Pro wrestling ain’t cool anymore: Where did all the fans go? And why?

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Remember when 10 million people would tune in every Monday night to watch pro wrestling?

Yeah, it’s been 20 years now, but … those were the days.

Dennis Rodman took off from the Chicago Bulls during the NBA Finals to wrestle on a pay-per-view.

Karl Malone and Jay Leno. David Arquette won the WCW world title.

OK, that was a low point.

Point being, though, wrestling was mainstream.

One Friday, a regular news contact of mine ran into me at the office at the newspaper, noted my nWo shirt, and offered a comment on how he wouldn’t have imagined me a wrestling fan, and proceeded to break down the title scenes in WCW and WWE.

As recently as a few years ago, when AFP was helping promote local indy events, selling out Augusta Expo and the Waynesboro High School gym with cards featuring Kevin Nash, the Rock-n-Roll Express, “Diamond” Dallas Page, there were people in the crowd that I wouldn’t have imagined being fans: local government officials, business community movers and shakers.

Seems like a million years ago, the way things are now.

WWE has a hard time getting 2 million to watch its flagship shows on Mondays and Fridays, and this is considering how there’s really not much else in terms of sports programming to compete with.

People in the industry trying to assess the what’s wrong part of this point to the lingering issues with how Vince McMahon opened the curtain on kayfabe back in the 1990s to try to evade having to be regulated by athletics commissions.

But the heyday of the Monday Night Wars came right after that, so, not sure about that one.

Anecdotally, the last time I went to a live show, a WWE show in Richmond a couple of years back, I was startled by how many people around me were clearly still not in on the fact that wrestling is, you know, fake.

(Sorry if that’s a spoiler. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, also fake. There. Ripped several Band-Aids off for you there.)

It’s also not lack of pub. ESPN and Fox have been broadcasting WrestleManias from past years as replacement programming during the shutdowns, for instance.

I’ll weasel out on this one by pointing to the increased fractionalization of the audience for entertainment in general.

We all have so many more things to fritter away our time with today, even with the lack of live sports in the immediate here and now.

Netflix, Amazon, Apple, the other streaming services, everybody and their brother with a podcast.

If nothing new were produced from now to the end of time, humankind wouldn’t have enough time to watch it all.

It’s not like there isn’t good content. There’s probably more good content than ever, honestly. WWE, despite itself, still has the occasional Randy Orton-Edge feud fall into its lap.

Then there’s AEW, NWA, MLW, Ring of Honor, New Japan and its app.

So much good stuff, so much of it so much better than a lot of what we had to watch back at the height of the Monday Night Wars.

And yet the audience is a fraction of what it was then.

Of course, the audience for practically everything else is a fraction of what it used to be.

I really think that’s the bigger issue, and I say that because, maybe folks should just stop fretting about the numbers, and enjoy what they have at their fingertips now, because there’s a lot of good content out there for the watching.

Story by Chris Graham


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