Home Hulk Hogan, the n-word, and the limits on the business side of the wrestling business

Hulk Hogan, the n-word, and the limits on the business side of the wrestling business


Hulk_hoganTake my word for it, and don’t scan the wrestling news blogs for comments on the Hulk Hogan n-word controversy, though if you feel inclined, be prepared to take a shower soon after.

The internet wrestling community is only slightly less racist and misogynist than Gamergate, judging from the reaction to WWE’s move to dissociate itself from Hogan in the wake of reports that a sex tape at the center of a $100 million lawsuit filed by the wrestling legend against Gawker Media includes a slew of vile racist comments.

Hogan has since apologized, though he hasn’t exactly pleaded for mercy. His lawyer has said in a radio interview that he will push to find out how the transcripts, contained in a sealed deposition, were made public, and Hogan himself has gone on a bit of a passive-aggressive offensive, utilizing the art of the retweet to challenge the validity of the criticisms being waged against him.

To the internet wrestling community, though, Hogan needn’t be passive-aggressive, nor faux-apologetic. It’s WWE that should apologize for firing Hogan over his liberal use of the n-word, with commenters resorting to the lame defense of racists that rappers use the n-word in their songs, fire them, that their free-speech rights are being trampled on, as if it is a First Amendment right to not have to face repercussions for being a dumbass, with more than a few using the opportunity to launch into non sequiturs attacking the LGBT community.

And you wonder why WWE wasn’t able to get more money out of NBCUniversal last year when its TV deal came up?

WWE’s Monday Night Raw and Smackdown are among the highest-rated shows on cable TV, but WWE programming underperforms in drawing in advertising dollars relative to its ratings draw. It’s not because Hulk Hogan is liberal with the n-word; it’s because WWE still largely only attracts the kind of fans who want that and more.

You could view the rapid response of WWE to the Hogan news, then, as the latest in a series of attempts by the company to reach out to more mainstream viewers, as with the others at the risk of offending its hardcore base.

There was a risk involved in sticking with the base, too, of course – that risk being a slide into the sideshow status that pro wrestling has occupied since its carny origins.

This is the existential crisis for WWE, which, to its credit, has tried to clean up its image, toning down the gratuitous violence and borderline smut that marked the most recent boom period in the late 1990s to push a more family-friendly product with a nod toward appealing to the masses.

The company has also diversified into a full-fledged entertainment company with original movies and its own branded network that features wrestling, reality and original programming.

The move to broaden the dollars has come because of the hard reality that the core product, wrestling, cannot seem to overcome, no matter how hard WWE tries.

The wrestling product’s most reliable demographic is the least desired demographic for advertisers.

And that, as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin might say, is the bottom line, or to phrase it as Triple H, as the storyline head of The Authority, might put it, that’s not what’s best for business.

– Column by Chris Graham



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