Before Hulk Hogan’s recent foray into reality TV and surreptitiously filmed sex-tape racism (revealed to the world by the super-reliable National Enquirer), he was a mythical figure in the world of professional wrestling. Throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, he was America’s singular voice against the plagues of the world, including (men in elaborate costumes portraying) Communists, the undead, the fabulously rich, traitors against America, and French giants. Innumerable schoolyard arguments were had about whether Hogan himself bore the entire brunt of toppling the USSR, or was simply a major cause. As inane as you may find all of this, Hogan’s family-friendly “say your prayers and eat your vitamins” persona was big business.
Hulk Hogan popped up in all sorts of places he probably should not have. He attempted to build a movie career, starring in such Cannes Palme d’Or winners as Mr. Nanny, even though he definitely could not act. His illustrious career on the silver screen paled in comparison to his stint as a restauranteur, which gave the world the Michelin-starred Hulk Hogan’s Pastamania, among other assorted eateries that have come and gone over the years.
In spite of his cinematic and culinary flops, Hogan’s cultural presence was ubiquitous enough to make him a god in wrestling circles. The uniquely off-color theatrical form that is professional wrestling had existed mainly in the backwater world of fairgrounds and small local gymnasiums before the emergence of made-for-TV Hogan coincided with the advent of cable TV and its nationwide reach. Even as the ‘90s wore on, and the bright-eyed patriotism that Hogan embodied became hackneyed to most, his profile continued to grow. He adapted to the times, turning “evil.” Much like in real life, all you have to do to become evil in pro wrestling is dress in all black, adopt confusing facial hair, and start hanging around with neighborhood toughs.
Incredibly, Evil Hulk was a ratings coup for his employer, the Ted Turned-owned World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Turner was trying to outdo his only major competition, the World Wrestling Federation, which happened to be the company with which Hogan had originally found his fortune. The emergence of Evil Hulk tilted the balance of viewership in WCW’s direction for the first time ever, in a bit of overblown meta-drama that one could easily expect from the parties involved. One can only imagine the kind of leverage Hogan’s team had at their disposal when they came to the bargaining table in 1998, just as his contract was set to expire.
Let’s calculate how much money Hulk Hogan made when the contract was signed:
A $2 million signing bonus.
For appearing in six pay-per-view events per year, either $675,000 or 15 percent of pay-per-view revenue, whichever was higher. That is a minimum of $4.5 million.
An extra $250,000 to $1.75 million per pay-per-view event, based on how well the event performed. Conservatively, $1.5 million, but up to $10.5 million.
A minimum of $25,000 for 16 contractually mandated television appearances (out of 100 WCW broadcasts total), and 25 percent of the gross arena revenues(!!!) if that amount was greater. So, another $1 million, give or take.
Cash for appearances at non-televised events at his own leisure. He was known for avoiding these, so I won’t even count it.
50 percent of proceeds from all merchandise and media bearing his likeness, including “use in connection with WCW’s exploitation in the area of motorsports, which currently includes NASCAR racing and Monster Trucks.” I don’t know either, man.
That is a very, very large sum of money. Although we don’t know the total amount that Hulk made, the structure of the contract itself is absurd in ways that simply would not be allowed in “real” sports. Imagine Stephen Curry sitting at a table haggling over whether or not the Warriors could use his likeness on a monster truck. Imagine Mike Trout insisting on only showing up to predetermined marquee games. Imagine Rob Gronkowski hitting someone with a steel chair over a perceived transgression. (Okay, maybe that one could happen.)
All told, after some back-of-the-envelope accounting, I can’t see Hulk Hogan having made less than $20 million that year. That’s nearly $30 million in today’s dollars. That’s more than any NBA player makes, for a professional wrestler, and it doesn’t even include endorsements. That’s almost triple what the entire WNBA makes each year. If he ended up hitting the top end of some of those revenue-based incentives, Hulk Hogan’s yearly compensation in 1998 might have been greater than the entire $38 million GDP of Tuvalu. Perhaps Hogan would have better served to buy a country than invest in a chain of quick-serve pasta restaurants, but I digress.
Unsurprisingly, giving Hulk Hogan such a large share of your money is not a sound business practice. WCW folded in 2001, after a period during which the World Heavyweight Championship was held by David Arquette.
Jaime Alayon is a writer who has not turned evil… yet. You should follow him on Twitter.