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The aging of wrestling fans

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Sometimes playing the race card works, sometimes it doesn't. Bruno Sammartino worked very well in the WWWF among italians in New York in the seventies. I've heard back in 2017 that Jinder Mahal didn't draw more indians and that the WWE was disappointed.

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7 hours ago, Migs said:

I think you're slightly overstating the importance of the TV audience here to wrestling as a broader whole (it's obviously what matters to WWE). There's still an audience that goes to shows that is not WWE fans, who enjoy wrestling but don't show up in TV ratings numbers, and they matter to the extent they support promotions in a meaningful way (for an indy, buying tickets; for AEW, maybe it's chipping in for a PPV party).

I know a lot of people who are wrestling fans but aren't the the TV audience, and they go to indy shows, they watch a little New Japan, they might watch Dynamite. If they watch WWE it's probably checking out a big show and not the weekly TV. Go to a GCW show and it's a crowd that's not over 50, not too predominantly make, and has a mix of race and LGBTQ+. 

Now, it might be that WWE *doesn't* cater to this crowd because it's not the TV audience, and maybe that keeps the size of this group a bit smaller. I certainly can't point to scientific numbers to tell you how substantial this group might be. But they're there, and sometimes I think their existence gets dismissed because people are just looking at WWE ratings and haven't been to an indy show in a major city.

This is more so my point, and that cable television is a very slowly dying medium. The numbers are the numbers but how they're analyzed is very much open to interpretation. I don't think we're getting even close to a full picture from TV ratings and haven't been in like a decade. I think the social media numbers being somewhat dismissed are more important than they're being given credit for. I think the live numbers across the industry that Meltzer is reporting are more important than TV ratings in terms of what it means for the long term health of the industry. But the overall point being made that I think is most silly to disagree with is that pushing top stars who are young, POC, female, LGBTQ+, won't help diversify and grow the audience. That's just common sense.

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6 hours ago, Pterois said:

Sometimes playing the race card works, sometimes it doesn't. Bruno Sammartino worked very well in the WWWF among italians in New York in the seventies. I've heard back in 2017 that Jinder Mahal didn't draw more indians and that the WWE was disappointed.

"Playing the race card" is a dogwhistle that never means anything good. I'm sorry, but that's it for you on this board.

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2 hours ago, Clayton Jones said:

This is more so my point, and that cable television is a very slowly dying medium. The numbers are the numbers but how they're analyzed is very much open to interpretation. I don't think we're getting even close to a full picture from TV ratings and haven't been in like a decade. I think the social media numbers being somewhat dismissed are more important than they're being given credit for. I think the live numbers across the industry that Meltzer is reporting are more important than TV ratings in terms of what it means for the long term health of the industry. But the overall point being made that I think is most silly to disagree with is that pushing top stars who are young, POC, female, LGBTQ+, won't help diversify and grow the audience. That's just common sense.

I think part of the problem is that we're in a transition period in the media industry generally. Cable TV is dying, but social media engagement can't always be monetized well, and thus is less valuable to big companies. The 18-49 demo is the one advertisers want (18-34 even better), but the networks also want a solid viewer number to promote, so those over 50 viewers are probably a bit more valuable than they used to be, too. It all makes it very hard to compare across eras. Casual fans of a certain age don't just flip on the TV show for 20 minutes - they might watch a YouTube clip. That's a problem for as long as the viewer on cable TV is more valuable than the YouTube viewer.

I think Meltzer is right to point to the live numbers as a sign of the health of the industry, although it's still not a full picture (and it'll be very interesting to see how the indies do post-pandemic with so many of the stars swallowed into the big 2).

One thing I'm interested in from @Matt D's post earlier about how the younger generation dives into things is why it seems that when wrestlers do have crossover appeal, it seems it may matter less than it used to. I know non-fans who loved Total Divas and didn't watch a minute of WWE TV. Reigns has done fairly well in movies and it doesn't seem to have moved the needle for him. Maybe it's just the availability of other content (I don't need to follow the Bellas to their other show if it's not my thing, I can just watch something else).

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15 hours ago, funkdoc said:

There is a pro wrestling that’s pulling in young fans now, but it’s not actually pro wrestling: it’s vtubers.

