I was out on a morning troll when I came across some fantasy booking on a pro wrestling fan site. A commenter creates a unique storyline for a real-life development occurring in a promotion, and before completing his/her opening statement drops the following jewel in the middle of it all:
… push the guys the fans want to see …
Needless to say this comment and the thought process intrigued me enough to bring it to our lovely L.E.W.D. shores for an insightful and invigorating conversation.
With no offense or ill will intended for the commenter or the site they drafted their opinion on, it’s quite fascinating how people tend to operate more often than not off of their feelings without giving consideration to the context of their feelings or the experiences of those around them. All that is to say that this notion of “pushing the guys the fans want to see” tends to come off extremely shortsighted because there several underlying assumptions that are never addressed or considered when speaking about pushing the guys the “fans want” to see.
And there it is; the two most important words in that statement are “fans want.” Whether one stands to admit it or not, our hopes and expectations about a given pro wrestling product are intricately bound by the idea that corporations give consumers what consumers want. To an extent that is true, but it can be quite misleading for the fan that has quietly assimilated into the Generation ME lifestyle.
Corporations don’t give consumers what consumers want; corporations sell consumers what consumers are willing to pay for. When this process happens long enough, we become “convinced” that the corporation is “giving” us what we “want.” No matter how many miles one walks and how many pounds one wants to shed, McDonald’s will still continue to sell Big Macs because people are still willing to buy Big Macs.
As we’ve said many times on this site before, it’s all about money. These United States of America are ruled by the color green; we are all capitalists and there are more companies (and individuals) than not who give more of a damn about profit margins than they do about what you and I want. Companies provide a particular product or service for a price, and the ebb and flow of their business models shift and surge depending solely on what they can get consumers to buy. The more money a product or service can bring in, the more it’ll be shoved into our faces accompanied with advertising and marketing intentionally designed to convince us “this is what we want, this is what we need” in order to do x-y-z in life.
The same rule of thumb applies to a given wrestling promotion; a promotion will offer fans someone they’ll pay to see, which sometimes can be the person that fans “want” to see. When that doesn’t happen, however, a lot of hurt feelings and raw emotions are expressed via the interweb. The reality of it all is that just because fans want to see a particular star doesn’t necessarily mean those same fans (or other fans) are willing to pay to see that star in a prominent position.
The tragic part of it all is that consumers often “want” something more deeper and intricate than what they’re given or what they’re told they want.
Let’s take everyone’s favorite broski Zack Ryder as an example. Three years ago Ryder successfully utilized social media to gain a very vocal cult following. Fans rallied behind Ryder enough to the point where he was given a safe and solid push from the powers that be. At the time there was no doubt that Zack Ryder was someone that a lot of fans “wanted to see,” and that was never really in question.
The question was whether or not we would pay to see Zack Ryder in a more prominent role higher than the mid-card. As exceptional a talent as Zack Ryder is, it became obvious that the same legion of fans who rallied for his push were also the same ones who wouldn’t put enough green down for him to have more than a cup of coffee in the upper mid-card. Our response to such instances is to blame the promotion, but a promotion can’t financially survive off of feeding into the fans’ fleeting emotions.
The other perspective to consider as fans is whether or not we understand completely the vast spectrum of fandom that exists inside of pro wrestling. Not all fans are alike and not all fans “like” or “want” the same thing. We often speak of ourselves in blanket terms without even thinking of the differences of opinion that are present among us. Every time a fan chants “Let’s go Cena,” they’re greeted by a resounding chorus of “Cena Sucks!” responses. As cute and enchanting as the dueling chants can be, it also shows us in very simple terms that wrestling fans don’t always think alike. We’re a dynamic group of individuals who can collectively enjoy and critique the product while also having uniquely different ideas that explain why we like or dislike the product.
To blithely say or assume that a promotion should push guys “fans want to see” is to also assume, without saying, that all fans want to see one particular wrestler and that all fans will pay to see that same wrestler. No matter how we look at “the business,” it’s a form of entertainment that moves along with what consumers are willing to pay to see. With fans having varying tastes that can literally change overnight without notice, the guys fans want to “see” could switch at any given time plus the fact that there may be six to seven different guys that different fans want to “see” pushed.
On July 12, 2012, Austin Aries defeated Bobby Roode to become the new TNA World Heavyweight Champion at the Destination X pay per view. Aries’ reign came after he received a strong push upon his return to TNA which also led to a reinvigorated X-Division. Aries’ reign, however, lasted all of three months by the time he was defeated by Jeff Hardy at Bound for Glory that same year.
Over one year later in July 2013, well-known X-Division star Chris Sabin defeated Bully Ray to win his very first TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Sabin’s reign came after his return to TNA in May 2014 after recuperating from his second ACL injury. Sabin’s reign lasted less than a month as he lost the title to the former champion.
Both Aries and Sabin were fan favorites that fans wanted to “see” receive a push. With so much fervor behind them, why is it that their combined reigns lasted less than half a year? Even more sobering is the fact that the combined five reigns of Jeff Hardy and Bully Ray lasted for over a year and two months.
We can assume that Jeff Hardy and Bully Ray had more drawing power as champs, or we could blame the powers that be for not putting their all behind pushing the guys “fans wanted to see.” Whichever direction we decide to drift towards we cannot deny or ignore that the preeminent names in TNA between 2011 and 2012 were Hardy and Bully Ray; it wasn’t so much that the machine invested in them heavily (which is a part of the situation), but it also had to do with the fact that both men were individuals people paid good money to see and less to do with whether fans by and large “wanted” to see them per se.
To wrap things up, we cannot forget that “the business” is out to make money and cannot realistically operate by floating precariously on the whims of a fickle fan base. At the end of the day, we are paying (in most cases) these promotions to entertain us, and as a large and varied group of consumers these promotions must put players in place that will generate revenue to keep their businesses barreling towards the black and not moon walking towards the red. Because our likes are varied and because our likes change as often as folks change their drawes [sic], it’d be completely asinine for any promotion with the good sense given to them at birth to operate solely and completely off of what fans “say” they want at a given minute, especially if that particular fan base is miniscule and fair weather in nature … case in point …
We fans have a right to like what we like; we fans also have a right to expect a promotion to entertain us when we’re paying them to do so. But we must be realistic when viewing the product, understanding that guys the fans want to see pushed also have to be the guys fans will pay to see pushed. All the chants and petitions and crowd signs in the world won’t move a promotion’s top brass as much as revenue will. Period.