Chris Fitzpatrick and the folks at the Wrestlezone Forums explore the effect the internet has had on the pro wrestling industry.
Before I launch myself headstrong into this week’s topic, I want to take a moment to thank everybody who responded so vehemently to my soapbox dissertation last week on the image TNA and Jeff Hardy portrayed with the cigarette at their recent PPV. The response on the forums was impressive, and I spent much of the week being verbally kicked about the head and shoulders as a result of my fairly conservative viewpoint. I felt as though I’d walked into a Heavy Metal convention and announced that Pantera is over rated and that Dimebag Darrell is not one of the 50 greatest guitarists of all time. (in related news, Pantera is over rated and that Dimebag Darrell is not one of the 50 greatest guitarists of all time…) The discussion even made it onto one of Wrestlezone’s cornerstone attractions, Chair Shot Reality, with Josh Isenberg doing his own version of a journalistic "run-in" coming to my aid.
I learned something from the response last week, and I’ve been thinking it over while decided what to write about this week. For all of its flaws, TNA Wrestling has one very important and powerful element in its favor – a niche group of extremely passionate fans. Blindly passionate fans have kept marginal bands like Rancid and Slayer going for years – decades even – and was a major part of the shocking success the original Paul Heyman led ECW achieved. It’s a special type of fanship – they clearly know more than the public, and anybody who doesn’t follow the product they love "must just not get it." It’s either too sophisticated for the average fan, or its too this or its too that. These fans criticize WWE because they’re the biggest – they are the WalMart or the Starbucks of professional wrestling, but darn it all to heck if the local coffee shop doesn’t make a better latte!
And this brings me to this weeks’ topic. A forum newcomer by the name of "Evanescent Death" (sounds charming) brings up the age old question about the effect "we" (the internet wrestling community, or ‘IWC’) has on the landscape of professional wrestling. His specific question was "Has the internet ruined professional wrestling?"
In the simplest of terms, no, it has not. The internet has changed professional wrestling, and changed it forever. The internet has changed every business in the world for better or for worse, and the only businesses it ruins are those businesses that are a) outdated / obsolete or b) too inflexible to be able to adjust with the times. There’s a litany of both positives and negatives that stem from the internet, and the reason WWE is so far ahead of the curve is because of their ability – as a business, mind you – to adjust and change. Welcome to pro wrestling as a business 101.
1. The internet introduced spoilers, which reduces the value of watching a wrestling show, thereby reducing ratings and decreasing ad revenue.
This certainly makes sense, but it’s an issue that both WWE and WCW got in front of. You can read the results of our tapings on the internet and thereby not feel that you need to tune in? Fine, no problem, we will start going live. Production budgets shot sky high, and as a result, the shows we watched became more and more unpredictable. Lex Luger showing up on WCW TV out of nowhere. The McMahons showing up as the new owners of WCW and simulcasting. You get the idea. Without the internet, pro wrestling may not have seen the need to go to live shows, which of course ushered in an era of unpredictability and growth.
2. The internet took the discussion away from magazine publications and made it a free medium of print for the discussion, reducing another revenue stream.
I remember wanting so badly to pick up the new copy of "WWF Magazine" when I was 10 years old. Why? Because Gene Okerlund told me that it was FULL of insider info, interviews, features, etc. $5 for that? Sure! And while I’m reading it, I can call your hotline and drop my parents mortgage payment to know that Mr. Perfect would be Randy Savage’s tag team partner at the Survivor Series. All of that is long gone thanks to the internet. What has replaced it is a far more accessible and less regulated form of news and discussion where major breaking news is in the hands of millions of fans within moments. The night after "The Benoit Tragedy," thousands of people flocked to Wrestlezone to find out details and to the forums to memorialize and discuss the incident. WWE has used the internet phenomenon to their full advantage, putting matches and vignettes up on their website and earning advertising revenue from it as a result.
3. The internet gives fans a voice.
Had the Matt Hardy / Edge / Lita situation occurred in 1993, Matt would have left WWF and nobody would have known why. Since it happened when it did, Matt appealed to his fans and as a result got a 2nd chance. Fans made that happen. There’s no two ways about that – it NEVER would have happened without the internet.
4. The internet allows leaks of creative plans and as a result ruins the surprise.
Yes and no. First off, fans who read spoilers shouldn’t blame the internet for it. People need to have the willpower to WANT to be surprised, and honestly, people generally feel better and more empowered when they KNOW what’s going to happen rather than allowing themselves to be surprised. Besides, WWE has done a nice job in the past of planting false information on the internet and then shocking the heck out of everyone. John Cena showing up at the Royal Rumble when reports seemed to suggest he’d be out 6 more weeks? Brilliant.
5. The internet has turned dedicated fans into smarky know-it-alls.
This one has legs. In the 80’s and 90’s, we HATED Earthquake for killing Jake’s snake, we DESPISED the Undertaker for locking the Ultimate Warrior in a casket, and we wanted to see the Four Horsemen locked up for breaking Dusty’s arm. Now? "Wow, CM Punk is such a great heel, look at the way he delivers that promo." We’re so in the know that the black and white that once defined the pro wrestling industry is just a canvas of various shades of gray. Cena, the overwhelming babyface, is hated and criticized. CM Punk, and dastardly heel, is deified and lauded. The internet has facilitated a complete up-side down in the pro wrestling fan culture.
Personally, I think that IWC members should be proud. We are more organized, more consistent, and more passionate than 80% of the other internet communities out there (save for politics and fans of the TV show "Lost. I don’t get it either) and there’s something to be said for that. We’re big enough and loud enough to invoke change in a billion dollar industry just by blogging our thoughts. We’ve allowed the companies we love to find new revenue streams to keep their business going strong. We’re excited about young wrestlers before they even debut (Mason Ryan). And we allow companies with limited resources (R.O.H., TNA a few years ago) to reach an audience and be a part of the discussion, opening doors for talents like Daniel Bryan and Desmond Wolfe. Heck, the internet has allowed pro wrestling to be more global, with international fans being able to access information and matches 24/7. American wrestling fans and dialed in to Japan. Mexican fans know what’s happening in Canada. Etc. Etc. Etc.
So to those passionate fans of TNA, keep defending the product you love with the vitriol you came at me with last week. Financial numbers and logic be damned, you have the voice to change the landscape. Why? Because of the internet.
Discuss this topic here: http://forums.wrestlezone.com/showthread.php?p=2761502#post2761502
Is CM Punk’s Straight Edge Messiah character an inflammatory and offensive Jesus Christ satire? Discuss this controversial topic here: http://forums.wrestlezone.com/showthread.php?t=149348
What’s your favorite old school WWF prop? Bret Hart’s sunglasses? Jimmy Hart’s megaphone? Jake Robert’s python? Vote and discuss it here: http://forums.wrestlezone.com/showthread.php?t=148578
All the best!
Chris W. Fitzpatrick
Wrestlezone Forums Moderator