Even as someone who’s never been involved in wrestling, it’s clear to see that there is one thing that can quickly kill a promotion: not having any customers!
Or to a finer point, perhaps, not having enough customers to pay the bills. Even if you do have the luxury of someone bankrolling you, enough money-losing shows will end up running off all but the dumbest/committed backers (delete as appropriate!)
Anyone who’s done basic mathematics or business studies will know that you want to be making a profit from your shows. Or at the absolute worst, break even. If what you spend on hiring a venue, a ring, production equipment… and the talent (let’s not forget that!) is covered by your ticket sales, then whatever you get in extras – like t-shirts, programs, merchandise and whatever-format-your-video-releases-are – is a bonus.
So the name of the game is simple: put on a product that’ll attract fans, get them to spend a little extra cash at the venue, but not charge so highly that people don’t come back. All whilst putting on a product that will leave the fans with a reason to come back. At the moment, British wrestling has had to deal with that, with the extra complication of competing with other promotions.
Right now, cities like London, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle have multiple promotions vying for the same audience.
In 2016, Newcastle has had shows from WWE, 5 Star Wrestling, CHIKARA, Tidal Championship Wrestling, Insane Championship Wrestling, Maximum Pro Wrestling, Absolute Wrestling, Main Event Wrestling, Full Tilt Wrestling, NORTH Wrestling and, of course, WhatCulture. Take away the international brands (and those created to plug a video game), and you’re left with seven groups… eight, if you include ICW.
That’s seven groups who are going after a very niche market of indie wrestling fans, from a city that “only” houses 280,000 people, plus those who travel from afar. So, how do you differentiate? You could use very local talent, but that usually has a limited audience since you’d expect the best local talent to be appearing on shows elsewhere in the country. On the plus side, those shows are often the cheapest, with tickets coming in at around the £5 mark. Bear that in mind.
Taking a step up, you’ll also have some groups who mix the locals with some higher profile British stars. Case in point here: Newcastle’s MEW, whose recent shows have featured locals like “Primate” Jason Prime, HT Drake and Little Miss Roxxy, along with “bigger” names like Rampage Brown, Noam Dar, El Ligero (of course) and Kenny Williams. Those kind of shows would set you back £10 for a ticket.
Elsewhere, ten of your English pounds in Newcastle could also get you into NORTH Wrestling’s second show in November, with Mark Haskins, Jinny and Pastor William Eaver booked. Their first show, reviewed here, featured big names like Jack Gallagher, Pete Dunne and (of course) El Ligero. So for a tenner, you can’t really go wrong, can you?
The arrival of WhatCulture Pro Wrestling on the scene has shaken things up somewhat. Originally selling tickets for £15 a pop (or £40 if you wanted the top level seats), that seemed to a decent price for the early shows, and bordering on the criminally-low once the fly-ins started coming.
Earlier this month, they took the insane month to drop tickets to £5 for a show that ultimately featured the former Alberto Del Rio, alongside the likes of Doug Williams, Joseph Conners, Big Damo, El Ligero, Travis Banks and Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate). As a fan, you’d be happy with paying £5 to see a former WWE star and several other highly-rated talents… but let’s assume you’re a new fan. You’ve paid £5 to see some big stars… so mentally, a part of a casual fan (and perhaps, those who don’t regularly go to live shows) will now think that that’s the going rate, regardless of how often “special offer” was splashed across the advertising.
That mentality only serves to backfire and hurt everyone else.
As Alan Boon on the Indy Darlings podcast rightly surmised: if you’ve paid £5 to see a “big” show, why on earth would you pay the same – or even more – for a show that’s “only” featuring local or British talent?
Undeterred, WCPW are doing the same in Altrincham next month, with the current £15 general admission tickets giving fans entry to a convention (with merchandise, photo opportunities and autographs – all on an a la carte basis). That £15 will give you access to a show featuring the former Alberto Del Rio, alongside Kurt Angle, Cody Rhodes, Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, and a variety of British stars. So, using that logic – assuming you live in the area and have never been to a wrestling show for a while, but have decided to take the plunge because of the lure of Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, Alberto Del Rio and a bunch of guys off of YouTube. £15 will become your benchmark for a “mega show”, which could be horrible news for the likes of FutureShock Wrestling – who also run in the same area – as their £12 tickets wouldn’t get you anywhere near the same line-up.
Of course, if WhatCulture return to Altrincham or Manchester, that’s also set the bar a little higher for them, especially if they go for a higher ticket price. If £15 got you a fan convention and four big names from WWE’s history, what would they have to do to charge even £5 more?
Back in the day, the British scene had plenty of con artists and tribute shows, putting on a product that few wanted to willingly see, and even fewer wanted to return to. Whilst none of this even comes close to being a con, it is a massive detriment.
Not every promotion has hundreds of thousands of pounds to fall back on to absorb losses. Not every promotion can afford to import massive stars – let alone whilst selling tickets for a fiver at the same time. It’s only a matter of time before the damage done by these tactics harm the British scene. In the race to the bottom, nobody wins.
We all lose out in the end.