"Hindsight is 20/20" is especially true when it comes to business decisions. For every story about a business venture that became an unexpected massive success, there is a story about a person who turned down that business venture, or chose to leave it before it hit the big time. It's genuinely difficult to know what will and will not make money. Wrestling star and occasional actor, Hulk Hogan, definitely could have used a crystal ball to show him the future when it came to one specific business opportunity that was presented 15 years ago. The Hulkster had the opportunity to jump into the extremely lucrative world of celebrity product endorsements. When Hulk's agent gave him a choice between a grill and another product – Hulk Hogan chose the other product. The grill went to another sports figure – George Foreman. Fast-forward to today, and the "George Foreman Grill" is everywhere. Hulk Hogan's product? Yeah, not so much. His misguided decision would lead to him missing out on $200 million in potential profits. Here's the story of how Hulk Hogan made one of the worst business decisions ever.
Hulk Hogan, also known as Terry Eugene Bollea, was born on August 11, 1953 in Augusta, Georgia, and grew up in Tampa, Florida. An athletic child and accomplished musician, Hulk Hogan discovered a love of wrestling when he was 15 years old. Inspired by "Superstar" Billy Graham, he worked to build up his physique, while pursuing a career as a rock musician. He subsequently dropped out of college to focus on his music career with his band, Ruckus. While performing with the band, he was approached by two audience members, a pair of wrestlers who competed on the Championship Wrestling from Florida circuit. The pair suggested he train as a wrestler. Within a year, he'd left music behind and was training full-time. For the next several years, he would go back and forth between wrestling, running a Florida club, and running his own gym. By the late 70s, he'd begun to make a major name for himself, achieving increased fame wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling and the American Wrestling Association, as well as appearing in movies such as "Rocky III". In 1983, he became the face of the World Wrestling Federation, and for the next 10 years, "Hulkamania" swept the wrestling world.
After the mid-90s, Hulk Hogan began to diversify. While continuing to wrestle off and on for New Japan, WCW, New World Order, WWF/E, and Total Nonstop Action, he also launched multiple business ventures, a moderately successful acting career, and returned to making music. Unfortunately, not everything he worked on was successful. For example, his restaurant, Pastamania, failed in less than a year. It was around this time that Hulk's agent approached him with the idea of endorsing a kitchen product.
The first version of this story was revealed by Hulk himself during an episode Hogan Knows Best. In the episode, Hulk proclaimed that his agent called to pitch him on the idea of endorsing a grill, but he missed the call because he was out picking up his kids from school. Hulk further claimed that instead of waiting for him to return the message, his agent simply called the next client on his Rolodex who happened to be George Foreman. As tantalizing as this version of the story may be, it's unfortunately not entirely accurate. The idea that Hulk's agent would just call the next client is completely ridiculous. In reality, Hulk met with his agent and was given three options for products to endorse. The three options were a grill, a meatball maker, and a blender. By some accounts, Hulk initially chose to endorse the blender, which was later named the "Hulk Hogan Thunder Mixer". By other accounts, he chose the meatball maker, and the failed product was called the "Hulkamania Meatball Maker". More important than which product he chose to endorse, is the product he chose not to endorse – the grill. When Hulk decided he did not want to endorse a grill, he casually suggested that his agent give the grill to one of his other clients. According to an interview Hulk gave in 2011, this is exactly how the conversation with his agent went down:
"You should get into these things, kitchen appliances, put your name on something."
"Well, what have you got?"
"Well, I've got this meatball maker. It pounds the meatballs when you clench arm muscles and press fists together."
"That's fantastic, I want the Hulkamania Meatball Maker!"
"What about the other thing? The Grill?"
"Ah, give that to your other client."
George Foreman was that other client. The celebrated boxer had just reclaimed his world heavyweight title at the age of 45, and was in the midst of an incredible comeback. He was well-known for eating two hamburgers prior to all of his matches. The boxing champion attributed his comeback to healthy eating habits, one of which included pouring off all of the fat created by any meat products he cooked.
For the makers of this newly proposed grill, Spectrum Brands (formerly known as Salton, Inc.), George Foreman turned out to be the perfect spokesperson. He agreed to let the company use his name and face to sell their fat-reducing grill. George also had some ideas about the design, which the company subsequently implemented. The grill became known as the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, but you probably know it more simply as the George Foreman Grill.
In the mid-90s, the marketing team rolled out a friendly, folksy, gently comic ad campaign starring the boxer. Almost instantly, the grill blew up. Everyone wanted one. Initially, George Foreman was paid 40% of the profits from the sale of each grill. The product was so popular that he was regularly making $5 million per month in royalties! By 1999, the makers of the grill realized that it might simply be easier to pay off their spokesperson for a lump sum. That year, they paid him a staggering $138 million in order to continue using his name in perpetuity.
Over the years, the George Foreman Grill has sold over 100 million units worldwide. Between the profits and the buy-out, George Foreman personally pocketed more than $200 million from the grill. His endorsement deal made his boxing earnings look like chump change.
Hulk Hogan, who was now kicking himself thoroughly for not jumping on that grill idea when he had the chance, began appearing on reality television in order to make ends meet. Seemingly cursed, each of the products he invested in and endorsed disappeared without much fanfare. He subsequently invested in and endorsed a line of microwaveable burgers and sandwiches sold at Wal-Mart, called "Hulkster Burgers". He unsuccessfully invested in and endorsed the "Hulk Hogan Ultimate Grill". Then tried his hand at energy drink production with "Hogan Energy". In 2008, he had a net worth of $30 million, but personal troubles, mismanagement, and the failure of yet another product, led to him being steps from bankruptcy. He has since recovered slightly and even owns a restaurant and a web hosting service called "Hostamania". George Foreman meanwhile is retired, kicking back, and living the good life with a quarter of a billion net worth in the bank.
It's tough to know which products will end up making an impact, but it's obvious that the better choice is usually the unique product. Looking at Hulk Hogan's investment/endorsement choices, blenders and meatball makers, while useful, weren't exactly new inventions. However, an indoor grill that reduced fat and cooked tasty burgers in a few minutes… that was revolutionary! It's amazing to realize in hindsight that the best thing that ever happened to George Foreman, is directly due to Hulk Hogan making one terrible business decision 15 years ago!