This is a bit long, so bear with. Last week, I watched the interview with Petey Williams put out by Highspots. He talks about his career, and, particularly, his release from TNA.

It’s an interesting and very detailed listen, but the part that stuck in my head was something that many other people, some in the wrestling business and some who write about it, have said before. Williams made a number of references to the core group of “smart mark” fans who would always watch the programming and attend the live events or buy the pay-per-views. That those people would always watch, regardless of product quality and content, and were therefore irrelevant to the overall picture of TNA’s expansion, struck me as quite offensive. It was flat out said that those fans don’t matter. It was hardly the first time that the statement has been made, nor the first time that I had heard it. That got me thinking. 

Some people who write about wrestling make a concerted effort to separate themselves from the same core “smart mark” crowd mentioned in the interview. For example, almost any internet review of a TNA show that involves an X-Division match will contain a comment like “a sloppy but energetic spotfest, as usual, but the crowd was really hot for it.” Is the crowd composed of drooling cretins who don’t know any better than to enjoy such a match? Did you, Mr. Reviewer, not count as part of the crowd? Must you condescend to anyone who likes an aspect of wrestling that you personally do not? People who disdain the material they review are annoying in the extreme, and should just stop. It’s one thing to honestly critique a show, and find it sorely lacking. It’s another thing entirely to be able to look at the title of a review, and know that the person writing it considers the program in question beneath him. Are all “smart mark” fans supposed to be that cynical? Can’t you want to know everything about the product, and enjoy it anyway?

Additionally, casual fans may outnumber core fans, but those numbers don’t necessarily translate into dollars spent. By dismissing the core fans “who will watch anything,” and catering to the casual fans, that point is missed by the wrestling companies. The very word “casual” should explain everything. For example, casual fans don’t generally go out of their way to watch the programming or spend money on the product. They typically do it if their friends do it, or if they have nothing better to do. A casual fan might attend a live show if his friend invites him to tag along, but wouldn’t go on his own. A casual fan might watch a pay-per-view at someone else’s house, or at a bar, or stream it without ever considering paying for it. The core fan is the one who hunts down every action figure, every t-shirt, and every dvd relating to his favorite wrestlers. The core fan is the one who pays for the pay-per-views and watches them at home by himself, because he actually wants to see the shows and support the company at the same time. The core fan buys one ticket to a live event and races there from work, not caring if anyone else he knows turns up. Which type of fan is better for a company’s bottom line?

On Friday night, I watched Jeff Hardy’s final match in WWE. When he lost, fans reacted with shock. Some stared blankly. Some cried and hugged each other. One might honestly think that someone had died. Hatred for CM Punk couldn’t get much higher. What does this have to do with the casual fan/core fan argument? The point is that, despite all the focus on catering to children and casual fans, the ones most affected by Hardy’s departure (if message boards are to be believed) are the ones who have had personal and emotional investments in him for years. Most of the kids in the audience that night wearing Jeff Hardy arm warmers and holding signs weren’t even born yet (or were infants) when he started making his name. This doesn’t diminish their feelings, but those children did not spend the last decade supporting Jeff, buying his shirts, going to shows just because he was there, and fearing that his career would end prematurely. Casual fans aren’t in it for the long haul, and the incredibly emotional response to Jeff Hardy’s leaving the WWE is due in large part to the core fans who helped him reach the top of the mountain by refusing to let Vince overlook him. The cynics who say that it’s impossible to invest emotionally in a wrestler anymore are wrong.

The third and final thing that I watched this weekend that ties in to this article was the marathon of “Being Human” on BBC America. Saturday night was the season finale, and all the previous episodes were aired in order prior to it. “Being Human” is my favorite non-wrestling tv show, and it sucked me in completely after two episodes. The premise seemed so laughable – a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost share a house and try to get by. Yet, it works, and beautifully. This show exists because of core fan support. It wasn’t even going to be made after the pilot aired, but people who watched it fell in love with it and demanded that the show be made. The tv network and the executives were forced to give the fans what they wanted, and those core fans were so passionate about the show that a grassroots movement of sorts resulted. Core fans get results, and they get results because they care so much. Why do wrestlers and wrestling companies think that such fans are at best a nuisance, and at worst to be ignored?

