Watching the WWE Network the other night, I was wrapped into WrestleMania Rewind: a program that takes a deeper look into main event WrestleMania matches of the past. A great watch, it includes commentary from participants involved, Vince and Stephanie McMahon, as well as current WWE superstars. The focus for this episode was WrestleMania III: the epic battle between Hulk Hogan and the late (and great) Andre the Giant. Considered an event that really brought WWE into the main stream spotlight, WrestleMania III took place on March 29, 1987, at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. It broke the largest recorded attendance for a live indoor sporting event in North America, with 93,173 screaming fans wanting to see if the immortal Hogan could actually defeat the Giant. In a day and age where pay-per-views (PPV) were just emerging for live events, an estimated several million people watched the match via closed circuit and the PPV revenues were approximately $10 million.
Instantly I was plummeted back to a time, when a young girl believed wrestling was real, and knew with all her heart that Hogan would come out victorious. I fondly watched the footage, the commentary, and re-watched the match. While I’ve seen it probably a hundred times over the years, I still got goose-bumps when the “Hulkster” scoop slammed Andre and then laid his infamous leg drop for the three count. It was a magical moment for me back when; and it still is today. I grew up watching wrestling. My dad was always busy with work, and he didn’t have time for much – but somehow, he always had time for a little wrestling on a Saturday morning.
So, what’s this stroll down memory lane really about? Triple H’s recent comments about WWE’s target market really struck a chord with me while watching him converse with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin during their live podcast on the WWE Network. I know I get a little fed up with silly storylines that appease the younger generation; heck, I recently wrote an article about how the Dolph Ziggler/Ryback/Erick Rowan ‘firing’ storyline insulted fans. But when you step back to really digest it all, where would the brand be if wrestling wasn’t something a younger audience could watch? More than just selling merchandise and live event shows – which is still probably a big reason for this – should the WWE be faulted for trying to appease a large demographic? Yes, it makes sense business-wise, but they are also shaping a loyal future fan base by doing this. Raise your hand if you are a long-time fan of pro wrestling, the WWE or sports entertainment? Keep your hand up if you started watching when you were a kid. Why should children be alienated when it comes to strategy, storylines and character development?
The sports entertainment industry is continually involving, and a brand needs to re-invent itself to stay competitive; which is the reason the ‘Attitude Era’ came about and was so successful. It was also a different time in history. WWE had direct competition – not to say they don’t now – but today’s competition landscape is diverse, indirect and cannot fit into one box. I’m sure the WWE doesn’t want to lose long-time fans that are looking for more wrestling and less fluff; rather create a show that most demographics can find entertaining. Perhaps that is the beauty of NXT, an extended WWE promotion which not only acts as a developmental program for up and coming talent, but can also satisfy the thirst of fans looking for something more substantial.
“Stone Cold” and Triple H may have declared that kayfabe is dead in this new ‘Reality Era’ of sports entertainment; but as a parent, I look at how my kids react when storylines unravel and I know that’s not true. It’s dead for us older, cynical fans who have seen it all, feed into internet rumors and perhaps yearn for the unexpected. While we want more, we must not forget the new generation of fans that are growing to love the business and industry, fascinated with storylines and characters. They too are on the cusp of watching WrestleMania moments, creating memories and truly believing in WWE personas that are larger than life. We had that when we were young – so why take it away from them? Perhaps it’s time we watch WWE programming, recognizing the need for balance and allowing future fans of sports entertainment to have their time to really believe in the stories that unfold. Let them have their ‘goose bumps’ moments. Perhaps it is time we realize that sports entertainment is not for one group of people – but for everyone.