When WWE went to their PG rating and started focusing on pushing characters who were kid-friendly, the Internet went into uproar. How dare they take away the edge that made the show popular, people wondered aloud. People still can’t let that go, thinking that if WWE went back to TV-14, they’d magically get back their audience and be cool again. First off, people who watch wrestling only because it’s cool are the worst. One should watch wrestling because they enjoy it, period.
That being said, speaking on a business level, there is a good reason to market to kids. They’re the best way to grow that audience. There’s a saying that reads “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That statement isn’t true all the time, but it definitely is hard to retrain someone to accept something new after they’ve been used to whatever it is they’ve become accustomed to.
[ad 6]It’s why The Rock’s return spiked ratings huge, but the audience wasn’t sustained. Those who returned for the most part didn’t want to see the people they didn’t know. On one hand, one might blast them for not having an open mind, but at the same time, who am I to tell someone what to like and what not to like? I’m a pro wrestling fan, for God’s sake!
On a smaller scale, I experienced that maxim firsthand this past weekend at the final show in ECW Arena history. EVOLVE 10 drew a crowd that was heavy in old school ECW fans. Here were fans who liked one specific style that was purveyed by one wrestling promotion that folded twelve years ago. Predictably, they were mostly silent for the first 8 matches of the evening and royally crapped on the announced main event because it wasn’t that specific style of wrestling they were used to. They only came alive when the ECW alumni came out at the end, and the match they were hottest for was the post-event bonus main event between Sabu and Justin Credible.
While their reaction to the event before the ECW reunion was disappointing, especially given that Johnny Gargano wrestled in the main event with two dead legs, it wasn’t really all that surprising. Who knew that a crowd of mostly now-middle aged men who were used to out of shape and gnarled tough guys beating each other with weapons wouldn’t enjoy two skinny young men doing flips to each other? It’s not what they were used to, and if it was, they’d have evolved with the times and watched promotions like EVOLVE, Ring of Honor and the like instead of abandoning ship on their wrestling fandom after the second One Night Stand.
It’s the same thing with WWE and their product. If the fans that jumped ship when the company wasn’t cool anymore were going to watch, they’d either have stayed aboard when the next wave of main eventers came through the pipes, or they would’ve been drawn back by word of mouth or some other circumstance like CM Punk getting all the coverage he got from ESPN and the like after he blew up in the summer time.
Kids, though, are impressionable. They have no idea what they like until they’re exposed to it, and they often have no preconceived notions on what should be cool or what should be “wrestling”. Therefore, those are the people who are going to buy the new wrestlers. So, why not market the product to them? It’s common sense.
The problem with WWE isn’t that they are PG-rated at all. It’s the quality of the writing. Companies like Pixar market their products to children, and yet they have rabid adult followings because they’re well-written, well-produced and have good stories. It wouldn’t matter how “childish” the content for WWE would be if they produced good stories, period.
[adinserter block=”1″]I’ve seen firsthand the perils of trying to cater to an older, existing audience. It’s not a sustainable plan, because the nostalgia wears off quicker than it takes to gain a reasonable foothold in the market. There are reasons why the first One Night Stand was super successful and why everything else WWE did afterwards to try and capitalize on the ECW name came back with diminishing returns. The old wells are dry. The new wells though? Yeah, those are full of potential audience members. Those who wish for a return to the old ways miss the point. Instead of wanting WWE to skew older, maybe they should just be wanting them to skew better.
Tom Holzerman is a lifelong wrestling fan and connoisseur of all things Chikara Pro, among other feds. When he’s not writing for the Camel Clutch Blog, you can find him on his own blog, The Wrestling Blog.