Up until recently, being a fan of wrestling could be a very expensive and space-filling hobby. If you were interested in having copies of events to watch on-demand, then a home video library would be the order of the day, especially if you were a fan of multiple promotions. Whether they were obtained legally or otherwise, wrestling fans around the world would have had to keep piles of VHS tapes and later DVDs in order to keep up to speed on their favourite groups.
In recent years, the launch of several digital services has helped to mitigate this problem for fervent wrestling fans. WWE, of course, has their Network (with Hulu hosting more recent content such as Raw). New Japan Pro Wrestling has a similar model for fans around the world who want to watch their bigger shows through their PC, and promotions such as PROGRESS have joined online retailer HighSpots in making their back catalogue available on a subscription and pay-per-view basis.
On the flipside, Ring of Honor broadcasts their television show for free via their website, whilst a lot of their major shows can be purchased for live and on-demand viewing. Other groups, such as EVOLVE, also stream their shows live over the internet on a pay-per-view basis, and also allow you to watch shows on-demand at a later time. However, whilst some of the higher profile groups have been slower to make the move to digital, with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla being somewhat resistant to move away from on-disc releases.
Now, for those of you who go through, shall we say, “alternative methods” of sourcing their wrestling, what I’m about to say isn’t of much concern. Assuming that the content you’re after leaks online, then your library is only restricted by the number of hard drives you can afford (and store), as opposed to how much shelf space you have for DVDs. Back when Ring of Honor first started, I was something of a completionist, buying every ROH DVD that was released, often taking advantage of the numerous sales that they would run, resulting in oversized padded envelopes being delivered on a monthly basis. However, as the company expanded, their output of DVDs became unsustainable to keep up with, and coinciding with a house move, I (unwisely, as it would turn out) sold the vast majority of my ROH collection.
Fast-forward to 2016, and that became an increasingly poor decision, particularly when it comes to looking for specific matches. In researching a series of Random Reviews columns being planned for WrestleMania week, I was looking to recap some matches that independent promotions had held whilst piggy-backing onto the WWE supercard. Whilst I’ll still be doing that, I encountered a major roadblock when it came to ROH, as it seems that the company doesn’t sell any DVDs of shows prior to 2011, and save for three events, nothing digitally from before 2014. Whilst that may be good if you want to see the Global Wars 2015 ten man tag, featuring the Bullet Club vs. team ROH, if you want to see any of the Samoa Joe vs. CM Punk matches, you’d better hope that they have a compilation DVD with it in stock!
Whilst it is important for wrestling promotions to have as much current content widely available to potential customers, it’s equally vital for companies to have a back catalogue that’s just as visible. If your current product is being released digitally, it seems archaic to insist on a physical-only catalogue. The movie industry has moved towards that model, for rentals and outright ownership of movies, and that has by all accounts help reduce piracy. Maybe it’s just me speaking selfishly, but surely it would make some financial sense for companies like ROH to make even selections of their back catalogue available at a price, and make some extra cash, rather than leaving money on the table as people are driven to those nefarious “alternative means”.