The Future Of Wrestling
by, 12-04-2012 at 05:41 PM (6437 Views)
It won’t come as a surprise to many when I say that wrestling’s popularity has been slowly deteriorating for many years – probably since the closure of WCW back in 2001. WWE’s TV ratings are at their lowest for 15 years and Impact currently earns an average of 1.1 – 0.1 lower than it was in 2007. In five years they’ve actually lost viewers.
It surprises me when I see wrestling fans online writing ‘WWE should buy TNA’ or ‘Things will improve when Vince dies’. They don’t seem to understand that the two companies will be at their best – and wrestling as a whole will be in a much healthier state – when they are both successful and competing. Obviously Impact is not at the same level as WWE at the moment, but such growth has been achieved before.
WWE and WCW were both at their creative, critical and commercial peak around the same time. When Raw is War finally managed to earn better ratings than Nitro in ’98 during the Monday Night Wars it wasn’t because WCW was failing – quite the opposite; Nitro was earning its best ratings at the same time. Both tried to come up with the best storylines and they competed for the most popular talent – usually at ECW’s expense.
The second thing that surprises me about wrestling fans is those who comment about the ‘stealing of storylines and talent’. Some fans laugh at TNA for using failed WWE wrestlers, but wasn’t the legendary Stone Cold Steve Austin originally sacked by WCW? – Who would laugh at that decision now? Currently fans are whining about WWE copying Impact storylines, but wasn’t the Attitude Era heavily influenced by the success of the NWO and ECW? – Again, who would mock WWE now for that change in direction?
Now that I’ve complained about the fans – by the way, they are also incredibly impatient, as the Shield storyline has proved – how can WWE and Impact revive the wrestling industry?
Some may say a return to the Attitude Era – never going to happen – and the major problem with other suggestions is that many fans are thinking too small. Ideas have included fewer PPVs, more blood and, the most popular proposal, less John Cena. On the small scale they make little difference.
The major challenge is split into two bits: keeping the current viewers interested and attracting new fans.
Keeping the current fans is easier: push the popular talent, have good matches and use storylines that keep the crowd on the edge of their seat.
It is far more difficult to attract new fans, but that is the only way to earn higher TV ratings. But how do you attract people to watch WWE or Impact? The sad truth is that the most important part of wrestling isn’t the matches, but the promos. The wrestling in 2005 was better than it was in 1998 but the ratings were almost half what Raw is War was getting at its peak.
In the past 25 years there have been only three wrestlers who have attracted first-time viewers to watch wrestling in big numbers: Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold and The Rock.
I understand some will doubt and argue the point, but it’s true. Hogan was the first international star of wrestling and his introduction and NWO transformation at WCW changed the Monday Night Wars. Austin brought the WWF back on to level terms and beyond. The Rock brought even more fans, earned the highest rated segment with the ‘This Is Your Life’ promo and made a successful transition to become one of Hollywood’s major action stars.
Guys like Sting, Goldberg (during his ‘streak’ period), Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, John Cena, Mankind, CM Punk and Triple H have all been great wrestlers but they haven’t attracted the fans in large numbers.
Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mankind and Undertaker couldn’t stop the WWF’s ratings dropping during the Monday Night Wars until Austin arrived. John Cena and Triple H have watched ratings plummet during the last ten years. Punk was the most talked about wrestler of 2011 but his WWE Championship reign hasn’t stopped the rot.
Hogan, Austin and The Rock had the charisma that none of these others had. You’re probably more likely to think of a memorable promo than a match when you think of Rock and Austin.
There have been enough blogs about how the WWE and Impact can keep the current fans happy but in order for the ‘glory days’ to return they need to be competing, copying ideas and chasing the best talent available. For the massive TV ratings to return they both need to attract new fans, which means finding the next Austin, Rock or Hogan.
I recently saw a comment saying ‘wrestling is dying’. Raw is earning the same numbers now as it did in 1997 and it may look bad on paper, but did wrestling die in 1998? The Attitude Era will never return, but the next popular era may be just around the corner. These things can’t be predicted.