Recently, I had the chance to interview Kevin Kleinrock, business developer, and Executive Producer of Masked Republic, an expansion of all things Lucha Libre. Masked Republic is built on the passion that both Kevin Kleinrock and Ruben Zamora (President and Creator) have for the luchador style wrestling. Currently, he manages all the background work that makes Masked Republic running, such as Licensing, Social Media, Public Relations, etc. Before being part of Masked Republic, Kevin was Vice President of Xtreme Pro Wrestling and the mastermind behind Wrestling Society X. I met Kevin through LinkedIn and have connected with him because of the current journey I am in to get into the Pro Wrestling industry. In this interview; I concentrated on one important aspect to the Sports Entertainment Industry, Negotiating.
Kimberly: What started you off on this journey into the Pro Wrestling world?
Kevin Kleinrock: When I was young I wanted to be a video game developer when I grew up. But then, around the age of 12, I really got into pro wrestling. Being scrawny and not liking getting hurt - I knew being an actual wrestler wasn't for me. And, not really "getting" how wrestling worked, how the magic is done, I had set my sights on being "President of the WWF" because I thought that was the guy making the matches. I would later learn that the WWF President was someone playing a role and that the real behind the scenes puppet master was called the "Booker, " and he made the matches, decided the finishes, feuds, etc. Today they are mostly called "writers" to be more Hollywood. The same goes for the people who help the wrestlers put their matches together (usually retired wrestlers) they used to be called "agents, " and now they are called "producers.”
Anyway, I loved the drama, the creativity, the larger than life characters. I wanted to be in the middle of it all!
Kimberly: What was your first experience in the sports entertainment industry?
Kevin Kleinrock: My very first "gig" in wrestling was at age 16 when I started writing for the program that my local wrestling company sold at their events. I would write the results of the previous show from the "heel" or "bad guy" perspective under a pen name: The Eternal Flame (which was also my "living room wrestling" character when I would wrestle my brother at home.) From there, the promoter made me the timekeeper, ringing the bell for the matches. Then one day, the ring announcer didn't show up. So, I was "promoted." Suddenly I was a ring announcer. It was there at Slammers Wrestling Federation that I would meet friends and co-workers that would last my entire lifetime thus far.
Kimberly: What do you enjoy most about working in this industry?
Kevin Kleinrock: What I enjoy most about the industry are the creative aspects and the entertaining people aspects. I love the creative outlet it's given me to create characters and worlds. I like being able to take a wrestler in whom I see potential and help them craft their character, assist them to develop their speaking abilities, and help them "get over" with the crowd or become hated by the crowd.
That leads into the entertaining people aspect. It's the same, I think, for many involved in entertainment. Life is TOUGH! The world is TOUGH! When people watch pro wrestling, it's a way of escaping from reality. It's a willing suspension of disbelief for an hour or a few hours - just like going to a movie or watching a TV show - that allows the viewer to find some enjoyment - and usually in an ever more visceral way than watching a movie or TV show - as the audience at a pro wrestling event is often as much a character as the performers in the ring. If the crowd is not booing or cheering - getting emotionally invested either way - then the writers or the performers are not delivering as they should. Being able to provide that temporary escape - to entertain the masses - that's a huge part of why I love working in the industry.
Kimberly: What is your experience negotiating in the industry?
Kevin Kleinrock: Negotiating in the industry takes MANY forms.
There is negotiating with venues. One thing I can tell you is that any "real" or major venue will always try to get a percentage of your merchandise sales. I am proud to say that in all my years, I've been able to negotiate out of that successfully. Now, in part, that was because my shows were never big enough to warrant the venue feeling they were losing out too much. But, it's something to keep in mind. Venue contracts can be VERY detailed. Running at a Boys and Girls Club, recreation center, or VWF Hall, that's one thing. But a venue that has concerts in it and places like that, always read the fine print. Well, always read the fine print period!
There is negotiating with the talent for the show. My advice is always to be honest and show that you are fair. Independent promoters are notorious for "being cheap" and not paying much for talent. Meanwhile, I was often accused of "overpaying" talent and making it harder on other promoters. I've always just tried to be fair. I have found that a good approach is knowing what your limit on a talent fee is and saying to the talent "I'd love to have you on my show, but I only have $X for the spot. I completely understand if it's below your normal rate and you don't want to do it. No hard feelings, but, I wanted to offer you what I could afford just in case you were open on that day and wanted to do the show." I find that to be a good negotiating tactic because you are not playing Mr. or Ms. Big Shot. You are being humble and letting the wrestler know that you feel they are WORTH more than you can pay them - and that makes them feel good. A lot of times, if the wrestler is open, they'll take the date as long as they feel it's close to what they can get. "
Kimberly: Could you name an experience that the negotiation process took a little longer than expected?
