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I’ve been watching a lot of 80s Mid South recently and a bit of Memphis Power Pro from the late 90s and it’s striking how the crowds were made up of a widely diverse demographic. There’s a great mix of gender, ethnicity and age.

If you go back and watch the early RAWs then again there was still quite a diverse crowd. It seems since the turn of the century thought that ‘the wrestling fan’ has become a bit more specific.

This must have had a knock on effect on live attendance but what’s the reason for such a change? The only thing that I could think of was that older promoting seemed to focus on the ‘star’ and the emotion in the storyline (soap opera in spandex) whereas more recently it’s become more about good matches and moves so has turned into a bit of a live action computer game maybe.

Anyone have any thoughts and whether or not it’s changed for the better?

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I get the impression there’s a gulf in age ranges: you get kids who love their pre-heel Roman Reigns and Rey Mysterios and would beg their parents to take them to live shows; and then you get fans in their late 20s/30s/40s who grew up watching wrestling in “glory” days, be that late ‘80s rock n’ wrestling or the Attitude era, and still watch out of habit or to binge the documentaries/old stuff on WWE Network.

I don’t think wrestling is anywhere near as popular in say, upper years of secondary schools today as it was when I was at school in 2000–2005. I think if you asked a teenager today their thoughts on pro wrestling or to name the roster, they’d laugh in your face and probably hurl some homophobic abuse at you.

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I think the average ticket buying wrestling fan seems to be us. People that grew up with either Hogan or Austin (or both). If I go to a show there’s a tiny number of kids and the rest are generally 30 to 40 year old men for the most part. Sometimes there’s some poor women dragged along as well that look like they’d rather shave their legs with cheese graters than be there.

Kids have too many other things they’d rather do and watch. Same as teenagers and 20 somethings. If you don’t have an emotional attachment back from when wrestling was a thing, I can’t see how or why new young people would want to watch it considering everything else out there. WWE in its current product has zero chance. I thought AEW would,and they do skew younger, but even they haven’t grew their audience past existing fans. 
 

I think wrestling will continue to go down and down as people like us stop watching (or in the wwe fanbase’s case, die). Something needs to be done to appeal to younger people so they can turn into the 40 year olds that prop up the business when we’re gone.

Edited by Yakashi
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47 minutes ago, Your Fight Site said:

I don’t think wrestling is anywhere near as popular in say, upper years of secondary schools today as it was when I was at school in 2000–2005.

I agree with this and a lot of my mates still dip in even if they don't watch it regularly. Same with University. So many watched wrestling/played the video games etc when I was there. Fuck, the DJ on campus used to end the nights with wrestling themes. I think growing up in the 90s/early 2000s the product grew up with us in a way which I don't think it does now.

I must say there seems to be more of an interest in AEW among my mates. I think bar the odd big show, a lot of people just don't watch WWE any more.

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There's definitely something to be said for the focus on promotion, rather than star. To be very gender normative and stereotypical about it all, male "fandom" tends to be "curatorial" - we like stats, league tables, collecting, and just amassing knowledge about the product - whereas female fandom tends to be more interactive and creative; cosplay, fanfiction, "shipping", and generally engaging with things on a personal level to a much greater degree. A wrestling product that values matches and results over characters (though often it's hard to grasp whether WWE really value either) feels like something that would appeal to that former category more than the latter. I know female fans who dropped out of following wrestling when their favourite wrestler left a promotion, which isn't something I would generally expect from male fans, for example.

In the 1950s, when wrestling was becoming a major TV product, some estimates had the US TV audience as 90% female, while live shows had historically been to predominantly male audiences. Wrestling, outside of specific niche promotions and time periods, has never approached that demographic make-up again and largely by design. When women were the primary source of "fandom" for wrestling - through fan clubs, newsletters, and so on - there was much more focus on wrestling as an eroticised product; one of the only opportunities for women in the 1950s to see athletic, scantily clad men in alluring poses. Over the subsequent decades, wrestling actively disavowed that side of itself.

I'm not suggesting that "seeing sexy men" is the only reason why women would watch wrestling, because of course it isn't - the biggest female audiences in Japan came from Joshi promotions, which historically appealed to teenage girls in huge numbers. That changed, and AJW (and Joshi as a whole) pivoted to a more predominantly male "traditional wrestling fan" audience after (IIRC) AJW's TV timeslot changed to a later time, which largely precluded young girls from having as much access to the product as they once had. More recently, Joshi has largely remodelled itself on Idol culture, which is a very Male Gaze approach to traditionally feminine art/culture. 

