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

Friday, October 26, 2001

Split house shows not the answer

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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The wrestling business is hurting right now. WWF ratings are down, house show attendance is dropping, and even some televised live events aren't selling out, let alone the pay-per-view side of the business. Despite the high concentration of talent in the World Wrestling Federation right now, people aren't paying money to go see them perform, and increasingly, they aren't even bothering to watch them on television. There's no denying that the business has taken a plunge, and that things will get worse before they get better.

This has happened before, of course. Long-time or knowledgeable wrestling fans know that the business is cyclical. For whatever reason, people get into wrestling in droves, and then later exodus en masse. Maybe people can only take so much. Perhaps two years of following wrestling each week gives fans a brain overload, and they just can't take anymore. Regardless, I'm not here to challenge the concept of a business cycle. I'm challenging what the WWF has chosen to do to combat this downturn in business: split house shows.

In professional wrestling, house shows have earned themselves a fairly poor reputation. It's sort of a strange phenomenon. In the old days, a wrestling company's revenue (and thus its success) came primarily from house show ticket sales. For independent wrestling groups, this remains true. In such a case, all of the marquee matches are saved for house shows, much the same way the big matches are saved for pay-per-view today. Title defenses would occur mostly at house shows, too.

Since the big boom in the eighties, when the WWF exploded and destroyed the notion of regional territories, house shows have in many cases been almost an afterthought. The main goal became to sell the pay-per-views. The secondary goal, especially after the onset of the Monday Night Wars, became to draw viewers to the weekly television program. House show attendance became a distant third, something that just seemed to happen if the federation was popular and everything went right. That's when house shows took a beating.

I've seen my fair share of non-televised WWF wrestling events. I've been at least once a year for well over a decade, more lately. To me, house shows have always been lame in several senses. For one, title defenses were a joke. They never, ever seemed to change hands. When I was six years old, this seemed to be miraculous, as I always rooted for the good guys anyway. By the time I was twelve, I had become a little bit jaded about the whole affair. Add to that the fact that many performers are unwilling to give anything close to 100% and risk injury or worse, tiredness, at a lowly untelevised house show. What I liked least about the house show was that there were never any interviews, angles, or stories except the one the wrestlers told in the ring with their moves.

As time went on, my opinion of house shows reversed. Maybe it was one too many televised McMahon family reunions, or the two-hour episodes of Raw with three two-minute wrestling matches. Shortly into the Monday Night Wars, I looked forward to house shows. Everything that had been bad about them was now good. Everyone shut up, all the wrestlers had a good fifteen or twenty minutes to tell their story, and for once I wasn't certain to see a title change.

Still, house shows have a bad reputation among smart fans, for the reasons outlined above. It's almost like Diet WWF, a substitute. It sort of tastes the same, but it lacks something. Fireworks, television cameras, maybe hot-shotted storylines. I personally enjoy them, especially WWF ones, as most of the top guys actually give their all for fans at a house show, and the matches tend to be above average. Of course, WCW almost single-handedly destroyed house show business with their poor methods, but that's another story.

So now, business is bad, and the WWF has all of these extra wrestlers from the WCW purchase and quasi-ECW purchase. They decide that an extra revenue stream would be nice, and since they can't fit all of their superstars on one card anyway, they split them up. Not to second guess the experts, but that seems like a terrible choice to me.

First of all, the house shows are diluted. Instead of attending a show and being certain or relatively certain that my favourite wrestlers will be there, the odds are now cut in half. In some cases, the whole cards don't seem to be available in advance, so that's just gambling. The new split house shows also don't pervade the feeling of the whole federation being present. It's lot like "the WWF is in town", but in fact that "some of the WWF guys are here". That hardly makes it a can't-miss affair.

Secondly, if the WWF splits their house shows, they're now in two places at once. That means one of two things. Either they're going to the same places as before, only twice as often, or they're now playing out in the boondocks, at much smaller venues in addition to their regular stops. If it's the former, then that's a terrible idea. Fans have already expressed that the business is saturated by not watching WWF shows as much. They don't need further saturation of the house show market. If it's the latter, then the WWF isn't going to make that much more money sending half of a bloated roster to a small town that they still can't seem to sell out.

If you had a gun lying around, and you didn't really have anything to do with it, you wouldn't use it just because you have it. You'd sell it or get rid of it, probably. The WWF has a bloated roster. That doesn't mean they should expand their promotion if the business cycle doesn't call for it right now. They should keep things simple. If that means cutting the roster, I hate to say it, but that might be the best idea. It won't do anyone any favours in the long run if the drain of this double-sized roster causes the only remaining big North American federation to close up shop.

The WWF should cut this out, and go back to one house show at a time. There's no way around it.

Here's the mailbag.

Robert Vollman, from, writes:

"I think the WCW/ECW Invasion was a big bust! Here are my proposed top 10 ways to improve the situation!

10) Bring aboard WCW's REAL star power - guys like Brian Knobbs, Ed Leslie and Lenny Lane.
9) Two words: Mae Young
8) Two more words: David Arquette
7) Introduce some more McMahon family members, and give them 20 minutes of air-time each.
6) Have Jim Cornette show up with an NWA Invasion, complete with the Rock n' Roll Express.
5) This is nothing an Undertaker vs. Undertaker feud can't fix. The first one to sell is revealed as the fake.
4) Introduce more championship title belts! There's at least a guy or two without one, and some guys only have one.
3) Give the fans what they really want - the match at Survivor Series determining the fate of the WWF should be a return Hardcore Evening Gown Match between Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco.
2) Have Rikishi run over Stone Cold again.
1) Reveal Vince McMahon as the higher power behind the WCW/ECW invasion ("It was ME Austin!!")"

Do you know what the scary thing is, Robert? As terrible as those ideas may be, almost none of them would really surprise us at this point. Wow, I really need to write something optimistic next week.

Chris Cox,, writes:
"After watching Raw on Monday, McMahon stated that it was time to see who truly will survive at the PPV. Do you think it is time to bring back tradition and do the original format? Then at the end, they can use the old idea of pitting all the winners of each match at the end in a finale match!

I think instead of giving us a regular PPV, this might be able to refresh the WWF PPV scene and give the causal fan a reason to watch. I personally, as a hardcore fan, want it back just because of traditional reasons! This will also give an excuse to use up parts of the roster we don't normally see and give that lower mid-carder a chance!"

As much as I would like to see the old format of Survivor Series return, especially in this age of twelve WWF pay-per-views per year, that suggestion doesn't seem appropriate. The whole Alliance vs. WWF angle seems more like a grueling grudge match, and that it would be kind of weird to settle the score in a fair, measured contest. I also can't imagine the new World order, at the height of their popularity, settling their score with WCW with any kind of organized tournament. Either put the participants in there one-on-one so that they can have their mini intra-angle feud, or maybe have a big brawl with everyone involved. The Survivor Series rules matches seem too good-natured to be applied here.

That's all for this week. Have a safe and happy weekend!

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