For nearly 15 years, Carl Demarco carved out a reputation as a savvy executive, helping build World Wrestling Entertainment into the global juggernaut that exists today.
As president of WWE Canada, Demarco was influential in raising the WWE’s profile, first in Canada, and later abroad. He also served as president of Latin America and Chinese Operations and was president of the company’s global business development.
Many of his innovations and ideas are still evident in the company today. And many of the groundbreaking deals he helped broker remain in place.
After leaving WWE Canada in 2009, Demarco started Camillion Corp., a Toronto-based media entertainment and technology company. He also fell off the wrestling radar, so to speak.
“I was always in the spotlight when I was president of WWE, and I just wanted to step back from that, and just focus on my business. And really, I figured save it for when I have something to talk (about) — my promoter’s hat, which I always learned from Vince,” Demarco said during a telephone interview, referring to Vince McMahon, the chairman and CEO of WWE Inc.
Much like a highly anticipated return of a prolific wrestler, Demarco burst through the proverbial curtains and back onto the wrestling scene recently when his company announced it has acquired the rights to Koodo Mobile’s iconic Lucha Libre mascot El Tabador, which it plans to feature in a half-hour prime time, family TV sitcom that will place El Tabador in live action scenes.
Demarco’s elation is evident, even over the phone.
“We’re pretty excited,” said the lifelong wrestling fan. “We’ve gotten incredible response from everybody already on that, from wrestling fans, to celebrities, to wrestlers, you name it.”
For Demarco, wrestling has always played a role in his life, as far back as his boyhood.
“I grew up watching and being a fan of this business,” he said. “I’ve been watching wrestling since … I was probably two or three years old. (The) first wrestling match I ever (watched) was (at) Maple Leaf Gardens, sitting red section, section 22. And I never missed a show (from then) for many years and I was always proud of that. I was there at the CNE, when (Hulk) Hogan and (Paul) Orndorff drew … 80,000 people. I was there for the WrestleManias.”
Demarco was not the typical run-of-the-mill executive.
“I’m a lifelong fan,” he said. “I wasn’t just a hired executive that came from some other industry. Some of the executives were not fans — they became fans — but I grew up in this. Like many wrestlers, like Adam Copeland, he grew up in it. I was in that rare category, I guess.”
Demarco took that love and passion he possessed for professional wrestling and helped the aforementioned McMahon build WWE into the global empire that exists today.
In fact, as of 2011, WWE was watched by six million viewers in the United States and another roughly 30 million worldwide, and was being broadcast in more than 150 countries.
And though he left the company more than four years ago, Demarco’s influence on it cannot be overlooked or understated. In fact, he admits, it has only been while working on the Koodo deal that he’s become reflective on his time with WWE, his relationship with its fans and his place in the company’s history.
“I’ve always had an incredible, special relationship with the fans, in particular in Canada,” Demarco said. “Even today, I got stopped like five times by people asking for my autograph and telling me that they loved what I did at WWE. Every day is like that. It’s incredible. Even (though) it’s been a while, I guess this is a brand that’s going to stick with me for the rest of my life and, you know what, it’s a good honour.”
To this day, Demarco remains a fan, of both the business and the company.
“WWE is an incredible company,” he said. “I’m proud of what I did there, and the history there, and I still think it’s one of the best entertainment companies in the world.”
So much so, in fact, that he remains a shareholder.
“I still have a lot of shares in the company and I’m proud of that,” Demarco said. “That just speaks to (the fact that) I believe in that company still.”
The conversation quickly turns to his longtime boss.
“I really … believe in Vince McMahon. I’ve got nothing but great things to say about him. He’s been a mentor over the years, and a friend, and he gave me great opportunities and taught me so much. He’s one of the smartest guys I know.”
Together, McMahon and Demarco entered uncharted waters for WWE, breaking into new markets, tapping into new technology and putting in place many of the building blocks that exist to this day. Pride is evident in his voice when Demarco reflects on his time with WWE.
“I’ve always been proud of what I accomplished there, and what I did, not just for Canada, but for the company in general and for a lot of markets. I broke WWE into China when, many times, everybody else tried to get in there. I’m proud that I opened up probably one of the largest markets in the world; the largest TV market in the world anyways. And I’m proud that their ratings are going gangbusters there. And I’m proud of what we accomplished in Latin American, and took Mexico to all new heights, where we were the highest-rated show on Mondays and Fridays on the two biggest networks, which nobody thought we could do. I’m ecstatic. We set so many records. I’m still proud to this day, WrestleMania 18, we still have the (attendance) record for the Rogers Centre … 68,236 people, the largest indoor sports entertainment event in the history of Canada. It still stands.”