 

All of that is to say, there's no reason why wrestling should be seen as an exclusively, or even predominantly, male-oriented product. In southern territories, it was fairly standard practice to ensure that you had a babyface pretty boy tag team in the style of the Rock N Roll Express - because, clumsily, the assumption was that women would come to the shows if they found the act attractive, and a tag team gives female fans the opportunity to see their favourite wrestler reaching out in sympathy, yearning and crawling for help, which - though I doubt Bill Watts, Jim Cornette or whoever would style it in these terms - does have a kind of erotic element, and leads into that sense of interactive fandom, whether the fan is imagining themselves as the one being called out to, or "shipping" the tag team in some way.

In New York, though, that purely babyface pretty boy team didn't really exist. New York (and the surrounding territory) crowds generally wanted their wrestlers to have more of an edge, and more aggression to them, and would tend to reject pretty boys as style over substance, or else they would be booked as heels. It's a bit of a chicken or egg situation which came first - a more male-dominated audience, or that reaction to that kind of wrestler, but the end result is that New York didn't tend to attract as many female fans as some other territories, And, obviously, as "New York" grew into the WWF, and the WWF grew to completely eclipse all over wrestling, that attitude prevailed.

 

Ultimately, women don't need male wrestlers booked as sex objects to attract them to shows, nor does wrestling need to follow the AJW model of presenting young babyfaces as audience surrogates or wish fulfilment heroines. But both of those approaches meant that, at the very least, someone involved in the running of the promotion recognised that female fans existed and spoke to them in some way. Even as WWE (and other promotions) have done a better job of booking women in recent years, I still rarely get the impression that anyone involved is really thinking about female fans as a viable market. And after the previous decades of how women were booked and presented in the WWF and WCW from around 1996 to 2010 or so, frankly I find it staggering to think that they managed to retain any female fans whatsoever. To say nothing of how much else in the broader wrestling culture might turn them off. I don't think it's a surprise that NJPW picked up a lot of western female fans around the time that there was a lot of opportunity for speculating about the relationship between Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi or that, paradoxically, the near complete lack of female representation in that company (so that it was difficult to get a grasp on just how badly they view women when they are given the opportunity) and the lack of English language content allowed for female fans to project a lot of their own interpretations on to wrestlers like Omega, Ibushi and Okada, all of whom have played up to that fact.  On the WWE end, they must have some understanding of the way female fans traditionally interact with celebrities, otherwise we wouldn't get Total Divas and Total Bellas, but that doesn't translate to the main roster.

But that's what it comes down to, really. Is there anyone in a position of power in the major promotions that knows how to actually speak to wider demographics than the sad oldies still watching WWE TV or the "curatorial" nerd fans? Do you watch WWE and get the sense that they have any clue how to engage with teenagers? Kids are acutely aware of when they're being spoken down to and treated inequitably because they're "just kids", and they would see through the complete lack of sincerity in WWE commentary even quicker than the rest of us, I'm sure. I can't imagine anyone in WWE seeming cool to a 13 or 14 year old that's never watched wrestling before, nor is there anything cool about the brand itself, or how it communicates with its audience, either on television or through social media. Everything feels desperately try hard.

Going back to the New York territory, Toots Mondt and later Vince McMahon Sr's main booking strategy for New York City was to book strong ethnic babyfaces to appeal to the core demographics of the city - Bruno Sammartino for the Italians, Pedro Morales for the Puerto Ricans, and so on. Again, it's an issue of reaching out to specific demographics, and ensuring that they have a place in the fanbase. Now maybe that kind of clumsy tokenism isn't going to work any more (and it's the difference between booking for a live product and for a predominantly TV product, and through what means the fans interact with the promotion and its wrestler), but we hear more about the importance of representation today than ever.
I don't know what kind of effect it had on ratings or Network subscriptions or anything else, but the buzz around Kofi Kingston fighting for the WWE Title felt genuinely exciting, and a lot of that came from a section of the fanbase who felt that they hadn't been specifically catered to before, or hadn't been able to see "themselves" in the upper levels of WWE's booking before. 

A couple of years ago, Naomi entered the Women's Royal Rumble with natural afro hair and bright colourful gear, and looked incredible. She got a ton of buzz on social media, a lot of it from non-wrestling fans, but from black women who saw her look and immediately wanted to know who she was, and where they could see more of her, because the power of that image was so great, and had the potential to resonate so much with so many people. You'd think that anyone would have seen that buzz and wanted to capitalise on it, but they did absolutely nothing substantial with her. Again, it feels like it's because we're talking about a company that has no one in a decision-making position that would understand what the fuss was all about, or that there was anything to capitalise on in the first place. I remember it feeling like one of the biggest missed open goals in recent memory.

