Back on August 7, I wrote a little article about a promotion called Ring of Honor, detailing how they essentially handed over their market share in the US to All Elite Wrestling and New Japan. It’s nearly four months later so that seems like a good time to check in with how things are going now, and the answer is: pretty bad!
Even beyond the various controversies on Twitter, mostly coming from ex-employee Joey Mercury, the news has been nearly universally bad. Live crowds are perhaps the biggest sore spot. Since August ROH has run a number of shows and the attendances have been a complete disaster. Here’s what they’ve been over that time span (all attendances either via Cagematch or Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter):
- August 9, Summer Supercard (Toronto): 650
- August 24, Saturday Night at Center Stage (Atlanta): 675
- August 25, Honor For All (Nashville): 450
- September 6, ROH/CMLL Global Wars Night 1 (Dearborn, MI): 600
- September 7, ROH/CMLL Global Wars Night 2 (Villa Park, IL): 500
- September 8, ROH/CMLL Global Wars Night 3 (Milwaukee): 500
- September 27, Death Before Dishonor (Las Vegas): 800 (“likely papered” according to Meltzer)
- September 28, Death Before Dishonor: Fallout (Las Vegas): 600 (again “likely papered” according to Meltzer)
- October 12, Glory by Honor (New Orleans): 600
- October 25, Honor United Night 1 (London): 400
- October 26, Honor United Night 2 (Newport, Wales): 150
- October 27, Honor United Night 3 (Bolton, England): 300
- November 2, The Experience (Pittsburgh): 250
- November 3, Unauthorized (Columbus): 300
Even over the course of the last four months you can see a clear downward trend in ROH’s numbers. They haven’t been above 500 since October 12, and they’ve failed to break four digits since a claimed 1,000 in New York on July 20 (a venue they haven’t booked since, as even drawing around 1k probably isn’t enough to break even in the expensive Hammerstein Ballroom). The average over the course of these 14 events is about 484 fans, an astoundingly low number for a promotion on national US television and with Sinclair’s corporate backing. Per Lavie Margolin on Twitter, ROH’s average attendance for 2019 at the time I wrote my original article (again, August 7) was 835, taking out the MSG number that was in hindsight clearly drawn by the Elite and New Japan.
That is an astonishing drop of nearly 52% in average attendance, from a number before August that was already down from the same period in 2018 (1,213). And this is a trend that shows no signs of reversing.
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On October 29, ROH announced that live events in Dallas and San Antonio for November 9 and 10 were being rescheduled for June 2020, citing “operational conflicts“. What “operational conflicts” could possibly have arisen 9 to 10 days before shows were scheduled to take place was never explained, which of course leads to the natural assumption that the events were canceled simply because a lack of ticket sales would have made them massively unprofitable to run. This cancellation also means that what was already going to be a more than 1-month break between live events right before what’s been traditionally their biggest show of the year, Final Battle, now became a more than 5-week break. Not exactly ideal for building momentum for your PPV!
And speaking of Final Battle, how are ticket sales doing so far?
Having read this far you will probably not be surprised to learn the answer: not well. Counting on the Ticketmaster seat map (and making some assumptions on what are tickets that were actually on sale vs. seat kills/seats never put on sale to begin with, so it could be off a little here or there to be fair), I count just 398 tickets sold. That’s three weeks out from what again has always been one of, if not the, biggest PPVs of the year. It’s also worth keeping in mind that we’re talking about a building in Baltimore that seats around 5,000 fans for basketball, so even if ROH sells a few more hundred tickets before the show you’re looking at another event held in what will be a cavernous building for the number of fans in attendance. Things don’t get any better two nights later at the Final Battle Fallout TV taping in Philadelphia at the historic 2300 Arena, where by my count ROH has sold approximately 124 tickets.
Nope, not a typo: about three weeks before their next show in the old ECW Arena, they’ve barely broken three digits on tickets sold.
Meanwhile, it’s probably worth checking in on the two companies who ROH largely shoveled their US market share over to: AEW and NJPW. You likely don’t need me to tell you that AEW has been a rousing success at the gate so far; even though they’ve cooled off a little from their hot start and aren’t selling out every venue they run anymore, they’re still drawing very solid houses week after week. For example, on November 13 they drew about 4,000 fans in Nashville, on November 9 they drew 8,200 fans for their Full Gear PPV in Baltimore (notably the same city ROH is running for Final Battle, though a different building), on November 6 they drew about 4,000 fans in Charlotte, on October 30 they drew about 5,000 in Charleston, etc. They’ve settled into about a 4-6k range for Dynamite every week, and a bigger number than that for their first PPV of the TV era. Certainly strong.
