SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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

Friday, January 5, 2001

Putting stock in a theory

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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I have a theory. I can't believe it took me this long to figure it out. It goes like this. Fact: wrestling is an industry with peaks and valleys, doing tremendously well some years and extremely poorly in others. Fact: wrestling invariably rebounds from each valley and always falls from its peak. It has never been able to maintain very strong business for more than a few years at a time without a serious decline, and yet even in the worst of times it has never disappeared from the map. Now I know why.

Originally, I had thought it had something to do with wrestling talent being rare, or that it could be traced to specific promoters and owners, or that wrestling was ultimately a long-lasting fad and that like sweets, people really like it but can't stand to have too much of it at a time. I figured people needed a break from wrestling every now and again. It turns out I was totally wrong.

One of the reasons that I don't just attribute wrestling's success and failures to the most obvious candidate -- the quality of wrestling at the time -- is that I think the wrestling we're seeing now on North American television is as good as anything we've seen in five years. Sure, WCW may be up to their ears in guys most casual fans have never heard of, but I can scarcely recall the last time that this many folks were being elevated or that there was more clean wrestling on their cards. Meanwhile, the WWF is stacking their deck with solid wrestlers, even if the style has evolved into some amalgamation of hardcore and aerial insanity since 1996.

Despite that, the WWF's ratings seem to be taking a downward turn, with MTV's Heat being hit hardest but Smackdown! and Raw also feeling the effects. WCW Nitro's ratings are the minimum that a show of its type can pull on TNT, and Thunder hasn't done well in two years.

So it's got to be something else. I say it's the stock market.

I understand how ridiculous this may sound, but I don't really think there's much rhyme or reason to wrestling's successes and failures in and of itself, so fluctuations relating to the stock market seem reasonable enough to me. As always, I have a little bit of evidence to back me up.

Wrestling is just now starting to slump. WCW has been there for some time, but the WWF largely recovered the ratings that WCW lost, and only now is wrestling as a whole really losing viewers on a week-to-week basis. Less than a year ago, the stock market took a tumble, correcting itself for arguably over-priced tech stocks. Nortel Networks, a very, very large Canadian company, is trading at less than half the value of its high point over the last year. Granted, there's a slight delay between the stock market's dip and wrestling's, but they're close.

Between 1996 and 1998, the value of the Toronto Stock Exchange index nearly doubled. It was also during this time that we saw the height of the New World Order and pinnacle of Steve Austin's feud with Vince McMahon, not to mention the beginning of the WWF Attitude era. This is where wrestling established itself as a major player. Again, though, much of the benefits from this boom were reaped in 1999 and 2000, which is again indicative of a delay in the relationship.

Don't worry, I won't bore you too much with details. Suffice it to say that the modern dark ages of wrestling, in the early 1990's (recall Doink, wrestling plumbers, and Hogan as a face in WCW) also followed a recession. I'm told that the stock market tumble that was triggered by oil prices in the 1970's also preceded a decline in wrestling, and its recovery in the mid-1980's was followed immediately by another huge boom. Of course, I can't speak much about how wrestling in the 1930's might have been affected by the Great Depression, but I have to imagine it wasn't living through its glory days at the time. I, of course, have no idea what the heck was going on in wrestling in the 1850's and 1870's, the two other biggest stock market crashes in distant memory.

Still, the evidence is there. So is the logic, if you think about it.

After all, we're less likely to buy pay-per-views when we have less money in our pockets. The same goes for attending live shows. And maybe when we're not watching as many pay-per-views and not going to see wrestling live so much, watching the stuff on television doesn't seem as fun. Also don't forget merchandise, which is a big part of wrestling companies' success (at least today). Consumer spending is of this sort is definitely affected by the state of the economy.

There are holes in my theory. Much of the money 'gained' during the recent dot-com boom was by the dot-com millionaires themselves, with their millions of dollars in dot-com Monopoly money (stock), which may not have translated into a whole lot more tickets sold to Wrestlemania. But a rising tide lifts all boats, and just about everyone was experiencing good returns at that point. With the recent advent of day trading, I wouldn't be surprised if more and more people are more and more affected by these kinds of things. Heck, even Christmas shopping was less than expected this year, so clearly it's having an effect on some people. Some of those 'some people' must be (or have been) fans.

Maybe it's all a coincidence, and there's no relation between wrestling and the stock market. After all, for something like twenty years, the stock market was even correlated to which conference (AFC or NFC) won the Super Bowl early in a given year, and there's obviously no reason to that, so maybe there isn't here either. But it's plausible.

Given that, my point: even if wrestling is experiencing this huge decline, it's entirely possible that that has nothing to do with the quality of the shows, which gives us no reason to stop watching as long as we still like it. Don't listen to anyone else.

I'd like to hear some readers' takes on this.

Here's the mailbag.

Ben Sisser, from, writes:
"I was unable to watch or pay any attention to wrasslin' for a few months, but I was curious: what actually happened to The Big Show? Not that I liked him much, but he was usually a fairly big part of WWF for a while and when I got back he was utterly gone, with no mention of him anywhere! Thanks :-)"

From what I know, the WWF is not exactly thrilled with The Big Show's performance to date, or at least his conditioning and health status. They've sent him down to Memphis Championship Wrestling (last I heard), where he's working for a chance at the big time again, but they're serious about keeping their athletes healthy nowadays -- just look at Mark Henry and Vader, who are also gone. writes:
"I totally agree with you about house shows. I never attend TV Tapings or any TV shows (except for ECW TV, which I was at on Saturday). You get to see the guys more or less unrestricted by commercials or TV time. And I go to as many indy shows as possible, because those guys always put in a great effort in my area (Philly)."

Sometimes I wish I had access to the bigger indy federations out of Philadelphia or California -- not everyone has the luxury of attending indy shows that aren't set in a church basement. Still, it's nice to see some folks keeping the spirit alive.

That's all for this week. Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for coming to the site, thanks for writing in, and have a fantastic weekend.

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