Another of Demarco’s many brainchilds was the deal between WWE and national movie chains that would see WWE’s lucrative and signature pay-per-views offered for viewing in theatres.
“That was my whole idea, my whole initiative … and it’s still going,” Demarco answered when asked where that idea originated. “It’s been a huge success. By the way, not only did I end up doing it in Canada, becoming a huge success with Famous Players and Cineplex, but I launched it in Mexico, too.”
In those days, not everyone had access to the WWE pay-per-views, an issue Demarco set out to resolve.
“I found at that point in time, there was a huge amount of homes that didn’t have pay-per-view capabilities, but (many people) wanted to watch pay-per-views,” Demarco said. “That gave me the idea to basically launch live pay-per-view broadcasting in all the theatres. And it’s been the most successful live event in theatres to date,” he said, adding that “they’re doing some great stuff out of New York with the (Metropolitan) opera, but we were the first.”
After brokering the original deal with Bell ExpressVu and Famous Players Canada, Demarco and the WWE got to work on making it a reality.
“We equipped all the theatres with the satellite systems, with the best high-resolution projectors in all of the theatres,” Demarco said.
The results surprised even Demarco.
“An interesting thing happened: I found that the fans wanted to watch the pay-per-views live with other fans in a great movie atmosphere. That was incredible. And the other cool thing about this that the theatre chain was surprised (about) at the beginning, going to watch to watch a WWE pay-per-view in the theatres, it wasn’t ‘shh’, like they do at the movies, ‘please don’t talk , turn off your cellphone…’ People were standing and cheering, it was like going to a live event, and they loved it. That’s what they wanted. They wanted to be able to do that and it was an incredible atmosphere where you got 400, 500, 600 people packed in the theatres, many times sold out, cheering like they were at a live event. That was a cool thing and I’m very proud that I took the initiative to do that.”
Demarco also had a vision for mobile phones long before the smartphones of today were introduced.
“Another initiative that (caused) people (to look) at me with cross eyes was when I (brokered) the first content deal on mobile carriers. I did a deal with Bell Mobility, and it was putting WWE content — this is way before smartphones were around — (like) screen savers and images and all that sort of stuff (available on phones).
“The president of Bell ExpressVu, Michael Neuman, went on to become the president of Bell Mobility. He knew that I had my finger on the pulse and he knew the power of the fans, and we cut that deal and that became a huge success. This is way before this whole technology revolution with smartphones and tablets and iPads and iPhones, etcetera. We were way ahead of our time.”
Demarco was also instrumental in bringing WrestleMania 18 to Canada in 2002, the last time the WWE’s signature event was held on Canadian soil.
“It was definitely one of the highlights,” Demarco said, “but there were so many great experiences that I would consider crowning moments for me. It’s hard to pinpoint just one. I set a lot of records, I mean with the WWE, all across the country with attendance records, and ratings records and pay-per-view buy records and merchandising records. Then I was allowed to expand outside of Canada because I was starting to do more stuff outside Canada for the company, which was a real honour and privilege that Vince wanted me to help in out building this thing globally.
“It was an honour and privilege that we got into China after everybody said it couldn’t be done — everybody. They said it couldn’t be done and I proved everybody wrong and I’m happy about that. I’m proud what we’ve done in Latin America. I’m proud by the way (we) helped many superstars become a huge success for the business. I always had the eye for the talent. My track record of who I helped get into the company speaks for itself. And it was great to see some of them get inducted into the (WWE) Hall of Fame … It was a thrill for me to see their dreams come true by opening up the doors, giving the opportunity to them. They all worked hard for it. I can’t take all the credit for it, a lot of credit goes to them and to the company, the machine that made them stars.”
Demarco also attempted, repeatedly he says, to broker a peace deal between the WWE and legendary Canadian star Bret (The Hitman) Hart, Demarco’s longtime friend. Before being hired by WWE, Demarco was the business manager for Hart and president of Hitman Productions Inc.
Hart and the WWE had a very public and bitter fallout stemming from what is now known as the Montreal Screwjob, in which McMahon and other WWE employees covertly manipulated the outcome of a main event match between Hart and Shawn Michaels as McMahon feared Hart would leave WWE as champion to join rival World Championship Wrestling.
