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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, August 18, 2000

Why promotions shy away from Canada

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
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Last week, I wrote about how WCW, what with their broadcasting a pay-per-view, a Nitro, and a Thunder show all out of locations in British Columbia, with a chance to open up a whole new market in Canada. They could use, I reasoned, this market to supplement the recent decrease in demand for their product in the United States. Yeah, well, it turns out I was wrong.

I had the chance to attend New Blood Rising as a member of the media, so I got to browse around, talk to people, and get my facts straight when it comes to putting on shows in Canada. I had no idea it was such a pain. Here are the five reasons that I learned effectively prevent the WWF and WCW from maintaining a stronger presence here, and then the reason they actually do.

The big problem that American companies of any kind can have, but specifically those that tour, is with labour. World Championship Wrestling, and of course, the World Wrestling Federation too, have their own wrestlers. And bookers, and referees, and announcers. And, more pertinently, their own stagehands, crew members, security, and so on. They basically tour with everyone they need to do the job. The problem is, labour laws in Canada actually force wrestling companies to use local talent. It's a problem that plagues some other industries, too -- the film industry comes to mind, and one that's really irritating for companies which have a limited timeframe in which to do their job and have their own specialized labour with which to do it. WCW has to be at New Blood Rising one night, then somewhere entirely different the next night for Nitro. You can't exactly lag when a two-hour live television slot on a major cable outlet is counting on your programming.

Jacques Rougeau Jr., the special referee, and Lance Storm stand at attention for the Canadian National Anthem at the WCW New Blood Rising PPV in Vancouver, B.C. on August 13, 2000. -- Rik Fedyk, www.picthisphotography.com/
Full coverage of WCW New Blood Rising PPV
The second reason wrestling companies don't much like coming here, I can sympathize with, because I saw it with my own eyes. I don't know about you, but I think of Vancouver as a fairly large market. I mean, depending on which subsidiary towns you count, it's the second-largest city in Canada. And yet, even in a second-rate facility (the older Coliseum instead of the new GM Place) that seats far fewer people, WCW couldn't come close to filling the place up. They barely filled half the house, with almost the entire upper section completely empty and empty seats at every level. Whatever the reason, it's clear that WCW doesn't have a following in Vancouver and environs, not even for one show in a very long time with a Canada native featured prominently on the card. (Yet the smaller city of Kelowna nearly sold out.)

Three, the dreaded Canadian border. Sure, it doesn't seem like a huge problem, but when you're bringing over a large contingent of people, it becomes increasingly easier for someone to get stuck at Canadian Customs. Depending on the person, one guy getting stuck at Customs can be a less than desirable situation.

Four, unlike in the United States, where there are ten times as many people in a much smaller country, we have few clusters of large cities. Pay-per-view, Monday live show, Tuesday taping. That's a lot of bodies they have to fill into three arenas, and without three nearby cities, it's hard to do. Sure, you've got Calgary and Edmonton, but they're not exactly large cities capable of supporting the number two promotion. Maybe the horseshoe belt in Ontario would suffice, but that alone isn't a huge draw, since it accounts for just one run. Meanwhile, in the States, there are more big clusters in Texas (Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and many more) or California (Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, to name just a few) than our entire country. Again, not a big attraction.

Finally, there are some local complications, especially in one of our biggest wrestling markets, Quebec. There are language issues for advertising (not only do some ads have to be bilingual but it would be suicide to advertise only in English to a population primarily francophone) and promoting the show.

Still, despite all this, thousands of people did indeed watch New Blood Rising, Nitro, and Thunder live this week. And Mayhem aired live from Toronto not so long ago. The World Wrestling Federation actually tours in Canada a fair amount, though usually for house shows. That seems to be an awful contradiction.

I'd be lying if I said I truly understood the details, but apparently both federations have to tour here every so often in order to maintain their spots on Canadian television. Part of it has to do with keeping a presence, but that's just promotion. The WWF does a lot of house shows here, which eliminates many of the concerns listed above but still keeps Attitude in all our hearts so we watch TSN on Monday nights. In addition, apparently there are some Canadian content laws with either require or encourage the federations to run shows here. Again, I'm not entirely privy to the details, but all this to say that there are reasons beyond reason, so to speak, that we're still getting live wrestling up here.

I think it sucks, and I think the biggest thing that we can do to alleviate that is all get to a show when they come to town. Beyond that, I guess write to your local Member of Parliament or whatever it is we do when we have something to complain about. That seems to be all we can do. C'est la vie.

I'd like to thank all the fine folks from both organizations, especially the WCW crew at New Blood Rising, for illuminating me on this issue, and hope that I have in return illuminated it for others out there.

Here's the mailbag.

Sean O'Callaghan, from Sean.OCallaghan@viatel.com, writes:
"In regards to the piledriver move, this move is not being used that much anymore because the talent in wrestling today are not accomplished at a variety of moves as they were 10 to 20 years ago. Bret Hart and Chris Benoit are probably the two best technical wrestlers left today. The more accomplished you are at the mic, the more success you have nowadays. What do you think?"

You know, I'd never thought of it like that, but that's certainly got to have something to do with it. Today's less proficient athletes are often resorting to big power moves, since they have to know at least a few moves. Some of those moves, like the powerbomb and piledriver, can severely injure if used improperly. Maybe that's partly behind what's going on now, with the quasi-ban on these moves. Still, it's worth noting that some of the last decades worst move-related injuries came from some of the most proficient tacticians, including Owen Hart (who injured Steve Austin with a piledriver) and D'Lo Brown (who did likewise to Droz with a powerbomb).

Claude Tousignant, from tousicl@globetrotter.qc.ca, writes:
"Very good article, Mr. Benner. WCW came once in Montreal in 1995 (or so). There was Hogan vs. Jacques Rougeau and Pierre-Carl Ouellet vs. The Giant there were 14,000 people at the old Forum. It was a good night of wrestling. People cheered for Hogan. It would be good for WCW to come back in Montreal especially if Bret Hart come back to the ring. He had history with this town (Survivor Series 1997), and it would be a great way to restart or end his career here."

I recall the WCW event. Ouellet, if I remember correctly, won by DQ when The Giant punked the referee out of nowhere, and Jacques went over Hogan. But I think the question that WCW is more interested in is -- can they put on a show here and attract that many fans, during a recession instead of a peak (as they were then) and without two locals (who would interest no one but us) at the top of the card? I'm afraid I don't know how many would come out to see Booker T wrestle Jeff Jarrett. Especially after years of multiple house shows here, I believe Montreal may be firmly WWF territory. It's a vicious cycle.

That's all for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading, thanks for writing in, and have yourself a great week!

Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.

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