For the unfamiliar, vtubers (short for “Virtual Youtubers”) are people who do live streams and videos in the guise of a fictional character, using motion-tracking software so the character will mimic their movements and facial expressions. The concept originated from Japan, so most vtubers use anime character designs and tend to be anime/manga nerds themselves.

One vtuber agency in particular, Hololive, has grown enormously over the past year+ because they saw the potential they had with the English-speaking audience and ran with it.  They have around 10 members who’ve surpassed 1 million Youtube subscribers to this point, with one of their English vtubers already at over 2 million in less than 6 months.

I call vtubers the pro wrestling for this generation because it’s also an art form that leans on gimmicks and kayfabe mixed with the performer’s real self.  Interestingly the biggest stars in this world are overwhelmingly women - the concept provides some protection from doxing, which is a far greater threat to women than men online, and gives them the freedom to talk about more personal things than they normally would on a live stream.  This leads to quite the debate over whether one should mention the real people behind the characters at all - there’s a “protect the business” impulse among fans that also combines with the desire not to see lives ruined over private information being exposed.

One major difference with wrestling is that you don’t have to watch live shows.  There’s a whole community devoted to translating the most entertaining clips from the Japanese vtubers’ streams, and that’s how most people experience them.  Figure this kinda ties into the discussion above re: being choosers of content, as you don’t need to invest a lot of time at once here.

There’s plenty more i could say but you probably get the main idea by now!

First, I'm glad you're bringing in things we don't know about, because I did not know a ton about this. I guess I know something similar from a few years ago where someone would use simple voiced-over animations, as opposed to motion tracking, to chronicle their lives, because again, the teenager watched some. I'd never really heard about this as it is.

I think it's definitely a thing that teens are more in tune with tiktok/meme culture/short disposable pieces of media/in-the-moment twitch style streaming than delving into more long-form content. I'm not sure I am with you that vtubing is the new kayfabe/gimmick art that replaced a wrestling boom. I can see how in the 00s, MMA stole that boom, sure, because there are just more parallels, an itch that was scratched. I'm not entirely seeing that same itch here or even a different itch.

I guess I'm trying to say that I'm doubtful that the people into watching vtubers talk about their life would have ever gotten into wrestling in the first place. The topic/tone/style is just too different.

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13 hours ago, joeg said:

Bingo. I know A LOT of lapsed fans and a lot of people who like the live experience but find what's on TV now a chore. For one reason or another they all stopped watching in the last 20 years. They came back during Daniel Bryan's run. Then gave up on it again. They gave AEW a chance and gave up on it again. They will go to an indie show now and again or maybe a WWE house show if the ticket price is low enough. But as long as wrestling continues to be what it is, I'm going to keep hearing things like "well my kids just aren't into it the way we were as kids" or "I haven't been into it since the Rock, Stone Cold, and Booker T left" or "I'll check out the Rumble and Wrestlemania but that's about it"

I guess I'm not sure if it's a "wrestling needs to change thing" vs. the way people consume it has changed thing. I'm very low on modern WWE and I can see why people wouldn't want to engage long-form with it. But I also feel like I see people who like it who just aren't hopping on for the TV, at least not in a regular way. Again, talking anecdotally, but I know people who are really happy to see Bianca Belair getting pushed, but I'm not sure it's turning them into weekly viewers, even if it makes them more likely to watch Mania and way more likely to enjoy it.

And to be clear, not saying you're wrong about wrestling needing to reach out and do better. Just that I think there's also this change in consumption that's happening at the same time and it makes it very hard to weigh which is having a larger effect, because the people they're losing on TV, some are engaging elsewhere and some aren't, and the metrics on the engagement elsewhere are really messy. Makes it hard to understand the value of outreach in a tangible way. 

 

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15 hours ago, joeg said:

ESPN is also facing the same problem in terms of an aging fanbase. I'd argue that young people don't consume their online sports content from ESPN. Barstool, Bleacher Report, The Ringer, SLAM, Maxpreps, The Athletic, Sirius XM, etc. all do a better job producing online content that would appeal to a younger audience than ESPN. 

