Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Past the broadcast era

Academic aspirations aside, Sam's noted from the beginning that part of the interest of the class is in seeing what recommendations might develop for a stronger and even more lucrative wrestling monopoly. (Ok, monopoly wasn't used in this context, but it would appear that is what we have, and that is what we shall have.) It was a fun exercise: I didn't really come up with anything new, but connects history and fan pandering in ways I hadn't thought of. These are just some random thoughts, comments from those who can better contextualize them given what the WWE is currently doing, and what has happened previously, is appreciated.

Minor Leagues
Someone on the ECW documentary made specific mention of it as a 'minor league' for the WWE. Granted, this wasn't there intention, nor was it the WCW's, irregardless of the outcome. But what would a developed 'minor league' for the WWE give us?
- A place to ripen and then pluck talent. WWE already has a place for talent to 'ripen,' but J.R. notes that some are getting picked too soon. With the territorial system defunct there is no place for wrestlers to go and get the years necessary to make them solid workers. Both the WCW and ECW served this role in the past, and a robust minor league would fulfill this for the future.
- Regionality. As implied above, this would bring back a taste of the territorial system, within the context of the WWE. A minor league would by nature rely more on live performances than televised, promoting feelings of ownership by the fans. What we saw most clearly with the ECW was the potential for a group of individuals, within a specific time and place, to dialog with a fan base in an explosive way. This is impossible when trying to reach a national audience. Incidentally, this also makes them lower budget.
- Vince said the ECW were working with a small portion of the potential fans, and would need to broaden out to go national. But why dilute the original product? ECW didn't, and failed, but they were trying to compete. If Vince fostered these sorts of smaller clubs, it not only better serves the whole fan base, by giving a range of tailor-made options, but also strengthens the product by letting these different voices (literally) compete. It's Monday Night Wars without the financial scare.
- Delocalization also pulls part of wrestling away from Vince. This alone allows for greater experimentalization that firstly, Vince does ultimately have input in but secondly, opens a space for other creative directions. Imagine a league run by the fans! Or, Steve Austin or something.

The power of youtube
- Wrestling has been piggy backing on technological developments in television since the beginning of television. The next logical step is to jump into the power of the internet. It goes against the totalitarian atmosphere that dictates 'the word shall come from the official website,' but more subtle distribution methods better play to the notions of reality that wrestling struggles with. Ie, stick some of these promos on youtube, and see what happens.
- There's a huge difference in doing this for established stars, and for the 'undiscovered.' In conjunction with 'minor leagues' this could be powerful. Of course nothing is certain about online popularity, but the worst case is no one notices, or you end up calling it a leak. Best case and there's a breakout phenomenum which, conveniently, is on the roster for the next event. In this way multiple streams can be utilized to build stars, which can then be plucked for WWE's 'main events.'

So what I really like is the notion of dividing up the WWE. Right now, they are basically the equivalent of the early broadcast era. A couple channels, a few shows meant to appeal to everyone, and that's what you got. With the expansion of the airwaves, and eventually cable, we saw a fracturing of the audience that allowed greater creative freedom relying on more specific demographics. The question is whether the wrestling fan base can support an expansion, but it seems that it can - if anything, as we've seen before, these challenges help expand the viewership. As well, given that there is ultimately no competition, and small scale leagues may actually benefit from nickel and diming it, the financial risks should not be great. Even if they were - Vince is known for throwing the dice, eh?

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Tess, you've got some excellent points here. WWE currently has two developmental leagues: Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, Ky., and Deep South Wrestling in the Atlanta area. Neither are owned by WWE, I don't believe, but the company provides them with talent and pays that talent, in exchange for getting that talent trained.

This obviously isn't enough, and the problem is not letting these guys thrive in that environment. WWE has often put so little thought into the prosperity of their developmental leagues that they'll call someone up to be on the big show when they're still in the middle of a storyline on the little show, with little or no apology at times.

I think you are quite right that multiple developmental leagues across the country could serve well, with J.R.'s idea of the wrestlers moving around the country to different territories before finally coming on the national show. By that time, they would be considered "local guys" to a lot of different places and perhaps have a following in a lot of cities, and they will be seasoned after having worked in so many diffrent areas.

I also like your idea about the YouTube broadcast phenomenon. WWE might not want the audience at large to see its wrestlers before they've "gotten good," but YouTube is primarily going to draw really interested fans and not the casual viewer, anyway. And the cost of taping a show and putting it up on YouTube is minimal because people are willing to accept a non-WWE aesthetic when it comes to lighting and filming.

The other key would be that WWE would have to have someone to coordinate among all these territories to make sure that the person writing the storylines is able to finish out a wrestler's feud or story before he's pulled out to go to another territory or to the WWE's main show as well.

But, with only one major game in town these days, WWE needs to do more to make sure there will be a strong industry tomorrow, and that involves investing a lot more in developmental than they currently are.