EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, August 11, 2000
Canada a great new market for WCW
World Championship Wrestling is, unfortunately, in dire straits. They're on a projected pace to lose anywhere between sixty and eighty million dollars this year. For a wrestling company, that's a lot of money. We all know the pockets of Time Warner are deep, and of AOL-Time Warner, deeper, but they're ultimately a business and what we don't know is how deep is their patience.
A lot of folks point fingers at the ratings and exclaim 'That's why they're doing so poorly,' but in reality television ratings are just one small piece in a large and complex puzzle. Our own John Powell recently spelled out for everyone just what the ratings mean to wrestling companies, and the truth is not entirely too much. Important, yes; singularly critical, no.
There are tons of other factors in the equation that spouts out 'minus seventy-five million' in thick, red ink this year. Merchandise, licensing fees, pay-per-view, and house show revenues, to name a few.
This week, at New Blood Rising, the future or two of those factors -- in one old market, and one new -- may hinge on WCW's success. The general pay-per-view audience, dwindled but slightly growing, will be watching (or, later, reading) with a keen eye to see if World Championship Wrestling can put on a quality product. WCW is no longer in transition. This is what they now have to offer. Young guys at the top of the card, and a few established names pushing the federation along. If they can't get it together on Sunday, August 13, then there's no reason to believe they'll be able to do it for Halloween Havoc or Starrcade. If they do a good job here, then maybe a few heads will turn and buyrates will begin to gradually improve again.
In addition, there's a new market to be exploited here, one WCW should be desperate to tap. Like it or not, Canada has always been one of the premiere havens of professional wrestling. Much of contemporary wrestling's roots are founded in Quebec, and Ontario, and Alberta, and in the Maritimes, and out West, and all across the country. Every corner has a little bit of history. More importantly, just about every major urban center has an arena and several thousand fans who're hungry for live wrestling.
Sure, they may watch more WWF each week than WCW, but it's not like the World Wrestling Federation is beating down the doors of any cities outside Ontario, begging to put on live television shows at their venues. If WCW comes into Vancouver, for example, to put on a pay-per-view, for example, then I think for the most part, Vancouverites will jump at the chance to go and see it live. It's not like this is New York City, and a wrestling promotion is putting on four live television shows a year anywhere in this country, so there's a demand to be satiated.
I can't speak for the entire country, per se, but the WWF comes to Montreal three to four times per year to put on a house show. This is an insignificant, predetermined-title-match-ridden, advancing-no-storylines, cookie-cutter-house-show, and for the past two years, we've just about sold out every single one. I can only imagine that even if the less popular federation were to come to town, if they would sometimes put on Nitro or Thunder tapings or a pay-per-view, then people would just flock. And I don't think it's any different anywhere else in this country.
Canadians are wrestling fans. Not all of us, of course, but at least as many per capita as in the States. I have no numbers to prove that, but historically, the ratings that TSN's Monday Night Raw earns compared to USA's Monday Night Raw typically bears that out.
Back to the topic at hand, if WCW puts on a great show and knocks our socks off, then everyone in Vancouver is going to go home happy. The show will get good reviews, and people watching live on pay-per-view will be impressed.
WCW will gain pay-per-view buy momentum (a huge chunk of the WWF's revenues comes from pay-per-views), good press, and the chance to open up a whole new market.
Granted, the WWF doesn't need any more help. They can sell out wherever they go, even several times a year. They come here because they have an audience to appease, but it's not like they cater to us. WCW, though, isn't selling out all their house shows. Far from it. A few shows here each year would reduce the number of shows they run in their American markets, which should increase their numbers everywhere. A move like that could be a serious boon to a company in serious trouble.
All this beside the fact that Canada's own Lance Storm will be representing his country this weekend, and success on his part (win or lose the match, a good show for the audience) could lead to a big Canadian following for Storm, who up to now had never had even a fraction of the celebrity enjoyed by Mr. Bret Hart. Such a following could make WCW a bigger hit here, which was the same principle that led them to hire Hart in the first place. Well, one of the principles that led them to hire Hart.
It may not seem like it, but there's a lot riding on New Blood Rising. A lot to gain, for WCW, and a lot to lose. Let's hope they come through, because I don't think anyone benefits if they fail -- least of all, Canadian viewers hopeful of future WCW Canada shows.
Here's the mailbag.
Charlie Connell, from YoHee@aol.com, writes:
"Hey there. I'm a big WWF fan and have been since I was a wee little child. During the past twenty years or so there was one move I was always particularly fond of: The piledriver. Whether it be the slightly pathetic attempt at a piledriver that Mick Foley always delivered or a devastating tombstone it was always an unbelivable move. And as I've watched wrestling for the last couple months I've noticed things, people don't give piledrivers anymore, at all. Undertaker now has some different finishing move, a power bomb of sorts, and Kane always attempts to give a tombstone but I haven't seen him successfully do it in months. The Rikishi Driver was not a devastating enough finishing move so they had to replace it with the stink face (what the hell were they thinking there). I know that many people have been injured by piledrivers in the past (ex. Stone Cold) so has the WWF tried to phase out the move or something? I was just curious what your thoughts on this were."
I've definitely noticed the change, too. I've heard, recently, that the WWF has been de-emphasizing piledrivers and DDTs, simply because the injury risks just outweigh the benefits of using the moves.
I think one of the big reasons for this is that piledrivers have become so darn common lately. I remember a time -- and my memories don't go back that far -- when the piledriver was an illegal move, something the heel would do to the face after the match, and get fined or something. Nowadays, they're executed left and right. They've lost whatever special feeling they once had, but the risks are still the same -- greater, even, since the move is done so often.
I commend the WWF for quietly shooing away the move.
Speaking of, I hope Steve Austin will be able to return by the end of the year, almost a year and a half after the recurrence of the injury he suffered at the hands of a piledriver.
Pleaser Of Opposite sex, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I read what you said about the WWF having too much talent and I agree with you, and adding Raven, a returning Hardcore Holly, Billy Gunn and Steve Austin isn't going to help matters. But my beef is that you said on RAW there were eight matches, and six were tag team matches. Well did you note on Smackdown! that there were eight matches and four were Tag Team matches."
First of all, how many tag team titles are there in the WWF? Yeah, one. How many singles titles? What, like five or six (depending on whether you count the women's)? Clearly, the ratio of tag team matches to singles matches shouldn't be one-to-one, as you pointed out from Smackdown!, let alone three-to-one, like on Raw. To me, there should be two or three out of eight.
I do, however, agree with you that the future doesn't look good for talent management in the WWF. Though, I must admit, I doubt Vince McMahon and company probably aren't complaining at their sheer excess of talent.
Then again, is Billy Gunn really a 'talent'?
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in, and have a great week!
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