The Ron Howard film Rush, out in a few weeks, will look to give Formula 1 a good bounce in buzz in the United States, something which one of the world’s most popular and lucrative circuits has not really had to this point, even with their successful race annually in Texas.
Hollywood’s support can do wonders for a sports brand in the social setting, as we have seen time and again with Rocky boosting boxing, Days of Thunder and Cars lifting NASCAR, even Slap Shot in some ways (and maybe Miracle to a degree) helping hockey. Hollywood also lent a great hand in raising the visibility of franchises like the Los Angeles Kings during their Stanley Cup run; the Brooklyn Nets parlayed the visibility of minority owner Jay-Z into some great exposure during their transition.
Most recently we have seen the L.A. franchise in the Arena Football league fall under the influence of Gene Simmons and KISS, which, if successful, could give the struggling circuit a boost much in the way Jon Bon Jovi’s influence helped push the Philadelphia Soul of the AFL to business success in the last decade.
This past weekend that came to light again, when the International Olympic Committee announced that wrestling, following a February ouster for the 2020 games, had been reinstated following a groundswell of support and change from leadership. The seven month marketing, public relations, branding and innovation project was spearheaded by the International governing body for wrestling, FILA, along with the Committee to Preserve Olympic Wrestling (CPOW), a consortium of business and sport leaders whose focus was to invoke change and raise awareness for wrestling from the grassroots to the highest levels.
The partnership, by all accounts, appears to have been a success, with new ideas and innovation coming for a new era of amateur wrestling, one that is more innovative, tech and fan friendly than ever before.
In that mix of influencers was a distinct Hollywood flavor, led by Billy Baldwin. Baldwin has lived an actor’s life in Southern California, somewhat behind the public scene compared to his more vocal and outspoken brothers. But the younger Baldwin helped put together some powerful voices to help wrestling get back in the Olympics when the vote was announced in Buenos Aires on Sunday.
A fan favorite in films like Backdraft, Flatliners, and Sliver, Baldwin was a collegiate wrestler at SUNY Binghamton and continued to ramp up his support for the sport as he rose to stardom. When the February news hit, he was one of the first to the forefront, helping mobilize his Hollywood connections to gain support and visibility for wrestling. Mike Golic, Mark Ruffalo, Kevin James, Mario Lopez, Steve Buscemi and Channing Tatum all heard from Baldwin, and the result was a steady, high profile passion plea to support wrestling’s cause, something that competitors like baseball/softball and squash did not have.
Baldwin also went to his visible colleagues to also help raise money for the campaign, offering things like autographed scripts, lunch with Lopez, training sessions with MMA star Randy Couture and even a walk-on for Buscemi's series “Boardwalk Empire” in exchange for donations from fans. The result went far beyond buzz—the auctions raised and are still raising in excess of $150,000 to amplify the wrestling message.
“This was a great challenge for us as a sport, and my role in this was not big but I hope it was impactful,” Baldwin said in a conference call following the vote. “I love wrestling and what it has done for me and thousands I have come in contact with from around the world, and to not just have the sport in the Olympics but to raise its profile going forward is where we are all focused. It is great to be part of the process.”
Being part of the process meant countless hours meeting and lobbying highly visible entertainers as well as those on the grassroots level, all of whom came away impressed with Baldwin’s passion. His commitment even took him around the world, ultimately ending up in Buenos Aires last weekend to help lobby for support.
In the end, did Hollywood help wrestling move the needle globally? The upcoming film Foxcatcher tells a wrestling tale in many ways, and the sport gained larger viewing audiences during exhibitions in New York and in other key markets, so the answer is probably yes, especially in the financial assistance Baldwin helped garner to fund what was a global campaign in a very short window.
A great Hollywood ending, told on the wrestling mat with the help of an “influencer” in both worlds. Formula One should be so lucky.
Jerry Milani is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.