Kevin Kleinrock: A time that a negotiation took longer than expected was when we were trying to help wrestlers with their Lucha Underground contracts. Unfortunately, the show was handing out bad contracts and did not want the talent using representation to help negotiate. But, we support wrestlers who want our help. So, we had to go back and forth for a bit with a lawyer working alongside us and the talent and then the talent and the Lucha Underground representatives. Eventually, Lucha Underground refused to deal with the lawyer or us and told talent to deal direct or to forget it. The irony of the whole thing ended up being many of the wrestlers got much of what they wanted. I'm sure Lucha Underground was thinking we were trying to drive up the wrestlers' asking prices so we could get more money for ourselves, thinking we were working as real agents getting a percentage. But we were not; we were simply helping talent - which is what we do. So, in the end, LU thought they were slick for "cutting us out, " but when the wrestlers got the deals they wanted, it was a big win for us and the wrestlers. And, that's what really matters.
Kimberly: Do you have any advice for those who are interested in entering the wrestling entertainment business?
Kevin Kleinrock: Do you want to know the first advice I was given by the man who let me put my foot in the door? "Don't."
But seriously, the first thing is to have a second career! Go to college, get a degree, have something ELSE to do with your life and then try to parlay that into wrestling. So, you're on the right path!
Second, don't expect to make any money at first. Look at any opportunity you get as an unpaid internship. Take on any chance you get to be around and see the inner workings. Find how to be valuable. Could a local promotion use your help somewhere? Are there ways you think you can help them market their product? Get sponsors? Run their events more efficiently? I would always suggest putting these things in writing and sending them to the promoter not right before or right after a show but in between shows. The stress of an event is very high and the days leading to are crucial and days after often needed to recover! When you do have an opportunity to be around the business, be a sponge! Soak up every bit of knowledge you can. LISTEN. Don't always offer advice out loud. Listen. Take it in. Think about it.
READ! Subscribe to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Most people don't know what it is, but it's sort of like the Variety or Hollywood Reporter of the pro wrestling business. It's an industry trade journal that not only discusses the "what's" of wrestling (and MMA) every week but the "why’s” and the business side. Be a voracious reader. These days the whole explosion of podcasts is an excellent resource as well. Listen to podcasts. “Something to Wrestle” with Bruce Prichard is an excellent choice for learning wrestling history. MSL & Sullivan on the MLW Radio Network goes week by week through WCW wrestling's Monday Nitro with the head booker/writer for a substantial period, Kevin Sullivan. Once you subscribe to Wrestling Observer, you get their nearly 100 radio shows a month as part of your subscription. Listening to them three times a week, Wrestling Observer Radio show provides a ton of insight.
Listen to and read NON-wrestling related things as well. A lot of times people "live in the wrestling bubble" so it's the same old ideas. I like listening to the Forbes Sports Money podcast to hear about business related topics from mainstream sports, and I think about how I can apply those lessons to pro wrestling.
What it comes down to it is getting that experience and being around it. Find a local company and start doing anything and everything you can just to get your foot in the door and start to see the inner workings. Of course, make sure it's a reputable company. One of the dangers of pro wrestling is that unlike any other sport or entertainment venture - literally anyone can wake up and say, "I'm a pro wrestling promoter now." You can't just wake up and be a football team owner or start your own traveling theater company, but you can literally wake up and promote a wrestling event after a few phone calls. Those are the type of people you may not want to learn from.
I want to personally thank Kevin Kleinrock again for letting me interview him for this article. Reading his previous interviews and researching information on Masked Republic, XPW, and Lucha Underground has been an eye-opener of the many opportunities out there for me. I have also taken his advice and called a few places to learn more about promotion and marketing in live events. My next step is to contact our local wrestling circuit (AZW - Action Zone Wrestling) to find internship opportunities to gain experience in the Sports Entertainment Industry. Below, I have provided extra reading material on the inner workings of Kevin Kleinrock.
SoCal Uncensored Interview with Steve Bryant
Wrestling with Wregret – Kevin Kleinrock Interview:
Masked Republic Website:
Ruda Lifestyle Website:
Kleinrock, K. (2017, July 10). Interview by Kimberly Andrade [Email Correspondence]. Digital Portfolio Assignment.