My apologies, fans of the Camel Clutch, for not properly introducing my debuting project last week. This is my new weekly column, The Panther Plex. While I enjoy writing for the sake of writing, I do intend to sometimes take unpopular stances in the wrestling and sports world, especially among the stubborn “Internet Wrestling Community.” In the end, I just want to get people talking. I certainly like (most) of my ideas, but more importantly I want to learn from you, the readers. With that said, hear me out on why I can’t stand commercials in the middle of matches.
So, there I was, catching the first live WWE SmackDown in ages, from what seemed like a large barn somewhere in Wichita, Kansas. The main event rolls around, featuring the much hyped Randy Orton World Heavyweight title defense against Christian in a steel cage. Needless to say, I’m thrilled-these two have been masterful all Summer, with Christian playing the cowardice heel to perfection and Orton seizing control like any loved hero should do. The match starts off great, but before you know it, someone is laid out, the inflection in Michael Cole’s voice changes, and the action is temporarily ripped away from you, replaced with a surrogate of Twix sales pitches and some awful show called “Warehouse Haven Alphas.”
It’s bad enough when so much time is wasted on cookie cutter promos and recaps during a telecast, only to start a mid-card match and be back to a commercial not three minutes into the contest. But when this crap happens in a marquee main event, not once, but twice, I totally lose interest and the momentum of the match ceases. With the odd upfront booking more or less penciling in Orton to win this match regardless, the closing contest on this critical broadcast of WWE SmackDown needed to be pristine, but because of commercial interference, the impact of every move before the break felt stunted, if not negated entirely.
I ultimately understand that making money is the only endgame for these wrestling companies (yes, poor little Impact Wrestling is just as guilty of match splicing), but the wrestling action should always come first and the bastardization of commercial laden matches all but guarantees that television matches and programs are nothing more than lowly feeder productions for the big cash cows, the pay-per-views. In my world, the pay-per-views should be supplementary to the mid week wrestling shows, not a relationship where the TV stuff is just all teasers for the monthly showdowns. My time is money, too, right? I don’t spend six hours a week watching this stuff to part with hundreds of dollars per year on every rushed pay-per-view. My voluntarily choosing to watch your show over a myriad of other great programming has to line someone’s pockets, right? In-ring wrestling on television should matter again. Making money should always matter. Ratings should accurately reward these companies for our fierce loyalty.
Perhaps it’s time to change the way we think about advertising during the various broadcasts. Auto-racing and soccer effectively bring you the action you want while keeping its loyal fan base and not outright alienating those open to the product. This is all through strategic advertising, folks.
Impact recently purchased a large contract with Direct Auto Insurance, now widely seen on their ring skirt as well as their cheesy wrestling backed commercials two or three times a show. Now, I understand that this move was made more out of fiscal desperation, but they got one thing right: product placement. The WWE may not need to go to these lengths, but putting a large advertisement on the ring mat could make Impact some big bucks and save the commercial interruptions. To get more creative, but not seem like such sellouts, WWE could consider slapping some logos on the turnbuckles. Anything really is an upgrade from the painful defenestration from the ring right into another “Suits” promo.
Okay, so maybe you are a purist and you’re saying that the ring should steer clear of the corporate screen print. How about shifting the commercials breaks, to, y’know, work around the matches? I’m no longer a child in most regards, but I can still mark out for some great ring entrances, which I believe is part of the fun. Those can stay, but a move I haven’t yet seen implemented is waiting for the match to end, going to break, and then returning with the (if applicable) resulting promo. This shouldn’t be too hard, guys-at most we are talking five or six minute matches, save for the occasional lengthy Daniel Bryan introductory lesson into bending joints the wrong way.
Another avenue to be possibly explored, and I hate to give credit here, is the MMA tactic of mixing in sponsors into the production of the matches and show. Forget the large Twix pause sign in the middle of the ring, can we at least get some Tale of the Tape? Paying advertisers would jump all over that idea, because you can combine it with the ring entrance without taking away from the storytelling. In fact, you could argue that more of the story could be told via the text that could appear below the vital statistics, such as “Orton is 6-2 against Christian in 2011.”
There are so many more ways to get creative about your timely advertising. Just off the top of my head, I’m telling myself that I wouldn’t want to ruin the sanctity of the legendary events and titles of the companies, but hey, it’s open season on the new ones without storied histories. How does the Prudential Money in the Bank sound? How about the K-Mart King of the Ring (or, for more of a laugh, the Burger King of the Ring)? These marketing opportunities can be used throughout the month, or in the case of the obvious MITB, the year leading up to the title defense.
Something more permanent could include giving a sponsorship to titles, which is already regularly accepted in the sports world (people go bonkers over that Sears Trophy). I wouldn’t dare suggest slapping brands on the two major belts, but what wrong can happen to start calling it the Armed Forces US Title? It’s completely apropos and a darn fine tribute to the men and women in that field that already have a great standing relationship with pro wrestling. This idea also lends itself well to at least the Divas title, the Tag titles, and possibly the Intercontinental if you want to get really greedy. Any insurance company should be chomping at the bit to get their name on the tag belts, which emphasize lending a helping hand and all that jazz.
And last, but certainly not least, has there ever been a character in mainstream pro wrestling that was a complete corporate sellout? I’m not talking about The Rock wearing a certain brand of silk shirt-I’m talking about some dude who just comes out decked in a jumpsuit similar to NASCAR and promotes a product to the point of annoyance or the good of the company (depending on his particular booking). I’m certainly not asking John Cena to tell us why Levi brand jorts are the best, but if you’re going to have somebody like Hornswoggle or Zack Ryder play up to the more comedic element of the show, at least safety pin some dollars onto them. If contained to just one performer, I think the idea could work without feeling cheap or corny.
Or they could fight for three minutes before another trailer for Inside Out plays and we all stop caring about the momentum that was Hoss Henry. I also know that this is only a band-aid on the problem, but man do I miss my DVR.
*I am mistaken. I clearly remember Tony Shiavone preemptively warning us of the commercial breaks ahead and how he would catch us up if anything happened during the intermission. This didn’t seem so bad, because, DUH, the Monday Night Wars. Switch that mess on over to Dude Love and Road Dogg mixing it up.
Joe Leininger lives in Jacksonville, FL via the greater Philadelphia area. He dabbles in all things sports, pro wrestling, and television, and more of his work can be found at The Playing Field Blog and DestiGeddon.