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How to Lose Fans and Alienate People: An anecdotal study

Do you ever get the feeling that WWE just does not give a s**t anymore? Like they’ve reached some celestial level in the wrestling business where they can do whatever they want and their business will be fine?

Well, it’s because they basically have. Take the current booking of Jinder Mahal for example. One day he’s jobbing to the stars, next thing you know he’s main eventing a “PPV” and challenging for the WWE title because WWE suddenly remembered there’s a huge market in India. It’s booking at its worst. It’s booking that puts business first, and logical storytelling last.

But will it affect Network subscriber numbers? Nope. Will it lead to poor attendance at live shows? Nope? In fact, Backlash, the show being headlined by Mahal and Randy Orton, is already close to sold out. It was nearly sold out before any matches had even been announced.

It’s dangerous territory when a company believes themselves to be infallible. But there does come a point for some fans where enough is enough. I talked with some wrestling fans who’ve reached that point with the goal of finding out exactly what it takes for a wrestling promotion to drive away its fans. As it turns out, there are a couple of common factors.

The totally sound and reliable research method

To hear what fans had to say on the matter, I put the call out to my “legion” of followers on Twitter: “If you've stopped following WWE for any reason, or any wrestling promotion for that matter, I want to hear from you.” I’m no Dave Meltzer over here with his 100,000+ followers, so I wasn’t expecting too many responses. I don’t exactly cast the widest net on social media. In total, ten wrestling fans got in touch with me to share their stories, and I’ll take this opportunity to thank them for taking the time to do so.

Personally, it was fascinating to hear the different reasons why fans turn on a wrestling promotion, and in some cases even go so far as to boycott them. Particularly because it’s something that I’m going through at this very moment with WWE, and have done in the past with other promotions.

The results

Despite the small research group, there was quite a variety of promotions mentioned, and a few different reasons for giving up on those promotions. There were also some interesting trends, and a couple of surprises.

As expected, the majority of people brought up WWE in their responses. Out of the ten, five people have completely stopped watching WWE. Of those five, three people brought up WWE’s connection to the Donald Trump administration as their reason.

“I looked at that figure: $6 million (that Linda McMahon had donated to help elect Trump), and kept wondering how much of it was money I had given them. And it made me physically ill.” This sentiment by @JackHeartless is one shared not only with two other fans I talked with, but also myself. Though for me, it was the final straw so to speak in a line of events that led to my decision.

It was probably WWE’s reaction after Jimmy Snuka’s passing that started me on the road. But it was the photo of the McMahons with Trump in the White House that tipped me over the edge, and the recent Mauro Ranallo situation that sealed the deal. As stated by @YoSoyKeith, “I had been disinterested in the product for a while, but then with Trump it just felt wrong to keep supporting the WWE (even though their relationship goes back a ways). That was really the last straw.”

It’s the part about financially supporting WWE that really hit home with me. I can’t say that I’ve completely stopped following the product. I still read about WWE in the Observer, and I might still catch a match here or there if I hear it’s particularly good, or involves a wrestler I really like, but I have made a point to no longer give any of my money to WWE. I don’t and won’t pay for the WWE Network, and as much as I want to support some individual wrestlers who work for the company, I no longer buy any WWE merchandise.

And look, you don’t have to tell me that the little money I did contribute was basically nothing in the grand scheme. I know. But it makes a difference to my conscience. Morally, I feel vindicated, and evidently I’m not the only one.

The two others who have completely given up on WWE cited the quality of the product, leading to a lack of interest, as their reasons. @simonodocopp said, “I stopped watching WWE because I'd been getting increasingly frustrated with their product. The writing and booking were awful -- and remain so -- so I explored alternatives, fell into NJPW, and never looked back.”

What’s interesting in this case, and the next, is that they both have turned to Japan to get their wrestling fix. As @DK1105 noted, “At this point I am exclusively watching Japanese wrestling and follow more companies that I could possibly keep up with. Right now I mostly stick with the Joshi companies and NJPW and the occasional BJW show while still going back and watching out on the years I missed.”

I’m clearly showing my bias towards Japanese wrestling here, but these two responses warmed my heart.

Hanging in there

Another common WWE-related theme among those who responded was that of giving up on WWE at some point, but later getting hooked back in. In two cases, it’s particular WWE wrestlers that were the key to bringing them back. @DaCarolinaKidd stated, “My first WWE viewing after three years away was the Royal Rumble AJ (Styles) debuted in...I have continued watching since Styles arrived and many other fav indie stars.”