 

So, yeah, I guess my point is that wrestling's fanbase largely atrophied and skewed more and more male because the biggest promotion in the world actively pursued that audience at the expense of all others, the apotheosis of that being the Attitude Era. They consistently fail to attract different audiences, because I think they're largely oblivious to their existence. Whether they got complacent because they thought a captive audience of 18-35 year old males would always be there, or if it's just that having promotions/companies run predominantly by aging straight white men largely only produces content intended for aging straight white men, the biggest issue is their inability to relate to other potential target demographics, or how those demographics might relate to their wrestlers, their programming, and so on. 

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Posted (edited)
33 minutes ago, BomberPat said:

To be very gender normative and stereotypical about it all, male "fandom" tends to be "curatorial" - we like stats, league tables, collecting, and just amassing knowledge about the product - whereas female fandom tends to be more interactive and creative; cosplay, fanfiction, "shipping", and generally engaging with things on a personal level to a much greater degree. A wrestling product that values matches and results over characters (though often it's hard to grasp whether WWE really value either) feels like something that would appeal to that former category more than the latter. I know female fans who dropped out of following wrestling when their favourite wrestler left a promotion, which isn't something I would generally expect from male fans, for example.

I can see that on a personal level. I remember back at school, in the waning days of wrestling's popularity around the time of the first brand extension, the only people I knew who were still left watching it were myself and two girls in the same friend group. I was interested in the history of the European Title, they just wanted to know what Jeff Hardy was doing that week. By the time he vanished before 'Mania 19 their interest had gone as well. So had the European Title of course, but I hung around.

It's similar these days. I'd happily read the full list of tiger_rick's Royal Rumble stats for leisure, but if my wife happens to catch the wrestling, she's only sticking around if it's Kofi, Becky Lynch or Luke Perry's Son.

Edited by HarmonicGenerator
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brilliant post @BomberPat, hit so many things on the head there.

 

Something I'll like to add is a big problem with WWE in not understanding any demographic is everything has to 'go through Vince' who is famously out of touch. There is that story that when Paul Burchill did the pirate gimmick he thought kids loved it because of Long John Silver and had never heard of Pirates of the Caribbean. My biggest gripe is he is convinced putting the belt on Brock is 'best for business', when the idea of a big muscular bloke squashing people is just about the complete opposite teenage fans want these days. Seriously, when the pandemic is over and Brock feels it's safe to leave his farm, he gets the belt back.

 

Vince's tunnel vision drives fans away, the demographic will never be huge as long as this is the case. He cant adapt, any changes come over years (Would love to know his honest opinion of women's wrestling, he's probably thinks women's wrestling is 'something the kids like' and not something for real wrestling fans). The attitude era suited Vince because the demographic had his immature sense of humor (apparently he LOVES toilet humor), those fans grew up, Vince has never. Current teenagers are , for utter lack of better word, 'Woke' and a big part of woke culture is being sympathetic for those who are 'different', when you consider Vince called Punk a 'Bean Pole' and doesn't care for wrestling outside his vision of 'big muscular men' how can he skew a product towards them? Let alone women in their 20's/30's! I can literally hear Vince saying "The housewives have Randy Orton in trunks, what more do they want?". 

 

Stephanie and Paul seem to have a 'better idea' but they still believe their vison is best and fans just don't know what's good for them, for example, NXT is the WWE brand aimed towards the internet fan base and they have kind of just ignored Speaking Out on the American brand and whilst made cuts in UK, still push people named. Pretty much any other Television show would understand how damaging this is, even if they believed the accused were innocent, and 'suspend them pending investigation'.

 

Nia Jax is another great example of how WWE don't understand fans. Realistically she should have been the biggest heel in the company after she broke Becky's nose, I'm no Nia Jax fan but she should have been a monster heel after that. Last I saw she was dancing with the tag team title after winning it and since the Becky incident she has had about 3 re-debuts as a Brock Lesner style women wrestler with zero character progression. if they had the ability to read the fan base they could see the online hate she gets and build towards something

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4 hours ago, theringmaster said:

My biggest gripe is he is convinced putting the belt on Brock is 'best for business', when the idea of a big muscular bloke squashing people is just about the complete opposite teenage fans want these days. Seriously, when the pandemic is over and Brock feels it's safe to leave his farm, he gets the belt back.

