AS I SEE IT - 5/27/2003:
All about The Game and how HE plays it...
by: Bob Magee
This week, let's take some time to explore the love-hate relationship between wrestling promotions and online wrestling fans over the last 5 years, specifically the long-standing argument that fans have no right to comment about a wrestling product if they haven't been "in the business".
This subject comes from HHH's tirade against the Internet on WWE's Byte This program last week. For any of you that actually saw sun this weekend, or had other Memorial Day weekend plans, here's the gist of what was said...
In the segment, after the usual phone calls asking about storylines, a teenage caller got through to actually ask this question: "Do you think it's a conflict of interest for you to be sitting in on all of the booking meetings and such?"
HHH replied that "No, it's not a conflict of interest". He started to get defensive, saying "I'm not the only wrestler in there", saying that Michaels, Flair, Nash, Hogan, Big Show, Jericho, and Angle have all sat in on meetings.
Helmsley DID, however, acknowledge that he is in those meetings more than any other wrestler. But then he went into his tirade about "the Internet community".
According to Helmsley, those writing about wrestling online are actually "just a bunch of kids on their parents' computers, writing about an industry which they've never competed in." He ended, saying "that he's sick and tired of people bitching about him being responsible for the eventual death of pro wrestling". At this point, he left the show.
As I sit here writing this, just having turned 46 years old, so far from being a kid I can't remember...I just have to laugh.
It's funny how a wrestling promotion like WWE is more than willing to use the Internet for its own purposes. It uses its website to get over storylines and to do interviews of talent. It uses its website and other online presences, not only to market and sell its televised and live product, to sell merchandise, and to air webcasts of PPVs and the house "talk show" Byte This.
It also does polishing of its public image (read: image control) in various ways, including stories about WWE performers and their participation in charity events. That's not unusual for any publicly-traded company.
But what is unusual for any publicly-traded company, is that part of that image control included a cut off of contact with most major wrestling sites and newsletters since March 2002; when WWE made a very public statement that any information published by wrestling websites and in wrestling newsletters that is not officially issued from the WWF/E offices is somehow less than true, or was rumor and should be regarding as such by WWF/E fans.
Indeed, God forbid that fans use the Internet to be critical of the product WWE is offering.
HHH says, in essence, that anyone that does should just shut up.
It seems ironic that on the same week that the highest profile WWE performer around (not to mention the soon to be son-in-law/husband of the company's owners) goes off on a tirade against a segment of its customer/fan base on the company's online talk show; that the last two RAW episodes have featured frequent plugs of the promotion's own WWE.com website...with "votes" concerning whether or not a character would do something on the show.
Now it's certainly true that wrestling fans spend a lot of time bitching. It's certainly true that fans do things at shows they'd be better off not doing, such as chanting long-time favorites like "you
"f#@ked up" at wrestlers who appear to blow a spot in the ring. It's also probably true that we should keep our noses out of the personal affairs of those within wrestling, unless they become news, such as in the Lex Luger/Elizabeth situation, or in the case of Jeff Hardy's failed drug test that caused his departure from WWE, or any one of the far-too-frequent drug, steroid, and alcohol driven situations that have taken place in recent years.
That having been said...let me say a few things.
It's the fans (or in any other business, consumers) that Paul Levesque was so contemptuous of... those fans are the ones that pay the ever-increasing dollars for ticket prices to WWE, wrestling, and other entertainment events. It's clear that they feel... in ever increasing numbers, that they're getting less and less.
It's people like Dave Meltzer, Bob Ryder, Wade Keller, and other responsible news sources, that provide wrestling's equivalent of trade papers, reporting legitimate news on events within the wrestling industry. The problem, in the eyes of certain WWE management, of course, is that sometimes report items that aren't favorable to WWE, including the downturn in business over the last 18 months.
When the press cutoff happened in 2002, WWE management may have felt that these news sources would dry up. Nothing of the kind happened.
Meltzer, Ryder, and Keller have their sources within WWE...and continue to use them. They aren't going anywhere. If anything, the "press cutoff" may well have caused these news sources to cast a more critical eye on things within WWE.
So, with those examples, consider the way that WWE operates and the "real world" of business operates...
Imagine going to your local auto repair shop, and thinking you're getting repairs done on your engine. The mechanic does a poor job. You complain...get no satisfaction, and after repeated attempts, go to a lawyer or a local consumer protection agency to get satisfaction.
Can you imagine the mechanic saying to the lawyer or Better Business Bureau representative that you have no right to complain about your engine job because you've never been a mechanic?
Or could you imagine getting dressed up for a big evening.... going to a five-star restaurant and getting a bad meal. You ask to see the manager, and are told you can't complain unless you're a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Can you imagine either of these happening?
The answer is obviously...no. The reason it doesn't happen to people getting their cars fixed, or to people going to a five star restaurant...and that it DOES happen to wrestling fans... is that wrestling fans aren't taken seriously.
In a North American wrestling universe perceived by too many to consist of one wrestling promotion, wrestling fans are always easy targets. We're easy to blame for the problems that WWF/E has. It appears that people like HHH feels the company's fans are basically sheep, and will always come back no matter what crap they're given; largely because those of such a mindset thinks fans don't have an alternative.
In the case of wrestling websites and newsletters, the attitude isn't a legitimate feeling that these news sources are irresponsible; but rather a matter of control over the image WWE portrays to the public. If those who report "bad news" are deemed unreliable...fans won't understand what's going on within WWE, and that there ARE other options out there, such as TNA, Japan, and independent wrestling.
The one recent glimmer of hope that online fans had that WWE just might start rethinking these kinds of policies...that WWE might be taking fans seriously came with a series of surveys, both online and at live shows that was recently commissioned by WWE.
Well...judging by the product we've seen in recent weeks, it doesn't seem like too many within positions of storywriting authority have taken a look at those surveys and e-mails. Instead, we've gotten the same unimaginative booking...featuring the same old faces...giving fans the same main event PPV matches like HHH and Kevin Nash that they have little interest in.
We've gotten more and more Vince McMahon in Smackdown (on camera and behind the scenes), increasingly killing interest in what had been the more
workrate/athletic-based of the two weekly shows
We've gotten more and more shows with multiple 10-20 minute promos, such as those this past Monday night that forced a main event to be rushed through in five minutes.
And we've gotten more of the same kind of backstage politics... and the same infamous glass ceiling, with certain younger talent not being allowed to get over...the same sort of situations that killed WCW only 2 years ago.
Despite what Paul Levesque tells you...that it's just those of us that have never taken a bump before that are to
blame... here are some of the facts of the situation...
It's not someone doing what I'm doing right now, offering my opinion as a longtime fan.
It's not fans so frustrated with the state of affairs that they bring signs expressing it, such as signs about Stephanie McMahon and her booking, or the one from the fan who got a sign past the sign police to a Smackdown taping saying "Next week's RAW spoiler: HHH wins".
WWE should be glad that there are people that still give a damn enough to keep expressing their opinions.
Because it's for damned sure that it isn't "those marks on the Internet" that are the reason that less than half the people that were watching nationally televised professional wrestling TV in 2000 are watching it now.
The reason for such a drop in buyrates, live show attendance, and overall company revenue is that WWE is a promotion that's gotten lost...a promotion that's gotten lazy because it has no national
competition... a promotion that's banished creative minds like Paul Heyman to being
"consultants"... a promotion that hasn't learned from the lessons of the recent past... a promotion that's turned off hundreds of thousands of potential customers.
It's not the fans that still give a damn that are to blame...those fans that still
do give a damn.
Until next time...
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)