Asked if he attempted to broker a deal with Hart and McMahon that would have seen Hart appear at WrestleMania 18 in Toronto, Demarco admitted he had.
“I tried for the longest time,” he said, before opening up about his longtime friend. “Look, I love Bret. I always felt Bret’s home with still in the WWE, but he just needed time to deal with resolve and deal with his anger with the company and I’m glad he was able to do that. Bret is an incredible guy. He’s done so much for the fans in Canada and all around the world and for the business.”
The conversation turns personal.
“I owe Bret a lot. He’s taught me a lot. A lot of people say ‘geez, how do you spot talent?’ You know what, when you’ve been around Bret Hart as long as I did, you learn from the best and he was the best. Bret could spot talent a mile away. It amazes me.”
In fact, Demarco said, it was Hart who first preached about the talents of a young Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, then known as Rocky Maivia.
“We were in Madison Square Garden and it was in the afternoon before the doors opened up, before any of the fans were there … and there was Dwayne Johnson.” Demarco explained. “(It was) before the whole Rock thing came in, and Bret turned to me, we were sitting in one of the seats close to the ring, and he turned to me and he said ‘see him?’ I said ‘yeah.’ He goes ‘he’s the next big star, he’s going to carry the company.’ This is before he did anything. Bret called it out before anybody. Maybe Pat Patterson I would put in that category, by the way. Both those (guys) have the best eyes in the business and, to my opinion, still do. Bret called it. He just knew.”
It was based on Hart’s prediction that Demarco threw his support behind the up-and-comer Johnson ahead of a house show in Canada.
“Because of that conversation in the early days of Rock’s career, we were still doing shows at SkyDome, regular, non-televised shows at SkyDome, and you know what, I took the whole machine in Canada, and really pushed it behind Dwayne to do a whole program with him up here.
“We did a whole thing with Q107 and the Jesse and Gene Show, before he really became a big deal because, you know what, Bret knew it. I went on that, and I’m proud I was one of the first people to push him like crazy up here, even for non-televised shows. That show we pushed him on became a huge success. I think we drew, for a non-televised event, like 30,000-plus people.”
While The Rock has millions upon millions of fans worldwide these days, he always had a fan in Demarco.
“Dwayne was great,” he said, recalling the house show. “He worked hard on it. He came up and did all the publicity, the media circuits and he was totally into it. He was a pleasure and a total professional to deal with. He’s a smart guy and he deserves all the credit and success and he worked hard to get where he is today. I think he’s a real textbook example (of) what anybody who wants to get into this business, how to do it. His career is smoking hot.”
Johnson’s movies grossed more than a billion dollars last year, yet Demarco thinks that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “He had it. And he still does. You could tell when he comes back to the WWE, on his promos and everything else, the guy still has it. The guy is so charismatic. It’s incredible. He has it. And he’s a smart guy. And by the way, my personal opinion, you have not see anything yet with this guy. I think The Rock’s going to become even bigger than he is today.”
Like every great storyline in wrestling, there comes an end. The end of the proverbial storyline for Demarco came in 2009, when he left WWE to explore other ventures. It wasn’t long after his departure that WWE closed its Canadian operations altogether.
“I think that, at the end of the day, they had to make a proper decision,” Demarco said of the WWE.
Parting ways with the company he’d helped grow was bittersweet for Demarco.
“I wanted to do other things,” he said. I’m glad I made that step because I didn’t want to wake up 10 years down the road and look back and say ‘geez I wish I’d left and took some chances.’ It wasn’t about the money for me anymore. I’d been there, done that. I was getting so many other opportunities out there. One thing that I was famous for in the company was I had the best Rolodex in the company. I was connected to everybody all around the world and opened up the doors all around the world on a lot of business opportunities for the company. I wanted to pursue other things and that’s what I did. I’ve got to tell you I’m really glad I made that decision. They’ll always have some room in my heart. You can’t take that out of me ever, nobody can.”
Given his affinity for technology, it was suggested to Demarco that there may never be a more exciting or intriguing time to be working for WWE than this month, as the company is poised to launch its WWE Network later in February. The 24-7 network will feature, among other things, all of the company’s pay-per-views, original content and its vast backlog of footage from its own history and the competing competing companies it has acquire along the way. For the wrestling fan, it’s basically an all-access pass.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the looming network, Demarco had nothing but praise for the move.