As with many, @WR_Central has had a long on-again, off-again relationship with pro wrestling, but once more, it’s certain wrestlers, Daniel Bryan in particular, that lured him back. “It was Bryan that really got me hooked. He was the first star since (Steve) Austin that I really connected with. I've always loved Styles and Owens -- and other guys like Zayn, Rollins, etc. Nakamura is relatively new since I became a fan of NJPW in 2015, and I find I connect with him the same way I did guys like Bret Hart when I was a kid. Those guys keep me around.”

For another, @MrWillieJones, it’s not a case of giving up on WWE completely, it’s giving up on three hours of wrestling every Monday night. “I haven’t watched a full Raw in close to two years. Don't even watch it on DVR anymore.”

Twenty minute Stephanie McMahon promos, wins and losses not mattering, the Seth Rollins title reign, and the company being built around Roman Reigns are just some of the issues that led to @MrWillieJones’ decision to drop Raw, but it’s other WWE programming, like NXT, that has saved WWE from losing another fan all together.

Different promotions, same reasons

Besides WWE, some other promotions people brought up were Ring of Honor and All American Wrestling. But once again, it was the issues of product quality, or clashing personal values that turned fans away.

It was another political connection, in this case the relationship between the promotion, or more specifically ROH’s parent company Sinclair and Donald Trump that led @YoSoyKeith to no longer support ROH. For @NotBrockJahnke, on the other hand, it was more the quality of ROH’s product now compared with years past that turned him off the promotion.

But the reason he no longer follows AAW is a different story. “I stopped watching AAW because of the values of the people behind it. Seeing Danny Daniels profess that Joey Styles' sexual assault joke at EVOLVE 72 wasn't a big deal turned me off. Later, when they repeatedly booked Leo Krugar, someone who tried to profit off a domestic violence arrest last year, I had to draw the line and stop following them.”

While not political in nature, it’s the recurring theme of personal views held by fans, and the actions of owners and key decision makers in companies that have caused the issue.

And it’s another situation I can relate to. Perhaps the first time I actively made it a point to not follow a wrestling promotion was when Nanae Takahashi’s Seadlinning hired Yoshiko. Not to be confused with Yoshihiko, DDT’s famed blow-up doll/bad ass wrestler. No, this is Yoshiko, the woman who went off script and legitimately brutalized Act Yasukawa in the ring, leading to Yasukawa’s early retirement. I don’t know if the wrestling industry has a blacklist, but Yoshiko seems like someone who should be on it.

So, what, if anything, have we learned here?

Well, for starters, if a wrestling promotion doesn’t want to alienate its fans, those in charge should probably keep their political connections private, or even better, completely separate from their wrestling business. Or hey, just stay out of politics and focus on doing one thing well instead of many things badly.

Also, perhaps be aware that hiring wrestlers with questionable backgrounds and histories of violence is going to rub some people the wrong way. And of course, maybe don’t expect people to stand by your promotion when your product is consistently subpar, no matter how big you think you are.

But, if you want to win fans back, hire every “indie darling” and international star you can so that fans will have to follow your promotion if they want to see their favorite wrestlers again. I’m looking at you, WWE. Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the very few things holding me back from cutting the WWE cord once and forever. Him and Breezango. That’s it.

Finally, one thing I did find heartening out of all of this is that none of the people I spoke with have given up on pro wrestling altogether. While many have quit certain promotions, they all still follow wrestling in some form or another, whether it be New Japan, CHIKARA, or EVOLVE. And I think that’s a credit to the pro wrestling industry in 2017, and the many extremely talented indie and international stars out there working today.

WWE will probably always be the biggest and baddest, and I’m sure they’d like to be the be-all and end-all of professional wrestling (and don’t think they’re not trying), but there are so many alternatives. Too many, in fact, to be able to enjoy them all.

But if there’s a particular style you like, there’s a promotion somewhere in the world for you, and they probably have a streaming service.

A final thanks to those who took the time to talk with me and make this article: @JackHeartless, @YoSoyKeith, @simonodocopp, @DK1105, @DaCarolinaKidd, @WR_Central, @MrWillieJones, @NotBrockJahnke, @rodneyswest76, and @E_McDevitt.