ESPN has lost a lot of it's appeal to me for the same reasons as WWE.  ESPN used to have personalities, but at some point, they started homogenizing their on-air folks and pushing the brand.  Sound familiar?

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On 2/27/2021 at 5:10 PM, TheDuke said:

I know Quibli died last year, but maybe theres a better way to provide wrestling matches that people can watch on their phones? Maybe people who wouldnt watch an entire episode of Raw or Dynamite might be more likely to watch one or two individual matches on their phones on a regular basis.

That's why I think a "random match" option for WWE network would be a good idea. Now granted, being completely random, you may happen upon a notroriously bad match, but there's also the chance you could happen upon a particularly good match. The network has literally thousands of hours of content, so adding this may help people who feel overwhelmed by all the content (of course, there's no chance of this happening with the Network folding into Peacock).

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Without wishing to stumble into a "Is wrestling a sport or is it art?" argument, I wonder if the challenge is that it is too much a TV show rather than a live event you want to see in the moment? I don't think the sheer volume of product helps with this - it makes wrestling feel like an eternal boxset, rather than something you want to catch as it happens. 

I suppose to add to that, wrestling should be careful trying to shoehorn itself into modern disposable/meme spaces, as it just won't be the right fit. It should be in the shared moment, not in the individual share.

I think wrestling works best as an episodic yet communal form that is sport-ajacent. But then I am an aging fan, so I guess I would say that.

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It seems like most of the discussion here is less about "pro-wrestling" than "WWE", really. AEW hits the right demos for announcers apparently (not that I care one way or another about this, really).

Since people like to share anecdotes about their nephews on this board, here's one. My nephews (who are turning 18 and 20 this year), used to be fan of the WWE during the early Cena days and the glorious Cena vs Orton feuds and whatnot. I'm guessing the great announcing on French TV helped. But anyway, they were fans until they actually went to one of the show promoted in France back then. Which ended up being a disappointment of sorts if I understand everything right, and their interests basically vanished at the turn of the last decade and never watched again.

To this day still, I see 30 something French millennials referring to John Cena as a pop culture figure, but it's obvious their interests basically ended with him too. There's this idea that Cena was the last big star the WWE produced, but it's also the tree that hid the forest. People who grew up Cena fans did not necessarily became long-time pro-wrestling fans. If the average age of the TV viewer has aged so much, it means the biggest part of the audience is fans from 20 years ago, at least. So, at some point maybe it'll be time to re-contextualize Cena's importance for the company, because unlike the big stars of the previous generations (Hogan then Austin/Rock), it doesn't seem like the Cena era was really successful at hooking its audience long term. Plus, Cena taught WWE a terrible lesson because he was so good at dealing with boos, it's that what the audience told them did not matter, hence the Roman Drama and troll booking from the mid 10's and on. The fact Edge, who was a star from the Cena era, really did not pop the ratings in any consistent way speaks more about that period in particular than Edge himself. Sure, Batista would probably pop the ratings, but that has everything to do about his Hollywood career. We often asked ourselves what was next for Mania when WWE would be done with the guys from the late 90's ? Well, here we are, now they are bringing back a guy from the late 00's (as far as his main-event status went), and it does not work quite as good, in a context that has been worse and worse each and every year... 

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And the "bench" are guys who have already been on TV in NXT for years, who have already gone through character arcs which can't be repeated with at least a portion of the audience and that almost almost can't simply be repackaged due to the familiarity.

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BTW, another thing about Cena that is quite interesting, they basically sent him off to pastures by basically telling their audience he was OLD just as he was reaching 40 years old. Which is insanity considering the current landscape and even more in term of the average age of pushed WWE guys. 

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The last two "booms" in wrestling have been tied to trends in the larger pop culture.

In the 80's, the Hogan boom was tied to the rise of the action hero.  You had Arnold and Sly pulling big numbers at the box office.  Also, the 80's, in America, were even more xenophobic than other times.  So, Hogan taking on "evil" foreigners tied into that, too.

During the late-90's boom, pop culture became much more crass and "extreme".  Wrestling was like South Park with the language.  You had some "Girls Gone Wild" with the T&A.  And you had the dangerous stunts like Jackass.  

