of Ring of Honor at the time. I talked to him about expanding his brand and taking it to places that he was unable to do. He agreed finally and after back and forth we were able to debut a product on September 24, 2011, which is when Ring of Honor television began. We are in the 250’s of episodes and that is a lot of content we have created. That includes the videos on demand and every house show we do is recorded and is available to the fans. I think we’ve done a really good job in creating a brand, and a brand that like you said the fans love. Quite frankly that is the reason why I was so passionate about getting involved with Ring of Honor. The relationship we have with the brand and the fans. I’ve been into wrestling my entire life, I am one of those fans that never really grew out of it, and I was able to find a way to stay in it. There are moments when you go to a Ring of Honor event, and I’m sure you guys have been and if not you need to come, when the arena and the fans and the guys all become one. It’s almost like you’re an athlete getting into the zone, it just happens and then you realize you are in the zone. Those moments are magical for my wrestlers and the fans and everyone involved. That’s the magic of Ring of Honor and I want to keep sustaining that and to keep it going. I think we’ve done a very good job in doing that.

Ring Rust Radio: Over the last several months, several big names have departed Ring of Honor for other companies. What are your thoughts when an ROH star leaves for WWE or TNA, and what kind of efforts has the company made to keep its existing stars under contract?

Joe Koff: I love people that want to work for Ring of Honor and we are trying very hard to become the promotion of choice. A promotion of choice for fans, a promotion of choice for advertisers and a promotion of choice for talent. I don’t blame guys if they want to seize better opportunities elsewhere, and I think we would all do the same thing. I think we have done a very good job in creating a culture and I think our culture is definitely different than other wrestling companies and promotions. We provide steady work, we tour, we do TV, we don’t wrestle 200 days a year and because of that economically there’s going to be a difference. I certainly don’t begrudge anybody that thinks they can do better for themselves. They’re in charge of their lives and taking care of themselves and their families or whatever the decision trigger is to move to those organizations. I’m happy they were part of Ring of Honor and I hope they feel the same way.

Ring Rust Radio: WWE’s roster is currently stacked with guys who first became stars in ROH like Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Cesaro. With WWE being so willing to push former ROH guys to the top, do feel like that’s beneficial to your brand in terms of bringing in new talent or detrimental in terms of being more likely to lose top talent?

Joe Koff: You can’t worry about what you’re going to lose, you can only focus on what you can build. I think it’s a great draw for us. When you look at the wrestling landscape, and I just want to draw attention to even this conversation, four years ago I don’t think I would be this powerful in this narrative and I think we are there. When you talk about the names that you mentioned, I don’t think they would’ve gotten there without Ring of Honor. Ring of Honor is special and is special to the fans and special to the guys. Because of that I think we have an aspirational promotion to keep bringing in talent that may make it to WWE while some guys, and I say this with a lot of confidence, are very happy to just be in Ring of Honor. That level of talent is still going to be coveted, but may not be obtained. I have no issue with that and I’m proud of that. The guys that have worked for me and are now in WWE, I’d like to think that we played a little part in their success. I can take a lot of solace in that.