I was having a text conversation with my good friend and fellow wrestling fan Daine (@cast_cheese for you cheese aficionados out there) about how much wrestling I watch. He remarked that he wished he had the time to watch as much as I am able to on a weekly basis. To which I replied, “Man, I wish I didn’t.”
That’s not to say I don’t love watching all the different forms of wrestling out there, though it might be an entertaining commentary on my personal life. With so much out there these days, it can get difficult to pick and choose what and what not to watch anymore. One part of me wants to watch each and every show available, but at the same time, I have a full-time job, and (somewhat) of a social life. With the ability to watch multiple wrestling shows every day of the week, I want to maintain the excitement for shows that I’ve had since I was younger.
My grandma used to babysit me while my parents worked and every day she would take me to the video store. This was the late 80s/early 90s. I wasn’t old enough to know that tape trading even existed or how to do it, so the video store was my best option. I started renting the old Coliseum Video VHS tapes of Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. I loved the tapes that showed multiple wrestlers because that was the only way I could see them. Through these videos, I learned of the WWF magazine and begged my parents for a subscription.
It would sometimes be weeks or months between new video arrivals. The magazine would come once every month. I remember waiting with baited breath for every new video at the store and every new magazine to come in the mail. My patience as a 3-6-year-old in those days would grow so thin that every time I got my hands on a new video, or WWF Magazine, or action figure it was a monumental occasion. I was hooked, always looking forward to the next piece of wrestling I could get my hands on.
New Japan has become more accessible to fans worldwide with its streaming service (NJPW World). You almost have to admire a promotion like PWG that sticks solely to live shows and DVD distribution to promote its product. It has gotten hard to get excited about watching wrestling the way I did back in my younger days due to the sheer amount of wrestling out there to consume. The last show I was genuinely excited about and anticipated was ALL IN, and that already feels like a year ago because so much has happened since then.
Then you factor in the WWE.
WWE Network gives you the ability to watch wrestling every day all day long with its immense catalog of classics, as well as having NXT, NXT UK, and 205 Live under the umbrella. SmackDown Live and RAW can take up five hours weekly. When you add in the standard PPV’s, new supershow specials, and tournaments, an ardent WWE fan can be hard pressed to find time to watch anything else…….and that’s the point. By overloading content for their wrestling fans to consume, they’ve not only made it difficult for fans to find time to watch much else, but they’ve been able to squash out much of the excitement for shows outside their umbrella. By overloading the market, they force diehard and casual wrestling fans to make a choice, and by having the most easily accessible product, they know what that choice will often be.
I’ve been reading Tim Hornbaker’s wonderful book The Death of the Territories lately and I can see a lot of similarities in what happened in the 80s to what is happening now. Back then, Vince McMahon would oversaturate the television market to force fans to make a choice between the old school, in-ring based, territorial products or his new, shiny, well-produced product and all its pageantry.
We all know how that worked out.
The same kind of thing is happening now, with the American indies and promotions worldwide playing the territory role. Instead of buying television contracts, they are buying talent and partnerships. Instead of running house shows in new cities and countries, they are building performance centers and developing international brands.
Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how much more aggressive WWE is in its global expansion and talent acquisition. The national television deal with FOX will only help these efforts. It will be just as interesting to see how the indie scene and overseas promotions react. Will they try to put on more shows? Will they look to increase their profile and visibility? The most important factor in all of this will be how the fans respond. When do we hit the point where there aren’t enough hours in the day? When do we have too much wrestling?
Or have we reached that point already?