When Conrad Thompson left the Chicago area last September, he pretty vowed to never do another wrestling convention like Starrcast, which ran in accordance with All In.
Obviously, Thompson, pro wrestling’s podcast king, changed his mind. The man behind Something to Wrestle and 83 Weeks (among other shows) will be producing and promoting Starrcast II from May 23 to May 26 at the Tuscany Suites and Casino in Las Vegas. The four-day event will run alongside Double or Nothing, the first-ever in-ring event put on by All Elite Wrestling, and air in portions on Fite TV.
Cageside Seats chatted this week with Thompson about his change of heart, the financial issues of running in Las Vegas, what he learned from the first Starrcast, why it’s different from WrestleCon and Axxess and more.
Marc Raimondi: I had heard while at the first Starrcast just rumblings — you could call it rumors and innuendo — that Conrad is never doing this again. It was an incredible undertaking, everyone left happy, it ran fairly smoothly. But he can’t do this again. It was too crazy. And here you are doing it again. Why?
Conrad Thompson: That was 100 percent true. It was the worst weekend of my life. It was the most frustrating thing ever. I had spent a ton of time trying to figure out what fans would enjoy from an entertainment aspect, how they could meet their favorite wrestler, how to make an experience unique and memorable. But I did not have any event planing experience like this. I learned a lot of lessons the hard way, where things should have been a lot of easier than they were. I just didn’t know what I was doing.
So, it’s one of those things where you don’t know what you don’t know until you try. I was ambitious enough to try it, but I immediately regretted it. I really enjoy what I do on the podcasts, I really enjoy my mortgage gig. And now I spent all this effort and energy here and it was still not fun for me. It was not enjoyable for me — not in the least.
I heard from so many people that it was their best wrestling they ever had or their best wrestling experience in a long time. Even Dave Meltzer said it was one of the most fun wrestling weekends that he could remember. And when a guy like that says that, you like, ‘oh.’ It’s one of those things where I’m not saying I’m a perfectionist, but I only see what went wrong. At the time, because I was dealing with the problems and the stresses of the event — because you can’t have an event that big and there not be problems and stresses. I was so focused on that that I couldn’t appreciate what went well and it was overwhelmingly positive feedback that I got.
So I sort of softened my stance. But I also thought, well there isn’t ever gonna be another All In. Realistically, nothing like this is ever gonna happen again. Well, I’ll be darned. Someone else was impressed with the All In wrestling show as we were and that’s Tony Khan. And he decided, hey, why not? He’s gonna be even more ambitious than I was with Starrcast now with Double of Nothing. Tony is a great friend of mine and obviously I think the world of Cody. Cody asked me if I would be interested and of course the answer is yes. So unbelievably, Starrcast II is happening and happening much faster than I could have ever imagined.
MR: I feel like the first Starrcast, you had been planning starting it from almost the beginning of 2018. Is that not right?
CT: Sometime in February  it became apparent that this was really gonna happen and I started booking shows and I had a venue and all that in March. I had the better part of six months to do it and I don’t have six months to do this one, but now I have the experience of more of this, less of that. Now I have a better idea of what to expect. But the bad thing about this time is I’m not looking to meet the expectations from last year. I’m looking to exceed. That’s the whole theme, the whole premise behind this wrestling show — Double of Nothing. So, I want to make it twice is awesome, which nobody else is putting this pressure on me, it’s just from myself.
I started with the roster that we put together last year. All the names that were at the meet and greet, all the names that were on stage and I decided to get a little ambitious and say, ‘Well, who couldn’t I get last year? Let’s see if I can get them this year.’ And I’m happy to report almost without exception I got them all. This card is going to be the most stacked experience any wrestling has ever had. As far as experiences, as far as what you’ll see one stage, what you’re gonna hear, what you’re gonna be a part of, nobody is ever gonna touch what we’re putting together for Starrcast II.
MR: Is the Tuscany bigger in size than the Hyatt in Schaumburg?
CT: Absolutely, the first thing I looked for was, I need more space, I need more seats. Especially when it came to things like the weigh-ins. One of the things I’m gonna do differently this time is we’re gonna take a less-is-more approach. We had a lot of things going on that at times felt like they were in the way. Perhaps we over-committed a little bit. We’re not looking to do everything, we’re looking to do the big things. And man are we gonna do that at Starrcast II.
MR: What did you learn from the last one? What did people want more of? How are you going to apply that for this one?
CT: First of all, it’s easy to see. I can look back and see what we sold the most tickets to. Now, I have real data, I don’t have to guess. What had the most butts in the seats? What got the most views on Fite? What sold the most tickets in person? The stuff that people wanted more of, they’re gonna get. And the stuff that they wanted less of, well it’s gonna be as Gorilla Monsoon would say ‘conspicuous by its absence.’
MR: The Tuscany is obviously not as expensive as MGM Grand. That probably would have been too much for everyone on all sides. How much more will this cost in Las Vegas than it did in the Chicago suburbs?
CT: My cost will be significantly more. Just because I’m gonna have to fly all these guys in. Not just the talent, the people you’re paying to see, but a lot of the staff I’m gonna have to pay to fly in. The hotel is not gonna be nearly as affordable from a convention side as it would be for me. And my production people are based on the East Coast. Every line item is more expensive in Las Vegas.