Of course, both of those booms were fronted by some larger-than-life characters.  That's obviously part of it.  But I think an under-mentioned part of it was pro wrestling hitting a tone that matched the prevailing attitude (no pun) of the pop culture of that era.  I think that maybe we put too much of an emphasis on who can lead wrestling into a new boom instead of what wrestling can morph into to do it.

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It doesn't help that current popular culture isn't all that defined except that it is significantly more overtly political. You go all in on that direction and you're going to lose half the audience unless everyone absolutely believes the company itself is a neutral arbiter, which I don't think anyone would.

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48 minutes ago, Log said:

During the late-90's boom, pop culture became much more crass and "extreme".  Wrestling was like South Park with the language. 

15 minutes ago, Loss said:

It doesn't help that current popular culture isn't all that defined except that it is significantly more overtly political. You go all in on that direction and you're going to lose half the audience unless everyone absolutely believes the company itself is a neutral arbiter, which I don't think anyone would.

It's funny because South Park really has shown this evolution, with BOTH "sides" being discontent with it. Which I guess is every libertarians dream (I believe both of them defines themselves as libertarians).

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14 minutes ago, Loss said:

It doesn't help that current popular culture isn't all that defined except that it is significantly more overtly political. You go all in on that direction and you're going to lose half the audience unless everyone absolutely believes the company itself is a neutral arbiter, which I don't think anyone would.

I agree.  That's why, assuming that pop culture stays it's current course, I don't really see there being another boom.  

The only thing close to a "universal" shared pop culture experience these days is maybe Marvel?  Game of Thrones came close for a while.

I don't have very flushed out thoughts on it, but I think that people today love serialized content.  I have thought before that wrestling, with it's long history, could tap into that, but more and more I feel like that may actually be a hinderance to attract new viewers.

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The only real thing that defines current pop culture is superhero films/shows, but those are more built by the personalities of the heroes, so you cant even really replicate that.

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27 minutes ago, Log said:

I don't have very flushed out thoughts on it, but I think that people today love serialized content. 

One thing interesting is the way Netflix and other streaming platform have basically changed the way episodic series are written because of the "binge watching" culture, which is all episodes being available from the beginning. It not only changed the way people watch the shows ie when they want and as much episode as they want in one sitting, but also the way they are written, with less emphasis on huge cliffhangers since there will be no wait needed anyway between two episodes and also and most of all stories spread out on a 10 episodes shows like it was an 8 hours movie instead of a true episodic TV show. Which also means a lot of fillers in the stories because what matters the most is just putting out a lot of "content" on the streaming services.

With its week-to-week format, pro-wrestling definitely belongs to the previous era of TV show format, with his pros (the common experience shared by a community at the same time) and cons (the fact younger audience may not be driven to watch such a product, especially since the content they watch on Twitch for live sessions for instance got that interaction aspect with the live chat that a TV show doesn't really have, and no, Twitter doesn't count because it's actually the polar opposite of a live communal chat). The Network oriented WWE already is in the process of just producing random "content" honestly, since what they put on PPV doesn't matter anymore in term of their revenue.

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^ Though to be fair, Disney had success with the Mandalorian and (especially) Wandavision being in the once-a-week format, especially since it keeps people guessing on what happens next. OTOH, those are established IPs,  it's unknown if the same format would work with something brand new.

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37 minutes ago, El-P said:

One thing interesting is the way Netflix and other streaming platform have basically changed the way episodic series are written because of the "binge watching" culture, which is all episodes being available from the beginning. It not only changed the way people watch the shows ie when they want and as much episode as they want in one sitting, but also the way they are written, with less emphasis on huge cliffhangers since there will be no wait needed anyway between two episodes and also and most of all stories spread out on a 10 episodes shows like it was an 8 hours movie instead of a true episodic TV show. Which also means a lot of fillers in the stories because what matters the most is just putting out a lot of "content" on the streaming services.

With its week-to-week format, pro-wrestling definitely belongs to the previous era of TV show format, with his pros (the common experience shared by a community at the same time) and cons (the fact younger audience may not be driven to watch such a product, especially since the content they watch on Twitch for live sessions for instance got that interaction aspect with the live chat that a TV show doesn't really have, and no, Twitter doesn't count because it's actually the polar opposite of a live communal chat). The Network oriented WWE already is in the process of just producing random "content" honestly, since what they put on PPV doesn't matter anymore in term of their revenue.

