As WrestleMania weekend concludes, we can look back on an extended weekend full of surprises. Whether it is the return of Matt and Jeff Hardy, John Cena’s proposal to Nikki Bella, or the countless debuts that took place on Raw and SmackDown, the last few days of WWE programming did not lack in surprises.
However, WWE was not the only one surprising the wrestling world over the past weekend, as New Japan Pro Wrestling exceeded all expectations by completely selling out their upcoming G1 Special in USA shows taking place in Long Beach, CA this July.
The speed by which these shows sold out (less than two hours) and the surprising lack of tickets available on the secondary market (at nearly six times the face value) demonstrates that there may be very lucrative revenue streams for NJPW to take advantage of in English speaking markets.
Although NJPW parent-company Bushiroad President Takaaki Kidani states a desire to compete directly with WWE:
Kidani '*but we will announce something soon*. We are entering a phase where you are either with WWE or against them' https://t.co/bGzQOawmTz
— chris charlton (@reasonjp) December 17, 2016
Historically, provoking the ire of Stamford, CT has never been a particularly shrewd business decision. However, there are a number of actions that NJPW can take to further their expansion into English-speaking markets.
Improve the accessibility of NJPWWorld
Since its launch in late 2014, NJPWWorld has been the “go-to” source for all NJPW content outside of Japan. Despite its recent growth in popularity following Wrestle Kingdom 11, navigating NJPWWorld is still quite a challenge for English-speaking viewers. Relying on Google Translate, NJPWWorld’s English interface is problematic. Using the “search” function is essentially impossible, and finding shows older than a year is extremely frustrating.
In addition, NJPWWorld lacks support for pretty much every major streaming service available in English-speaking markets. Providing an English alternative to the Japanese-heavy NJPWWorld website should be priority #1 to facilitate New Japan’s global expansion into new markets. As it stands now, NJPWWorld will likely leave a very sour taste in the mouths of new fans.
Lock Down Kenny Omega
Following his “Magnum Opus” of a performance against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11, Kenny Omega became the talk of the English-speaking wrestling world. Suddenly, Kenny Omega became a household name amongst many wrestling fans that never watching a single NJPW show in their entire lives. So much so, that many WWE-signed talent (including John Cena on his Instagram account) openly acknowledged the Wrestle Kingdom 11 main event. Since then, the question has become “How long before Kenny Omega leaves for WWE?” For NJPW, the answer had better be “not anytime soon.”
Kenny Omega is not just a superstar talent for NJPW. Kenny Omega serves as an important “entry point” for the rapidly growing English audience. This is not to say that English-speaking fans need an English-speaking wrestler in order to watch the product. However, having a wrestler that the English-speaking audience can relate to certainly helps. Plus, it certainly doesn’t hurt if that relatable guy just happens to be one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet.
Get the AXS show up to date
For many, the one-hour long New Japan Pro Wrestling “recap” show on Mark Cuban-owned AXS TV serves as their only exposure to the NJPW product. While the show often highlights some of the best matches that NJPW has to offer, the show is about six months behind. This giant delay makes it difficult for newer fans to invest in the current storylines, as the only ones they see already concluded months ago.
In addition, NJPWWorld is rarely mentioned on the show itself, which leads to a situation where many fans of the AXS show have no idea how to even watch the current product. NJPW has a great medium with their weekly AXS show. It is time for them to maximize its potential.
Give the US a significant tour
The lightning fast sell-out of the G1 Special shows in Long Beach have demonstrated that there is absolutely a justification for making these shows an annual event. However, if NJPW truly wants to expand live events into the English-speaking markets, the shows need to be significant.
NJPW’s partnership with Ring of Honor has demonstrated that North American fans will pay to see NJPW talent, as joint ROH/NJPW shows consistently draw the largest crowds at ROH events.
Despite these successes, these events are often criticized for their lack of significant matches involving NJPW talent. The announcement that every NJPW title will be defended at the G1 Special events demonstrates a willingness to give the American fans an event that matters.
In addition to making the G1 Special in Long Beach an annual event, NJPW would be wise to not ignore the Midwest/Northeast territory. My suggestion is to relocate the entire Destruction tour (or at least the main shows) to the United States/Canada. The Destruction tour is already one of NJPW’s smallest drawing tours. Following the G1 Climax nationwide tour the month prior, it makes sense that much of Japan might experience a bit of “burnout” going into this tour; which is why it would be the perfect one to relocate to North America.
Last year, the Destruction tour saw three major shows (Destruction in Tokyo, Destruction in Hiroshima, and Destruction in Kobe). Why not replace those with Destruction in New York, Destruction in Toronto, and Destruction in Chicago?
Push Wrestle Kingdom as a “Must see LIVE event”
WWE has done a fantastic job of turning WrestleMania into an international travel destination for wrestling fans around the world. By pushing the brand of WrestleMania, WWE has created rabid fans that will travel every March/April for the big show, as well as an assortment of smaller shows. WWE goes so far as you release travel packages that provide purchasers with all-inclusive tickets and accommodations to the various WWE events that take place over the weekend.
Wrestle Kingdom could, and should be marketed in a similar manner. NJPW struggles to significantly increase the number of tickets sold to Wrestle Kingdom in recent years. This could be an indicator that it’s time to look elsewhere for people to fill the Tokyo Dome, and I think that “elsewhere” is in North America and the UK.
Shop “Road to” shows to various networks with English commentary
Using television to build towards big events (usually a PPV) is a wrestling staple.
In WWE, Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live have served this purpose by not only providing free advertising for the WWE Network, but also by obtaining television ad revenue (which makes up the largest chunk of WWE’s revenue). “Road to” shows serve a similar purpose in NJPW. Similar to how Raw and Smackdown are not readily available on the WWE Network (one month delay), many “Road to” shows are not on NJPWWorld due to television deals with Japanese cable channels, such as Samurai TV. Because of this, there is NJPW content that is completely inaccessible to English-speaking fans.
I would encourage NJPW to explore the possibility of shopping this content to various networks. Not only would this provide NJPW with potentially lucrative ad revenue, it would provide North American NJPW fans with a chance to see content that they normally would not be able to see with just a NJPWWorld subscription.
Regardless of what NJPW decides to do (or not do), in the recent words of Kidani, “Our pickaxe has struck a vein of gold. This will be a pivotal year in wrestling history.”
'New Japan in LA sold out in two hours. Our pickaxe has struck a vein of gold. This will be a pivotal year in wrestling history.' https://t.co/wNya5dDKcu
— chris charlton (@reasonjp) April 4, 2017