New Japan meanwhile ran a number of US shows during the same time period, and perhaps work better than AEW as a direct comparison to Ring of Honor due to the fact that, like ROH, they’re also running smaller buildings. Here’s how they performed in the US since August:
- August 22, Super J Cup Night 1 (Tacoma, WA): 991
- August 23, Super J Cup Night 2 (San Francisco): 788
- August 24, Super J Cup Night 3 (Long Beach, CA): 2,512
- September 27, Fighting Spirit Unleashed Night 1 (Lowell, MA): 2,130
- September 28, Fighting Spirit Unleashed Night 2 (New York): 1,776
- September 29, Fighting Spirit Unleashed Night 3 (Philadelphia): 1,030
- November 9, Showdown Night 1 (San Jose): 2,027
- November 10, Showdown Night 2 (Los Angeles): 529
That’s an average of about 1,473 fans, nearly a thousand fans higher than ROH’s average over the same time period (and that’s even including sellouts in very tiny buildings in Tacoma and SF, and a bad number on a weird Monday night show in LA). What may feel like salt in the wound for ROH is that NJPW took their buildings on the East Coast and proceeded to destroy their attendances there. On July 21 ROH drew a claimed 700 fans in Lowell, which NJPW proceeded to beat by nearly 1400. Even when ROH ran Lowell with New Japan talent twice in 2018, for the Global Wars and War of the Worlds shows in November and May, they drew 1,250 and 1,900 fans respectively. And that was with the Young Bucks, Cody, and the rest of the crew that left for AEW too! New Japan still outdrew them, an amazing feat when you really think about it. Meanwhile, at the Hammerstein ROH last drew a claimed 1,000 fans on July 20 for Manhattan Mayhem (a number I frankly have my doubts about, having seen the ticket map repeatedly leading up to the show, but who knows I guess) only to see New Japan turn around and sell the place out in minutes. The same happened for New Japan in the former ECW Arena with another immediate sellout, where as we mentioned earlier ROH has currently sold just 124 tickets for a show about three weeks away.
Remember, these two companies are technically still partners!
There haven’t exactly been a ton of NJPW wrestlers appearing in ROH since August- just Hikuleo appearing on ROH’s ill-fated UK tour while he’s over there on excursion anyway (a booking that, uh, not everyone in the company agreed with apparently!)- but ROH talent Jeff Cobb is currently booked on the World Tag League tour that’s ongoing. The relationship does technically still exist, even though it would certainly appear that the days of NJPW propping up ROH PPVs with major talent and running joint tours are long over. But with friends like these, who needs enemies? NJPW has officially launched its own US subsidiary, NJPW of America, and stated they plan to roughly double the number of shows they run in the US next year. That would put them around 25-30 shows, and according to the map in their own slideshow, they plan to run mostly in the same markets as ROH (the only market listed that ROH doesn’t really run at all is California, though ROH did try to run the Pacific Northwest this year). It’s another competitor along with AEW that could draw away fans, and as we’ve seen already this year in many markets they both ran, more fans simply prefer to see an authentic New Japan Pro Wrestling show than even an ROH event loaded up with NJPW stars, let alone one without them! As I detailed in my previous article, ROH if anything helped the perception that NJPW was a superior brand throughout the last four years of this relationship, but it also isn’t exactly a fair comparison when looking at the two rosters, especially now. Very few people are going to choose to see Vincent (the former Vinny Kingdom!) vs. Matt Taven over, say, Kota Ibushi & Kazuchika Okada vs. EVIL & SANADA. ROH continuing to refer to themselves as “the best wrestling on the planet” frankly looks increasingly desperate at this point, and that’s before they may lose even more talent with plenty of wrestlers on soon-to-expire deals, most notably Marty Scurll.
So again we have to ask: where does that leave you if you’re ROH?
Certainly not in a good position. They retain Sinclair’s corporate backing and apparently a desire to continue receiving content for their vast collection of television networks, which is certainly their big positive. But other than a track record and a name that has become increasingly toxic of late, it’s difficult to see what other strengths this company has. The weaknesses, on the other hand, are piling up: a thin roster that seems to have yet more names waiting to leave, uninteresting booking that isn’t doing much to draw interest in the company, a lack of fan interest and excitement that results in embarrassing crowds (which becomes a self-fulfilling cycle because when you see pictures or video of a half-empty building or worse it doesn’t exactly make you want to run out and get your own tickets now), a seemingly nonstop level of social media drama around the company thanks mainly to one particular ex-employee, and strong competitors who are essentially drawing from what used to be ROH’s own fanbase.
I don’t know what ROH’s 2020 will look like, but as their 2019 ends, the train isn’t just off the tracks. It’s on the side of the railway and the caboose is on fire. Turning that around certainly won’t be an easy task, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.