Vince's tunnel vision drives fans away, the demographic will never be huge as long as this is the case. He cant adapt, any changes come over years (Would love to know his honest opinion of women's wrestling, he's probably thinks women's wrestling is 'something the kids like' and not something for real wrestling fans). The attitude era suited Vince because the demographic had his immature sense of humor (apparently he LOVES toilet humor), those fans grew up, Vince has never. Current teenagers are , for utter lack of better word, 'Woke' and a big part of woke culture is being sympathetic for those who are 'different', when you consider Vince called Punk a 'Bean Pole' and doesn't care for wrestling outside his vision of 'big muscular men' how can he skew a product towards them? Let alone women in their 20's/30's! I can literally hear Vince saying "The housewives have Randy Orton in trunks, what more do they want?". 

There's a couple of things here - one is that I don't think Brock's push was largely because of his look, but because he has legitimacy, and that's something that Vince apparently values. As much as it got tired, I can't really object to a promoter heavily pushing Brock Lesnar, because anyone would do the same in that position, or certainly should.

The thing that fascinates me, and in many ways would be the question I would want answered about wrestling more than almost any other - I don't know if Vince does love big muscular men wrestling, or if that's just what he thinks sells. Neither point is necessarily correct, but they're coming from a different place - it's assumed that Vince books a certain type of wrestler because that's what he likes, but that doesn't really add up to some of the stories I've heard about who Vince's favourite wrestlers have been throughout the years. I think he believes (or once believed) that a certain type of wrestler was more likely to draw, but that's not the same as it being his personal favourite - he was a Bret Hart fan, and a Daniel Bryan fan, and his favourite wrestler once upon a time was Jerry Graham, none of whom fit the 6'6" bodybuilder ideal.

I think there is an element of Vince just not understanding why people would relate to, or find appeal in, certain wrestlers. There was the slightly disturbing story that he almost didn't hire Gail Kim because he didn't think men would find her attractive, until people explained to him how popular "Asian" porn was. He apparently didn't think Daniel Bryan or CM Punk would get over because he didn't think the audience would be able to relate to someone who didn't eat steak, didn't own a television, or didn't drink beer. Whereas I think audience tastes are more nuanced than that these days - aside from the fact that one of the reasons Punk got over on the indies is that people did relate to something about his Straight Edge gimmick, and that a lot of people would find common ground with Punk or Bryan, I think even to people who aren't straight edge or vegan, they're character traits that just flesh someone out as more of a human being and not a character. Even when he was presented as a goofy nerd, stuff like that made Daniel Bryan feel like more of a well-rounded real person than just a wrestling gimmick, and it's stuff like that which resonates with people.

 

Vince is definitely a huge part of the problem from a WWE perspective, and I always say that whatever WWE does, the rest of the industry follows, so a WWE problem is a wrestling problem. But I don't really see things changing after him - anyone who's going to step up in his absence will be coming from the same wrestling bubble as him, with the same hang-ups and preconceptions. As much as people expect Triple H to do better, and see him as a bit of an indie darling by proxy, he's another bodybuilding fanatic who, prior to NXT becoming a stockpile of indie wrestlers, was belittling CM Punk and calling him "skinny fat", and transitioning a logical CM Punk feud into the real money match between himself and Kevin Nash. I don't think that, if he's given the reins of main roster WWE, Triple H will do things all that differently. 

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37 minutes ago, PowerButchi said:

Nash and HHH politicking CM Punk out of the programme was hilarious and fantastic though.

I don't disagree - it led to a Kevin Nash ladder match, him just randomly showing up to Powerbomb Punk, and the "who sent the text?" story. But it's a reminder that Triple H wasn't this beloved defender of the indie wrestler when he still had skin in the game. 

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On 4/1/2021 at 2:45 PM, BomberPat said:

There was the slightly disturbing story that he almost didn't hire Gail Kim because he didn't think men would find her attractive, until people explained to him how popular "Asian" porn was.

I shamefully laughed out loud at this. Honestly, what a terrible human he really is.

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According to Bruce Prichard they shot loads of vignettes with Jenna Jameson but Vince decided not to use them because he didn't think Jenna was hot enough.  If he didn't think she was anything to look at during her prime, I'd love to hear his thoughts on what she looks like today.

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On 4/1/2021 at 9:47 AM, theringmaster said:

My biggest gripe is he is convinced putting the belt on Brock is 'best for business', when the idea of a big muscular bloke squashing people is just about the complete opposite teenage fans want these days. Seriously, when the pandemic is over and Brock feels it's safe to leave his farm, he gets the belt back.

Surely there will never be a time when massive meat heads throwing vanilla midgets around the ring won't be an amazing spectacle?

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