Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Past and present - AWA, WCCW, WWE

Verne Gagne and the Von Erichs were names I had heard before, but couldn't put faces to or matches to and knew nothing more than the Von Erichs were littered with tragedies. I knew that they were influential, but I truly had no idea just how much of their influence is still seen today until I watched the documentaries both last week and this week. However, the one thing that struck me the most about the AWA and WCCW is just how successful they were in their primes, where with smarter decisions, either could have outlasted Vince in a wrestling "war" for the supreme product on TV. Vince did not single-handedly conquer like he always makes it seem to younger fans (like me) who know no better - he was just lucky that the people running his "competition" didn't know how to change with the times, because they definitely had the crowds and the talent.

What surprises me the most is that the AWA and WCCW back in the 80s seemed to be much more successful in their time than the WWE is present-day. When they spoke of ratings, they were talking around 10-15 range. Last time I checked, WWE Raw has a good night when it breaks over a 4.0. One of the articles that we read (the name escapes me at this time) nailed it right on the head with a quote that went something like... "if you're the only shoemaker in town, you should be selling a lot of shoes."

The WWE, I'm sure, also did rather well in that time period. The 80s are glorified as the first big "boom" era in WWE history, where Hulk Hogan reigned supreme. Whenever I thought of the 80s, the WWE immediately had me think of Hogan, Macho Man, Andre, Ricky Steamboat, The Rockers, etc etc. Names like the Von Erichs, or Verne and Greg Gagne, they're there but vague and in the background for younger fans who grew up when wrestling was being defined by middle fingers and chugging beer. And yet, even with the different organizations and competitive atmosphere, wrestling not only survived - it flourished.

So my question is what changed? Vince won the war in the end since he's the only one left standing, but the fans who followed the local shows week in and week out are gone for the most part. Is it just harder these days with more competition from other network shows (like I know SmackDown tended to struggle when it ran head-to-head with Friends), or is there something lacking in today's WWE that was abundant in the time that the AWA and WCCW were at the top of their game?


Sam Ford said...

Two things have to be kept in mind, Carolina, and this is important to remember when you are reading various criticisms of the WWE from Ole Anderson, among others. First, the way you run a regional promotion is so much different than a national organization that tours the whole country. The ratings that World Class got were slightly exaggerated in the documentary by these guys, but only slightly. The difference, though, is that the highest ratings were in their hometown, where these guys became regional celebrities, and they had their "boom" period of ratings. In the same vein, Ole points out Vince's guys, and some other territories, couldn't sell out the same town every week all year long, but conversely these products couldn't launch nationally in the way Vince eventually did his. It's just a completely different game when the end result is to get people to buy merchandise and PPVs and DVDs and video games rather than solely worrying about them buying a ticket at the arena.

Second, every show had a higher rating before the mid-1980s because there weren't hundreds of cable channels coming into most people's houses. Soap operas used to get 10 ratings on a consistent basis--now, it's more like 3.0. The big shows that "all of America" watch these days on the big networks are much lower rated than I Love Lucy.

diduch said...

A question related to the one Carolina was asking might be what effect the internet plays in how we gauge wrestling's popularity. For that matter, what should we think about all those DVDs and games and other products?

Ie - in the pre-cable era wrestling was watched more because there was less on, but these shows and the live matches were pretty much all the fans had (setting aside inter-fan communications/newsletters/tape trading which I assume was fairly small scale.) Today being a wrestling fan has the potential to be a multi-media affair, and perhaps it's possible to be a wrestling fan without ever going to a match or even watching one on tv.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

I'd been thinking that too--the AWA and the WCCW seemed to have a product that could have competed head-on with the WWF brand. The AWA lost it (so it seems from the doc and the readings) by failing to be as innovative in the world of cable as they were in the early era of television, and the WCCW...well, I think I'm going to have to attribute that one to a curse, or perhaps the general tendency of young, physically attractive men in their early 20s to go batshit insane when you hurl money and fame at them.

It's looking more and more like McMahon, for all his ambition and appreciation of cutthroat capitalism, kind of won by default. I'm eager to see how the rise of WCW affects my opinion.