Too Much Wrestling

Professional wrestling is a long con. Time was, you forked over your hard-earned money to a carnival barker/regional promoter/cable company, and in exchange you were given a few hours worth of distraction in the form of fake sporting contests. The goal for the promoters and performers, then, was about making sure that you, the fan in the stands (or at home on your couch), got enough entertainment value out of the show so that the next time the promotion in question is coming through your town (or putting on a pay per view), you would give serious consideration to forking over more of your hard-earned money in order to watch more fake sports. Therefore, from the perspective of the promoters and performers, it is essential that every show not only entertain the fans, but also leave those fans wanting more.

Sunday’s Royal Rumble, like most of WWE’s major shows these days, ran well north of four hours. (Until relatively recently, the typical run time for major shows/PPVs was two and a half to three hours.) If you include the two-hour pre-show in this calculation (more on this in a bit), that means the total length of the show comes to over SIX hours. That’s too much wrestling! It’s too much wrestling for me, it’s too much wrestling for everyone I talked to who also watched the show, and it was clearly too much wrestling for the fans in the crowd at the event. When Seth Rollins won the men’s Royal Rumble to close out the show, the crowd reacted with a level of enthusiasm typically reserved for the announcement of flight delays. The sense of burnout was palpable, and it seems fair to say that nobody in the crowd left wanting any more wrestling.

And the Royal Rumble was a good show, too! Most of the matches were good, at least a couple of matches were great, and those that weren’t good or great were at least kind of fun, as long as you were able to accept their inherent stupidity. (This probably sounds like the most backhanded compliment imaginable, but for wrestling fans, accepting inherent stupidity is a necessary skill.) But it was still too long to hold the crowd’s interest. I can sort of imagine how bored and tired the crowd would have been at the end if the show had sucked – again, WWE has been running longer major shows for a while now, and not all of them have been winners. It’s a real problem when a wrestling show is so long that the fans get burned out even when the show itself is pretty good.

What I really don’t understand, though, is what segment of the fan base this glut of excess wrestling is for. Nothing exemplifies this quite like the aforementioned pre-show. WWE’s pre-shows all follow the same formula – a few commentators sit around a desk blathering without insight about the matches to come, and this is a occasionally interrupted by a match, or a video hype package for one of the matches on the card proper. It is therefore nothing more than a big old advertisement for the show itself. This is deeply, profoundly insane, seeing as the pre-shows air on WWE Network, and the shows themselves air on WWE Network too, so this means that the pre-shows exist to advertise a show that everyone who is watching has already bought. How did this happen? Who let this happen? How did the perceived demand for wrestling balloon to this extent? Who are the fans of professional wrestling who are demanding shows this bloated and overstuffed?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I do have a theory. Nobody wants wrestling shows this long. They are this long because simply because they can be this long. The introduction of the subscription-based WWE Network has altered the calculus of wrestling promotion somewhat. When WWE’s hype machine kicks into gear, this hype no longer exists to goose the ticket sales and PPV buys of a single, specific show. Rather, the shows themselves are the hype – they exist to bait wrestling fans into buying and maintaining a Network subscription.

This was always a fairly obvious upshot of WWE’s shift to this business model. But in a way, it seems to me that WWE doesn’t understand this. The WWE Network continues to exist even when a big show isn’t on. Right now, the Network is streaming something. Maybe it’s last week’s episode of NXT or 205 Live, maybe it’s a replay of the Royal Rumble or Takeover, maybe it’s an episode of Raw from 1995, maybe it’s some dumb reality show starring wrestlers that nobody cares about. As a subscriber and wrestling fan, I don’t give a tenth of a shit what the Network is streaming right this second, unless it’s a major show. (I watch NXT weekly, but since the weekly show is available on demand after airing, I can and do watch it at my leisure.)

But I can see how WWE has a different perspective on what the Network is, one that distorts their perception of how subscribers use it. They have to fill out the Network schedule. They are also smart enough to know that the major shows are what get most current and potential subscribers interested. This means that stretching out the length of the major shows (particularly a show like the Royal Rumble, which is one of the biggest shows of the year) is an easy and prudent way to fill the schedule. The subscribers, many of whom fear missing out on a good show or even just a good match, will watch anyway. Even if an individual subscriber doesn’t watch the big show every month, as long as that subscriber still ponies up the $10 to keep his or her subscription going, WWE still gets what they want out of the transaction. All WWE really has to do, in promoting and putting on the show, is not alienate the subscriber so much that he or she decides to cancel. The major shows are so long not because the fans demanded six-hour shows on a monthly basis. They are so long because they are being made to fit the shape of their container.

Ultimately, this works just fine as a business model. I am complaining about the length of the Royal Rumble, and I am despairing of the fact that every major show these days is too long both for myself and for wrestling fans as a whole, but I am not intending or threatening to cancel my subscription in retaliation. Like most wrestling fans, I am held in place by my fear of missing out. What if Takeover or the Royal Rumble had been the best wrestling shows in years? What if there had been multiple five star matches? Were I to cancel my subscription and learn I had missed something really cool, I would feel like an idiot. WWE, in switching to the subscriber model, no longer needs to get their fans to act in order to keep the long con going. They just need FOMO and inertia.

This is all my long-winded way of saying I had every intention of doing a review for the Royal Rumble in the same style as my review of Takeover: Phoenix. However, the length of both shows put together conspired with my moderate level of drunkenness to make focusing on the matches extremely difficult after the women’s Royal Rumble, which was the undisputed emotional climax despite being positioned smack in the middle of the card. I still pulled it together enough to come up with star ratings for each match, but please note these are even more subjective and impressionistic than usual.

Rezar & Scott Dawson vs. Bobby Roode & Chad Gable (c) – Raw Tag Team Championship Match: *1/4

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev (c) – U.S. Championship Match: **1/2

Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami vs. Buddy Murphy (c) – Cruiserweight Championship Match: ***3/4

Becky Lynch vs. Asuka (c) – Smackdown Women’s Championship Match: ****1/4

The Miz & Shane MccMahon vs. The Bar (c) – Smackdown Tag Team Championship Match: *

Sasha Banks vs. Ronda Rousey (c) – Raw Women’s Championship Match: ****

Women’s Royal Rumble: ***1/4

A.J. Styles vs. Daniel Bryan (c) – Smackdown Men’s Championship Match: **

Finn Balor vs. Brock Lesnar (c) – Raw Men’s Championship Match: ***1/2

Men’s Royal Rumble: **3/4

One thought on “Too Much Wrestling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s