“Launching that network … and I see different people with different opinions out there … launching that network is a brilliant move, and I’ll tell you why. Vince McMahon, back again to why he’s a genius. He’s doing a calculated move, long term. He’s not looking at the short term. He’s looking at the long term. This is the right thing to do for this company, for this industry, and he’s taking a bold step before many other people take that step to do it. And they’ll take some short little bumps here and there on it, but for the long term, this is the right thing.”
Demarco first points to the vast catalogue of footage that WWE possesses.
“The genius move that he did (was) putting that whole library of content (out there), which by the way, I was the first guy to (start doing) library content acquisitions for Vince. I flew out to (American Wrestling Association) to meet with Vern (Gagne) and his family and I cut that deal, and that was the first of many to happen. Other executives back in those days, they didn’t get it, but Vince got it. He got it right away, and he said ‘Go get them!’ It was a great idea, and he totally loved it. And now you’ve got an incredible opportunity to monopolize that world’s largest library of this type of content in the world.”
Demarco also likes the move to include pay-per-views on the network, which will launch first in the U.S. and which will cost $9.99 a month on a six-month contract.
“The genius move that he did tying in the pay-per-views is smart because, with this vehicle, he doesn’t have to (split the revenue) with pay-per-view partners. So on a business model, it was the smartest thing he did, and (then in turn) passed on the savings to the fans. He made it an even more attractive package to the fans. It’s still difficult financial times out there in the world. So the fans get an incredible value proposition, and it now (adds incentive for) them to order this channel. It’s a great deal for a die-hard fan.”
At the end of the day, Demarco believes the creation of the WWE Network will only make a strong company even stronger.
“This company, I believe, is completely undervalued … and has been undervalued for a long time. I think that the potential of this company is incredible. Vince did a very smart, strategic decision, and I think he was totally brilliant in (doing) this. This thing is so undervalued it’s not funny, and I think (that’s) part of the reason why you’re seeing the stock going up lately. Because I think that the people on Wall Street, and on Bay Street are starting to recognize ‘Hey, this thing is undervalued’ and ‘hey, this thing has huge potential,’ and (I believe) all of those investors ought to be looking at this company long term. I want it disclosed … I’m still a shareholder of the company. So I don’t want everybody to think ‘he’s just pumping (this) because he’s a shareholder’. No, I’m pumping because I believe it, and I’m disclosing that I’m a shareholder in the company. But look, if you’re an investor, what better company to invest in that does dividends — even during bad times it was issuing dividends. What better company to invest in that’s been around forever, so it’s stable, profitable.What better company to invest in a guy who’s the chairman, holds significant financial interest in the company, who works like a workaholic, seven days a week, 24 hours a day? Would you rather have him as your chairman/CEO, leading this company with your hard-earned investment dollars, in this company, or somebody who takes eight weeks of vacation a year and doesn’t give a you know what? All they care about is the big paycheques for themselves. That’s not Vince McMahon. Vince McMahon, this is his whole life, his legacy. He doesn’t let the grass grow underneath his feet. He’s a billionaire, that’s why he’s successful. That’s why the people who are investing in the WWE are benefitting right now, and they’re making a lot of money. Because he is the right guy to lead this company long-term. And that’s the difference. “
In his own experience, even nowadays, Demarco rarely comes across anyone in Vince McMahon’s league.
“I look at a lot of companies to invest in, and I look at an average of five-plus potential deals a week right now … especially a lot of tech companies. And going through this whole process, and looking at all of their books, and their plans and their strategies, and where it’s going, it really made me realize how incredibly special the WWE situation is. It’s rare to find a guy like Vince McMahon. Very rare. Vince is at the calibre of Steve Jobs. Vince is at the calibre of Mark Zuckerburg. That caliber … Bill Gates … of that calibre. I think the wrestling fans know that, but I think the people who are not wrestling fans, unfortunately, do not recognize but hopefully one day they will. Because he, with this network, is leading this whole digital revolution. And it is a revolution. Hollywood better take note of this guy, because he is a trend-setter, not a trend follower. I give Vince total credit. And I just wish more people would give him credit because credit is due to him. He’s going to come down as a legendary figure and people will be talking about 100 years down the road.”
While Demarco can easily speak about the legacy of Vince McMahon, speaking about his own doesn’t come as easily. Asked how he would feel about a place in the WWE Hall of Fame, perhaps as a builder, he admits such an honour would be great, but that there are others who should be honoured before him.
“That would be an incredible honour,” Demarco said. “I don’t know if that would ever happen, but it would be an incredible honour. Look, I don’t know if I should be the first guy to get that, quite honestly. I think there are other people in my mind who’ve been lifelong employees and contributed a tremendous amount to the wrestling business and to WWE who probably should go in there before me. That’s my personal opinion.”