In addition to that, some of these bigger names who maybe had a scheduling conflict or found a way to politely say no the first time are much more agreeable the second time. Some of that is because they know, the first one was a huge success and there’s money in them there hills. Some of those guys are being pretty aggressive with their asks. For me as a promoter it’ll be much more expensive without question — many times over.
But from a fan experience, I don’t think it’s gonna be that much more. I mean, I do think it’ll be more. Our tickets are gonna be a little bit more than they were last time, but not so much that now it’s out of reach. It’ll still be affordable. You’ve just gotta find a way to get a deal on your airfare to Las Vegas or drive in. We’ve even got deals on rental cars and specifically some airfare discounts. I believe one of the airfare discounts is up to 10 percent off over at starrcast.com.
MR: So when you begin this undertaking, which I’m sure is already off and running, are you fronting the money yourself? Is this something where you have to lay out money and hope to make it back in the end? Is this at all part of AEW? Obviously, the Khan family has a bit of money. How does that work?
CT: I’m the 100 percent sole owner of Starrcast. Tony is just my buddy, but I have no official relationship with AEW. I have not gotten a pay check from AEW, I’m not on the payroll, I don’t have an official title. My title in Tony’s phone is friend and that’s his title in mine. So, no. He doesn’t have an ownership interest, he’s not backing anything. And yeah, all the costs that were involved in the first Starrcast or this Starrcast or if I’m dumb enough to do a third one, that’s all directly from me.
It is a risk, it is a gamble. I’m outlaying tens of thousands of dollars well in advance. And I’m rolling the dice, but I’m comfortable with it, because we have proof of concept now from last year. And just the support when we announced Sting [Monday night], I mean it went over so huge on social media and people are still talking about Sting and buzzing about who could be next. The idea that people are so in tune to what we’re doing and looking forward to it is very exciting.
MR: Which brings me to my next question: panels and guests. You said earlier, people have been a lot more agreeable this time. Everyone you were hoping to get for the first one is now more or less on board for No. 2. How much info can you give us? Can you give us any hints on the kind of panels or kind of guests that you guys might have?
CT: Man, it’s a who’s who of professional wrestling, it really is. Obviously, we’re gonna have a lot of stars of AEW. We’re sort of their unofficial convention partner, so it’s not a stretch to imagine that you’ll see boys from The Elite there and some of the other guys. But it’s a who’s who. When I rattle off the list of names, it is even a little bit shocking to me. Guys who almost never do this type of thing, they’re doing it. And it’s an expensive undertaking to do, but one that I’m very excited to put together. When I’m looking at it on paper, it just reads like a who’s who of professional wrestling. If you could book a dream convention, Starrcast II is probably what you’d come up with. There’s gonna be a couple of names that are missing that for whatever reason the timing isn’t right this time. But it’s something to be ambitious for if I’m ever dumb enough to do it a third time.
MR: There are other wrestling conventions out there. WrestleCon and WWE Axxess will be in April, which is only a month in between their stuff and Starrcast II. How do you differentiate? What do you do differently? Is that at all on your mind? Like, we can’t just have the same kind of thing that WrestleCon is doing in New York in April.
CT: No, it doesn’t cross my mind at all. The initial idea behind Starrcast was less about meet and greets and more about stage shows. And WrestleCon does not have stage shows. To compare WrestleCon to this is a totally different animal. Don’t get me wrong. Michael Bochicchio and WrestleCon are a brand and what they’ve been able to put together with the team at High Spots is incredible. And if we could aspire to be sort of the brand that they are, what a blessing that would be. Not disbarring that at all. But this is a totally different animal.
I don’t start with meet and greets and work backwards. I start with what the stage panels are and the work to the meet and greets. So, if it’s not something that I would want to sit in the crowd and buy a ticket for, then I wouldn’t want to do it. And so when I’m putting together this lineup, I start with, ‘Would I buy a ticket to this event?’ If the answer is yes, then it makes the cut. As a wrestling fan, I think I have a better idea of what wrestling fans want to see then somebody else who was just a major corporation looking at dollars and cents.
Even Axxess. It’s a corporation, it’s very professional. But it’s very sterile and it feels very impersonal. Nobody who was at Starrcast would give you that vibe. No, maybe it was not as professional and organized as Axxess, but you did get to belly up to the bar and have a beer with your favorite wrestler. And that just would never happen at Axxess.
MR: I imagine you’ll be at the AEW rally on Thursday?
CT: The rumor and innuendo is that there’s an AEW event that needs someone to sort of hype people up and I might just be in Las Vegas anyway. We’ll see what happens.
MR: Will there possibly be a Starrcast reveal or announcement at the rally?
CT: No. Starrcast is definitely separate from AEW. I know that a lot of people assume, because I did the last rally with AEW that I’m an employee there, but that’s not the case. AEW is a separate thing. I’m gonna have wrestlers from almost every organization in the world represented at Starrcast. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that it’s an AEW event.
That being said, Cody Rhodes is my partner in all of this. Not officially, but he had belief in me and confidence in me to pull off the original Starrcast. In my mind, Starrcast is really a Cody and Conrad production, even though he’s not financially involved and he doesn’t select any of the panels. He’s still the person who really believed in me and made all of this happen. I’m gonna do these Starrcast things as long as I can with Cody Rhodes.