The announcement of the Strong Style Evolved UK cards for the end of this month has drawn more than a little ire… but should it have?
It’s become a bit of a regular thing for promotions in the UK to sell out (or come close to one) without announcing a single match. Sometimes, without announcing a single talent. PROGRESS, ATTACK! and Fight Club: Pro spring to mind – PROGRESS have sold out all of their regular London shows within minutes of them going on sale for as long as I can remember… ATTACK! rarely announce matches before shows, while Fight Club: Pro are (in)famous for doing similar. So, should you really feel ripped off if you’ve bought a ticket to a show before any names or card is announced?
In the case of the “New Japan UK” show, it’s worth noting that when tickets went on sale there were no names announced – so all of us buying tickets (including myself) were buying tickets for “a New Japan show” promoted by Rev Pro – regardless of what form that took. Since then, it’s become clear that New Japan haven’t exactly acknowledged this show on their site (their schedule page at https://njpw1972.com/schedule doesn’t list either of the Strong Style Evolved UK shows, nor the CEOxNJPW show in Florida that’s taking place just hours before the Milton Keynes dates).
Going back through the Rev Pro Twitter, these were the names that were announced, and the order: Kazuchika Okada (on May 2), Tomohiro Ishii (May 14), Taiji Ishimori (May 16), Minoru Suzuki (May 16), Toru Yano (May 17), Yuji Nagata (May 17), Will Ospreay (May 18), Taichi (May 18), Jay White (May 19), Shota Umino (May 19), Zack Sabre Jr. (May 20), Takashi Iizuka (May 21), Gedo (June 2), El Desperado (June 6), Yoshinobu Kanemaru (June 6), Tiger Mask (June 11), Yujiro Takahashi (June 11) and finally YOSHI-HASHI (June 11). So, with the names, and order thereof, without even being aware of the CEOxNew Japan show in Florida on June 28, perhaps it should have been pretty clear when we started getting to the Taichis and Iizukas of the roster that the UK weren’t getting the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega or Hiroshi Tanahashi this time around. That being said… is there any blame to be put anywhere?
With only 15 names revealed ahead of this week’s card announcement, it should have been clear that there weren’t enough names there to put on two varied shows without outside help – and barring the arrival of other Young Lions like Ren Narita or Tomoyuki Oka, there was really only one option: familiar Rev Pro faces. The presence of the likes of Aussie Open, El Phantasmo and David Starr on these cards have made people instantly point and scream “it’s just a Rev Pro show with more New Japan guys”, but I’ll refer back to the announced roster. Fifteen names… even if you had everyone in singles matches, that’s just seven matches per show – and with a lot of the roster being CHAOS or Suzuki-gun members, that’s limiting things even more. Let’s be realistic here, even the most ardent New Japan fans don’t want to see a singles match between Takashi Iizuka and Toru Yano… or Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Yujiro Takahashi (even if that one would be a first-time ever match).
So, roster quibbles aside, what were the other complaints? That a show that had been solely promoted by Rev Pro, under another banner, isn’t a “true” New Japan show? Is it because the Bullet Club representation doesn’t include the Elite. Golden or otherwise? Or is it the perception that the ticket prices were too high for the show? Let’s take a look at that, as compared to some other similar shows.
For the Milton Keynes stop on Strong Style Evolved UK, a front row ticket, including fees, would have cost you £82.50. That’s $110 in the US or a little over ¥12,000 for one of the more expensive indy tickets I can recall (if you’re looking at Meet and Greets, by the way, save another £250 on top of that!) How does that compare with other “big shows”, which some perceive this to be?
Well, the G1 Special in San Francisco had ringside tickets for $300 (£225/¥33,100), while ringside at a Korakuen Hall show would set you back ¥13,000 ($120/£88) during G1 season (or ¥9,000/$80/£61 outside of). That’d put the Milton Keynes show on a par with a Korakuen Hall G1 show, at least in terms of like-for-like ringside seats. Away from New Japan, front row tickets for SummerSlam this year were going for well over $1,000 before you even look at the secondary market. If you want to look at prices for Raw, you’re looking at the hundreds of dollars for ringside, or close to $100 for ringside for a house show… or £85 for the best seats for next week’s WWE UK Championship Tournament shows (but that’s another kettle of fish entirely!).