He does, however, believe there should be a place in the hall for employees who don’t necessarily star in and around the ring.
“I do think there should be an opportunity for some incredible employees who’ve been there forever (and) who’ve contributed so much to the business and the industry. There should be some consideration on that. I don’t think I should be first one … I think there are more, well-deserving people than me and I think it would be too egotistical for me to say ‘yeah, I should be the first one.’ I don’t feel comfortable saying that, but I really do think there should be a category for people who’ve done a lot for the company.”
While fate will decide Demarco’s place in WWE history, and while he clearly enjoys discussing his time with the company, it’s the future Demarco is most excited about these days.http://youtu.be/zMi5XpF0W68
The El Tabador project has been in the works for some time, Demarco said.
“The character has been around since probably 2010,” he said. “I was watching the (commercials), and I loved (them). I think they did a great job. One after another, they just keep getting better and better. And the character has an incredible following, not just with the wrestling fans, but with people who are not even wrestling fans.”
It was a discussion with his wife that got the ball rolling on what will soon be a prime time TV sitcom.
“It’s funny, in my home I have this fireplace and my wife found the El Tabador characters … the figurines. And I have that on my fireplace, and she kept saying to me ‘This is an incredible deal.’ My wife has a pretty good eye for stuff like that. She loved it. So she says ‘Why aren’t you doing something with this?’ And you know what? The light bulb went off, and she was right. And it took me two years to get the deal done. And I got it done, and I’m very proud of the deal. The guys at Koodo got it. They’re smart guys, I love those guys, and they got it. And I’m going to take this character worldwide and we’re going to turn it into a global worldwide intellectual property.”
Demarco is promising that besides its cutting-edge animation, the show will be innovative and funny.
“This character has become an iconic character in all of Canada. Everybody knows this character. It’s funny, and it’s incredible. So this is going to be a real comedy sitcom style of show. More than animation, it is going to be a sitcom.”
The plan for now, Demarco said, is for the show to land on a specialty or cable network in the lucrative U.S. market.
“I’m not opposed to network,” he said. “It would definitely be a prime time thing. That’s what I’m targeting. I’m taking my time with this project. It’s my baby. I now control … I own the rights to this thing, worldwide. And my first step on this is making sure we put the right creative together for the show, for this character, and for other characters we’re to have on the show, etc. And make sure that the creative works on a global basis around the world, and that we do this right. So we’re going to take the time to do this right.”
If the response he’s getting so far is any indication, Demarco knows he’s onto something big.
“Since this has been announced, I’ve been bombarded with calls from all of my wrestling, and celebrity friends who are not even wrestlers … celebrities … action stars. (And) I’ve gotten a flood of inquiries from broadcasters all around the world.
“This whole thing is going to come down to two things, the best funny creative, and best quality show,” Demarco said, adding the plan is for the show to hit the airwaves sometime in 2015. “And trust me, the marketing PR, you know me. I’m going to blow it right out of the water and take it to a whole new level. I’m very excited about this.”
Given the nature of the program, and its character being a Lucha Librea wrestler, it’s not a stretch, it was suggested to Demarco, that perhaps one day he and Vince McMahon could once again work together.
You just never know, Demarco said.
“You know what? I have not talked to Vince.,” he said, before adding “I’m always open to that. With Vince and the WWE, I love WWE. I’m still their biggest fan. And I would do anything for those guys, in particular for Vince, and I’m still close with some of the family members. Shane McMahon is one of my best friends. He’s like a brother to me. And I talk to him all the time. I’m proud of that. I have one sister. I don’t have a brother. I always said, if someone says “Hey, do you have a brother?” and I’d say ‘Yeah, his name is Shane.’ Shane and me are like brothers. I’ve always liked that.
“I have such an affection for the whole family. Vince and Linda. But I believe Linda should be in the Hall of Fame. Linda McMahon should be in the Hall of Fame for all that she did. If you talk about somebody who should be the first one, it should be Linda McMahon. Because she was the catalyst behind the scenes to help Vince build this company. I have nothing but great things to say about the whole family. I’m proud of Triple H, and him stepping up and what he’s doing for the company. He’s taking it to a new level. So I think things are in real great hands there. As Vince would say, onward and upward.
One glimpse at Carl Demarco’s track record, and it’s not hard to imagine El Tabador becoming yet another successful project.
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