Foreign Objects in the WWE
By Kevin Kelly
The WWE is trying to push some new talent to the top of the card. Several they are trying to get over are from foreign countries, as the WWE continues its global initiative. One problem… foreigners can never be top guys. Not just in wrestling but any sport.
I got to thinking about this after Rory McIlroy won the US Open in golf and many started talking about him supplanting Tiger Woods as the “face of golf”.
I don’t care if he shoots 59 on Sunday at Augusta, Rory will never be that big. The biggest names in the history of golf are Tiger, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Tom Watson to start the list. Sure, Greg Norman and Seve and many others from throughout the world are household names to golf fans but Tiger is a household name to casual fans. So were Jack and Arnie.
Hulk Hogan, Rock and Stone Cold are household names. Macho Man is too. John Cena is close but the WWE is not what it was a few years ago and as a result, Cena is not a true household name with the American casual fan. Kids, yes but not adults. Bret Hart is close too but he was on top when the business was in the toilet. Not his fault but while Bret is super-over with hardcore fans, the business climate from his time at the top knocks him down a peg.
Now, name me one foreign wrestler that is a household name with the casual fan.
Go ahead… name a wrestler not from either the US or Canada that is a household name with casual fan.
Foreign wrestlers make great side dishes but never the main course.
As we know, pro wrestling on television is a part of American culture and American culture drives global demand. One example of this… Kids from the old Soviet Union would have sold a kidney to get a pair of Levi’s Jeans.
A wrestling promotion can have television on every global network and be successful with all North American wrestlers. If it comes from the US, it can be popular anywhere around the world.
So, how can a global company like the WWE think that they will be more popular globally by developing a culturally diverse lineup of stars, when all that’s needed to be a global force is a roster of stars that fans want to pay to see, regardless of their country of origin?
As good as Wade Barrett is, he’ll never be a household name. As good as Alberto Del Rio is, he’ll never be a household name. They will make great adversaries but will never drive the bus. In the United States, casual fans will never truly follow a foreign sports star. Casual fans will tune out if non-Americans are on top… tennis is a perfect example.
John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors helped get Bjorn Borg over back in the early 1980’s. Tennis boomed globally. Now, Roger Federer and more recently Raphael Nadal are playing amazing tennis but the audience is limited to hardcore tennis fans because there are no US players to bring in the casual fans. If something is popular with casual fans, it will be on TV often as programmers ride the hot hand. If it’s popular in the US, it can become part of global pop culture and then the sky’s the limit.
Again, household brand names in the US are globally accepted. Just like the US currency being the benchmark for so many global transactions, American cultural commodities are the standard to casual fans in the civilized world.
Brands are built through repetitive conditioning… and it’s contagious. Fans in Japan during the 2003 WWE tour booed the Japanese-speaking ring announcer, wanting to hear the American version ring announcements they knew from TV. Science proves that sound is the strongest fibrous link to memory and what you hear is what you’ll identify with. The Japanese fans identified the WWE as American and therefore identified with it in English.
The NBA enjoyed a great Finals series with Dallas taking the measure of Miami but the story was not Dirk Nowitzki’s first Championship win, it was LeBron James as the biggest heel since Hollywood Hogan. If Dallas would have played Chicago, casual fans would have snoozed, despite Derrick Rose being an amazing player for the Bulls.
In order to draw casual fans, wrestling companies needs Western stars to be the top guys. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. If your top guys get any traction from US casual fans, from there, the translation process begins to foreign audiences.
Ratings for this year’s US Open were down 26%. Rory McIlroy could shoot 59 on Sunday at the Masters but he’ll never be Tiger.
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