If you’re a wrestling fan, you have preferences. You like what you like, and you don’t always know why. You don’t have to defend those preferences to anyone. It’s the support of those preferences that separates the casual fan from the core fan. I’m certainly not claiming that wrestling companies should ignore casual fans completely and not try to expand their viewing audiences, but dismissing the core fans because “they’ll always watch” is insulting in the highest degree. Everyone has limits, and we WILL eventually tune out. Just ask the millions of fans from the “Attitude” Era who gave up on wrestling completely because of how unhappy they were with the product. There’s a reason those numbers haven’t been seen again.

Food for thought, and I have provided a banquet.

Peace out,



  1. Great article DG. I guess that the sad underlying message is that many within the WWE/TNA dismiss the possibility that much of the lost Attitude era viewers were core fans, not casual fans. Instead of saying, "Where did we go wrong to lose this many fans (casual and core)?", they simplify their approach by dismissing those who keep them in business and focus on trying to draw out the casual fan. And as you pointed out, it's the core fans they lost who brought the occasional casual viewers into the fold. I like your analysis of the proverbial water-cooler aspect of fandom.
    As much as it pisses me off as an adult viewer, I have to respect the WWE for trying to build a new generation of fans as in the eighties with family friendly programming. That's what drew me in as a child in the eighties, so I can't knock it completely. With Hardy and Rey gone though, they are in a spot. TNA is way better than it was, but I really hope they keep their 14+ approach for us older kids.

  2. It would benefit any wrestling organization to go and watch the WWE produced The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary (or Jeremy Borash's excellent Forever Hardcore) if they feel that it's not necessary to appeal to the core audience as well as the casual viewer. ECW was an organization that, on their limited budget, had no business becoming a legitimate threat to WCW, but they did anyway thanks mostly to the passion of their fans.

  3. I decided to go look at the (better-not-be-kayfabe-lest-the-SEC-come-and-lay-the-smacketh-down-upon-the-rudy-poo-candy-ass) second quarter results statement put out by Linda herself for WWE. There are some interesting things going on with the numbers (aside from the shifting of WM income from 1Q to 2Q for FY '09, which is why we should especially look at pg. 12 and the pro forma 6-month statement compared to the same period for FY '08 [save vs. accounting or suffer catatonia for 2d6 rounds]).

    Revenues are down, but profit margins are increasing, especially from the live-and-televised entertainment portion of total revenue. Linda tap-dances around this on page one (acknowledging the weak economy) by emphasizing the increasing operating efficiency of the company in margin maximization. She is cautiously optimistic that profit margins will continue to increase for the rest of FY '09.

    What does any of that have to do with the price of Chris Sabin's underwear (something we all know you keenly follow)? Simply put: if a company is doing things that give investors confidence, they will continue to go in that direction. In the case of WWE, given how huge WM is to the bottom line, that means that the overall emphasis in day-to-day operations will continue to be on storyline. As long as the technical end keeps everyone healthy and does not interfere (glaring exception-proving-the-rule: Batista's biceps), all is well. To that end, everything else is sublimated to story advancement culminating in the big PPV events. With that mode of thought firmly entrenched, it does not make a huge amount of sense to cater to the hard-core fan, because barring a tremendous falling off in that base, everyone will tune back in to see the end of the saga, even the hard-core fans.

    Ultimately it is an objective of any good wrestling company to attract as many fans as possible and convert them into a core constituency. But almost by definition the core fans are going to be outnumbered by the casual fans –WM revenues demonstrate that amply in that there's simply no way that the sudden bump in buy-rates corresponds to the core jumping back on-board. (Or does it? I'm welcome to a counter-point here.) Here again, the emphasis is on margins. Does a bad product significantly impact margins? More importantly, does a bad product turn off enough casual fans to significantly impact margins? As long as the answer is "no" then business will proceed as usual.

    [Unfortunately, TNA is privately-held, so I cannot access their financials.]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

RSS Feeds

Posts by Category