Tying some things in the last few posts together, this is where it feels like there's real potential in something like Lucha Underground again - a wrestling show that's more of a "TV show" and can be binged on a streaming service. How big it can be, I dunno, but there's definitely a space where it could take off to some degree.

 

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4 hours ago, JRH said:

That's why I think a "random match" option for WWE network would be a good idea. Now granted, being completely random, you may happen upon a notroriously bad match, but there's also the chance you could happen upon a particularly good match. The network has literally thousands of hours of content, so adding this may help people who feel overwhelmed by all the content (of course, there's no chance of this happening with the Network folding into Peacock).

Somebody actually had done this a couple of years back and it literally was a WWE Network Random Match Generator with the link to this match on the Network to watch it. Unfortunately, the generator isn't working anymore but it was my go-to whenever I felt like watching something randomly. Still holding hope somehow that this will be restored eventually.

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7 minutes ago, Migs said:

Tying some things in the last few posts together, this is where it feels like there's real potential in something like Lucha Underground again - a wrestling show that's more of a "TV show" and can be binged on a streaming service. How big it can be, I dunno, but there's definitely a space where it could take off to some degree.

 

While that could work, the problem is that you'd have to go with a "no fans" method (much like the current state of wrestling shows) to avoid spoilers coming out. 

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5 minutes ago, JRH said:

While that could work, the problem is that you'd have to go with a "no fans" method (much like the current state of wrestling shows) to avoid spoilers coming out. 

Fair, it's definitely an issue. But I do think if this works it would probably be aimed at a Netflix viewer that's less likely to be plugged in on wrestling message boards, and would have their own take on whether to engage with spoilers (there were plenty of things like that for Game of Thrones, for example). So you could take in front of a crowd like LU and not be too concerned on spoilers.

The spoiler concern is really where the sports/TV issue rubber hits the road - if it's sports, spoilers are a killer. People rarely watch a basketball game they know the result of, and they don't really avoid spoilers too aggressively. If you see it as a TV show, then spoilers are still a big deal but the spoiler culture is very different. Being sports is really good in some ways for WWE, especially when networks are paying out the nose for sports content to fill time and draw consistent ratings. But it also creates this real barrier to re-entry as a fan if you have to watch the equivalent of three sports games per week to stay up to date.

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With the exception of the MCU, there definitely isn't a monoculture anymore that's for damn sure. 

As a latino (my name may not show it) millennial, my interest in watching American wrestling weekly crashed when Eddy died and Rey got shat on hard.  It didn't help that there was no real competition to the WWE, and the UFC got bigger and more accessible, and I'd rather watch MMA tbh.  I got pulled back in when the pipe bomb went viral and Daniel Bryan earning his Wrestlemania moment, but we all know how happens after those events.  At this point, I only watch WWE every once in a while to watch the women's division, and I probably watch WWE/AEW on Botchamania more than anything else.

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6 hours ago, Log said:

ESPN has lost a lot of it's appeal to me for the same reasons as WWE.  ESPN used to have personalities, but at some point, they started homogenizing their on-air folks and pushing the brand.  Sound familiar?

Oh absolutely. Its funny. Probably the most engaging online sports personalities right now are either Pat McAfee  or the guys at Barstool. WWE does a tie in with McAfee in a attempt to reach a wider audience, and he's not only more athletic than EVERYBODY on the show but he also has more personality and charisma than EVERYBODY on the entire show. The purpose of bringing in pro athletes and celebrities to wrestling I thought was to give the wrestlers a rub and get them over, not to show them up lol.

So even when an American wrestling company tries to appeal to a younger, broader audience with celebrity cameos it only seems to get the celeb over. I worry about the same thing happening with the Shaq in AEW. I've never met Shaq. But I've met Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, and those guys towered over me. I saw most of the AEW roster on the indies, and I towered over most of those guys. Its has the potential to be comical how much bigger and how much more mobile Shaq is than most of the AEW guys. 

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