I’ve written a lot lately about the alleged current booking of Wrestlemania and the obvious financial motives behind such a scenario. As a life-long fan of professional wrestling, it makes me cringe to know that sound “wrestling” decisions constantly are ignored in favor of purely financial prerogatives. Such is reality though, no matter how much we kick and scream for an alternative.
With that said, I am taken aback when resistance to this way of thinking is viewed as incorrect or as a naïve failure to understand the business. In wrestling, just like any other business, there is more than one way to create a profitable product.
Case and point, Justin LaBar recently wrote an article arguing that WWE specifically caters to the casual fans while merely throwing the hardcore fans a bone every so often. He makes a number of excellent points throughout, explaining why it often feels like “smart” fans constantly face an uphill battle in regard to their preferred direction of the product.
Despite these well-stated points, Justin completely lost me with a conclusion that he reached early in the article: “WWE aims for the casual fan, just as every big franchise does because it makes the most business sense.”
I first question exactly where the line is to be drawn between casual and hardcore fans. I certainly can see a line between those who simply watch Raw every week and those IWC fans that live and breathe wrestling while analyzing every aspect of the product. What I don’t necessarily see, however, is a considerable difference of opinion between these two groups when it comes to the creative direction of the company.
Are we really supposed to believe that the fans at live events who boo John Cena relentlessly or who gleefully cheer a heel Dolph Ziggler all fall into the latter category of “hardcore fan”? I submit that it doesn’t take a religious following of all things wrestling to recognize when a character or creative concept is stale, overused, and flat-out lacking in entertainment value.
Now, if the term “casual fan” refers to those individuals who only would watch Wrestlemania to see a movie star fight the public “face” of the WWE, I have to agree…the opinions of these individuals are quite divergent from those of “hardcore fans.” I also would agree that the hardcore fans will watch regardless and that these additional “casual fans” will produce additional Wrestlemania revenue.
However, what I can’t agree with is the statement that catering to these types of fans “makes the most business sense.” No matter what type of product or service you’re selling, what makes the most business sense is expanding your potential pool of customers on a regular basis. Reaching out to one time customers certainly provides a revenue boost, but falls well short of being a business model that maximizes potential.
During the wrestling boom of the 90’s, this base was at an all-time high and supplied unprecedented levels of prosperity for all involved in the business. How did we get there? Was it a result of pandering to a broad sector of wrestling rubber-neckers or to a core constituency clamoring for a reprieve from the hokey nature of WWF programming?
I submit that adhering to the demands of a solid base of fans prompted one of the biggest explosions in wrestling history and created an ever-expanding group of fans who, at the time, would have referred to themselves as anything but casual.
This reasoning should come to no surprise to anyone. No matter how off-the-wall certain comments and suggestions can be from the IWC, the fact of the matter is that a general consensus regarding a positive direction for the product can be gleaned from the masses.
And why not? We’re the individuals who have been watching wrestling since we were kids…who have seen the ebbs and flows and have a solid pulse on what generates the type of buzz that motivates us to spread the word about the week to week content. We have infinitely more power to increase the long-term exposure of WWE than yet another Wrestlemania match featuring the Rock and John Cena.
In the end, I completely agree with Justin that, for far too long, WWE has been pandering to the type of “casual” fans who will watch Wrestlemania simply to see the movie star in action. I also agree that this initiative produces revenue and provides a moment’s worth of red-carpet exposure.
I simply cannot agree that this “makes the most business sense.” While the “hardcore” fans may never stop watching, our desires reflect the direction necessary to continue building that base of fans. Ratings and PPV buys on the steady decline do not reflect a business that is moving in the right direction. In light of this, it simply does not make business sense to ignore the desires of the steady fans who have a firm grasp on what constitutes week to week entertainment.
Does it feel like we’re puppets right now? Absolutely.
Does this continuous second class treatment bode well for WWE’s long term bottom line? It may not take long to learn this answer.