Therein lies the issue. Without wanting to give promoters ideas, is it a case that the rank and file shows, especially in the London area, are “too cheap”? For example, £15 ($20/¥2,200) will get you a seat at a Rev Pro Cockpit show, which invariably features at least one or two international names (July’s show, for instance, will feature Colt Cabana, Mike Bailey and Naoki Tanizaki). York Hall, on the other hand, is usually £57 ($76/¥84,00)for a front row seat for Rev Pro’s bigger shows.
When you’re setting the bar there, it makes it trickier to judge other shows on – especially when you factor in the Cockpit’s low capacity, some have suggested that these shows are a “loss leader”, existing to generate content for RPWonDemand and hype for the more expensive/profitable York Hall shows. Without being privy to any company’s finances (nor would I want to be), it’s easy to see where that argument’s come from.
A standing ticket for EVE’s regular haunt at the Resistance Gallery would set you back £20, while general seating tickets for their upcoming event at the Walthamstow Assembly Halls cost the same. Meanwhile for PROGRESS, you’re looking at £30 for ringside at the Electric Ballroom, down to £19 for standing… versus £55 for ringside (and thereabouts) at Wembley. There’s a disparity in the venues, but should there be such a jump?
All promotions surely want to hold shows in full rooms. It’s not a good look for anyone to run when there’s empty seats, especially when they’re taping the show for later distribution… and especially when the ongoing narrative is that British wrestling is far removed from the mid noughties where even having a huge name import such as the Great Muta didn’t generate a sell-out (albeit under very exceptional circumstances, as followers of 1PW back in the day will attest)… which creates a conundrum. When PROGRESS increased prices by a relatively small amount, there was the predictable outcry. After all, nobody likes seeing prices go up.
That being said, we’re also in a period of change. More and more wrestlers are looking to make a fist of things on a full time basis, which means that in order for them to succeed, there need to be more viable shows running more frequently – all without burning out a fanbase, a venue, a promotion or the wrestlers themselves. So, what’s for the best? In the longer term, as more and more wrestlers are looking away from this being a hobby and more a career, it’s not realistic for fans to expect to be able to pay the same prices they are now and expect the same kind of quality – in the sense of “full timers” being replaced with lesser-experienced trainees.
So, to take us back to the original point… is £80+ too much for what’s amounted to a “Rev Pro show with more New Japan names than normal”? It’s a cop-out, but it depends. On the surface, this was a show that Rev Pro promoted as a New Japan show, with New Japan branding and logos. Save for a line at the end of the pre-sale email, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a solely-promoted New Japan show. Could there have been more transparency? Absolutely. Would saying “hey, there’ll be some Rev Pro guys on the show” have turned people off? Perhaps, but not setting any expectations for a never-before-done show like this ended up having some people seemingly thinking that they were going to see something akin to WrestleKingdom, or even a lower-level show like a Dominion or a Destruction. Instead, some feel that we’ve gotten a New Japan show that’s equivalent to a Wrestling Dontaku, with one card split out across two venues.
Nevertheless, I doubt this will ruin the atmosphere for either of the shows. Sure, the shows that follow afterwards may be affected, with fans who feel like they’ve been “burned” perhaps waiting to see a card announced before they take the plunge on tickets. Personally, while part of me would have preferred this to have been a New Japan-only card, I’m happy to see that we’ve gotten some different names on the tour. When it comes to my personal “sticker album” of New Japan talents in the UK, Hiroshi Tanahashi will be the only top line name that I’ve not seen live after these shows, while I’m still holding out hope for Satoshi Kojima if/when he returns to the ring.
For those of that ilk, perhaps “wait and see” is the best option? Not that any promotions have done this, but there’s a growing risk that fans buying tickets sight unseen could eventually lead to some promotions resting on their laurels – all it’ll take is the perception of one “bad” show for the house of cards to come tumbling down, pre-sales and all. At the end of it all, it’s ultimately a case of buyer beware. Much like you would if you’re buying well in advance for WrestleMania or WrestleKingdom, even if promotions announce a full card (and/or a roster that you like), there’s still no guarantee that shows will deliver to the level you as a fan would expect.