It's great to be a wrestling fan in 2014. Now more than ever, one can be fully immersed in the storylines and action. The live events for the major promotions now tend to offer 'meet and greets' through the purchase of VIP (WWE) or Fan Interaction (TNA) tickets and there are of course the more intimate experiences offered by Great British promotions such as Revolution Pro Wrestling or Preston City Wrestling.
With an eye to the future, this wrestling immersion looks set to deepen and so it is perhaps worth identifying some of the markers to here and the direction of future travel.
Wrestling has somewhat matched developments in television viewing and technology advancement. As early as 2001, the WWE had identified reality TV as a source of revenue and interest for fans. Their 'Tough Enough' series offered aspiring wrestlers (of which there were more than 4,000) the chance to win a company contract. 13 finalists were followed by cameras in their pursuit of the gold. The winners (Maven and Nidia) were eventually released from WWE but the competition across its four seasons did help to showcase new talent, many of whom made it into WWE, TNA or other promotions. The show was revived in 2010 but winner Andy Levine didn't make it out of development. Still, the viewing figures helped to identify a fan base keen on getting more from the wrestling experience than a weekly TV show. The WWE's promotion of its NXT developmental product continues to provide hard-core fans with the opportunity to see talent before they are ready for the main rosta.
Of course, new/social media continued to develop apace during and after Tough Enough went off the air. Youtube and Facebook pages became de rigour and with the arrival of twitter in 2006, fans were able to directly interact with wrestlers. This resulted in amongst other things, Mick Foley touring the UK (he was asked by Eros Comedy head Chris Brookner if he wanted to come) and more recently led to superstar Bill Goldberg confirming to us that he plans to bring his show to the UK before long!
Capitalising on the growing social media progress and demand for celebrity intimacy, the TNA promotion announced last year a '24/7 cross-platform programming initiative' which they called an 'evolution...where Action Never Ends'. ," The company began to keep the cameras on at live events, on the road and in wrestlers homes. Thus storylines could be weaved in and out of the real-life dramas besetting the company roster. WWE have recently followed suit with their total divas programme.
The WWE have now taken another step forward and launched their 'WWE Network' which can be accessed online (but is not yet available in the UK). This works on the same principle as Netflix or Amazon Prime and allows fans to watch wrestling all day, every day for a small fee.
It looks however as if both WWE and TNA are going to face a new challenge. TNA founder and former WWE star Jeff Jarrett and his wife Karen have recently publicised their intention to start a new promotion, Global Force Wrestling (GFW). Jarrett, a savvy businessman and third generation promoter used youtube and twitter to tell the wrestling world #ItsComing before announcing "the most fan-interactive and immersive wrestling experience in history".
Centred on new media and 'in-tune' fans Jarrett promises to deliver an innovative and multi-platform brand that will 'engage fans in ways they've never experience'. He said "It will provide a fresh perspective inside the business that fans have been clamouring for." The Jarrett's say they want to build a brand through which fans can watch the talent develop in and out of the ring from inception.
That Jarrett has identified this key desire of wrestling fans will no doubt serve him well. As outlined above, the fan base now not only demands but expects more for their dollar from these companies. It remains to be seen what the other promotions will do in order to keep ahead but the competition in this instance will serve to benefit us, the fans.