Huh? Think professional wrestling has nothing to do with legitimate competition? Read on…
I’m proud to admit that I’m a big fan of professional wrestling. I have been since I was a kid. Back then, when I thought it was real, I was drawn in by the characters, the storylines, the drama, and the suspense. Now that I’m all grown up and I’m wise to the game, I love it for the exact same reasons. The only difference now is that I seldom watch the matches anymore. Thanks to TiVo, I’m able to forward through them in order to get to the interviews and trash-talking. As I said, the characters and the storylines are what make it great for me.
Believe it or not, this proclamation of my love for “sports entertainment” is not an attempt to convince anyone of my mental superiority(shocking). Nor is it an effort to try to convince anyone that they should watch every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday night. I’m merely presenting myself an expert witness of sorts who can attest to what has gone on from the consumer’s point of view in the last 25 years or so.
Back in the early 80’s, professional wrestling was mostly made up of territorial federations that catered to local audiences and an unwritten agreement to respect the markets of others and not cross territorial lines. All that change when Vince McMahon started using cable TV to pipe his product, which was based in the Northeast, out to the whole country. He was lucky to have the extremely charismatic Hulk Hogan to carry the torch for his company. McMahon eventually bought up pretty much all of the talent, and subsequently the competition, and was able to establish what amounted to a monopoly. McMahon, with much help from Hogan, built the World Wrestling Federation into a hype juggernaut.
Are you still with me? I promise this is going somewhere.
The problem with the (then) WWF was that its fans eventually grew bored with the product. I mean, the reason I seldom watch the matches to this day is that they are so predicable. Once you’ve seen a few hundred matches, you can pretty easily call the outcome before they even begin, and if Hulk Hogan was in a match it was pretty obvious who would win. There was also a steroid scandal that hurt the company pretty badly.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the WWF was chugging along, as was another company, owned by Ted Turner, called WCW. WWF still was the #1 player in the game, but professional wrestling was far from the national phenomenon it had been in the 80s. In 1995 things changed drastically. Not only had WCW dug deep into Ted Turner’s pockets to start hiring top talent (Hogan, Randy Savage), but they also put a program on television(Monday Nitro) that was in direct competition with WWF’s show (RAW).
What resulted has been termed the “Monday Night Wars”. Fueled by the egos of McMahon and Turner, wrestling became huge again. WCW and WWF pulled out all the stops to keep their own viewers (consumers) and pull viewers away from one another. As a result, they both delivered better products to the market, which attracted even more viewers to the marketplace. At this point, yet another company, ECW jumped in and started offering extreme wrestling to its market, with more blood and reality than existed in either WWF or WCW.
I’m not here to argue what constitutes a good product. Lots of people believe that pro wrestling can never be a good product. That’s completely subjective. Hopefully I’ve established myself as somewhat of an expert. Believe me–it was good!
Sure, WWF and WCW were still having to divide the pie, but the pie was now much larger. The harder they competed with each other, the more fans they created. The more viewers, the more advertising, pay-per-views, etc. The competition between the companies forced both to produce a better product, and the improvement in quality of the product caused the market to grow.
The employees of all of the companies were also winners. Because of the limited pool of qualified employees, wrestlers were paid more than ever before for their services.
Let’s not forget the biggest winners of all in this situation–the fans. Because the competition was so intense, even fans who watched only one of the competing shows was treated to better stories, better matches, and unpredictable live action. I can remember watching one show, videotaping another, and staying up late to watch the videotape because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.
Sadly, the AOL/TimeWarner/Turner consolidation put WCW ultimately resulted in WCW being purchased by WWF/WWE. McMahon’s biggest competitor was eliminated, and ECW was eventually gobbled up as well. McMahon is well aware that competition is good for business, and is still trying to create the illusion of competition by branding the different shows as “Raw”, “ECW”, and “Smackdown” and pitting the stars of each show against each other on occasion, but the fans know that all the money is flowing the same place, and the product reflects it.
There is hope yet, as an upstart company called TNA (Total Nonstop Action) has acquired some former talent of both WWE and WCW. To date they’ve yet to make a big enough splash to really compete head to head with any of the WWE brands. Hopefully, they can sneak up behind WWE with the proverbial steel chair and lay them out cold, after which the unlikeliest of WWE superstars will come in and make the save.
If TNA is unable to do it, someone else eventually will. When that day comes, I predict professional wrestling will once again become a national obsession, and the fans will be the biggest winners in the competition.
What’cha gonna do then, brother?!