If you are reading this article then you are probably a pretty big fan of WWE to say the least, but it is more likely that you could be considered a hardcore fan, and WWE doesn't think you're profitable.
That's not to say that they don't want your business, because they absolutely do. WWE wants everyone's business just like any good company should, but at some point they have to decide which people they need to focus their efforts on appealing to and which people they have to ignore from time to time.
Now, you may be asking yourself "Doctor, what separates a hardcore fan from everyone else?"
That is a great question that I am more than happy to answer for you. A hardcore fan is not just someone who watches every show every week and orders every pay-per-view. A hardcore fan is the fan who knows way more than they should and watches more than just what's on every week.
I have devised a simple five-question test you can take to determine if you are a hardcore fan or not.
- Can you name at least five of the Hart brothers (Not counting Bret), along with their mother, father and the name of their famed basement training facility?
- Out of 29, how many WrestleManias have you seen? (Live or on DVD)
- Have you ever gone out of your way to watch wrestling events that took place before you were born?
- Have you ever openly defended wrestling to someone who was mocking it?
- Have you ever made your own title out of poster board and crayons?
If you answered yes, anything over 20, yes, yes and yes, then you are a hardcore fan. Congratulations on passing the test. Even if you had three or four of these, you are probably a hardcore fan. A hardcore fan is not necessarily part of the Internet Wrestling Community, but there is a large cross section in that Venn diagram.
Being a hardcore fan of wrestling is almost as frustrating as being a fan of the Cubs, which I am. And yes, I have accepted that I will probably not live to see them win a World Series, but I can hope, dammit.
WWE is right not to try to make the so-called hardcore fans happy over the casual fans, and there are a lot of reasons why they're right not to.
You are the minority
If you are a hardcore fan, then you are in the minority. WWE's fan base is made up of mostly young children and teenagers, most of which are males. Hardcore fans are the ones who don't grow out of it.
When I was growing up, there was a large group of us who would gather for the four PPVs WWE put on every year. We would rotate to different houses for each show, and it would be a big thing with food and drinks.
As time went on, as with all things, the group began to dwindle in size. At first it was just one or two people who would move away or just stop watching, but soon the group was small enough to count on one hand, and eventually I was watching PPVs with maybe one or two other people.
Some kids grow out of it when they find out it's fake, but there are a few who stick with it because they know it's all for the sake of great entertainment. Some people will stop watching for a while and then start up again only to find their love for it has grown, while others will watch after years of not watching and think it is even worse than it was before.
Being in the minority means WWE can't afford to focus on our needs and wants. They have to focus on the majority. It's simple business.
The hardcore fans are not many, but the voice we carry is loud. Just know you're not alone. But your kind of alone.
They know we're just going to watch anyway
If you are a hardcore fan then you are tuning in every week whether you thought last week's show was great or it pissed you off to no end. WWE knows this, and that is why you are not the ones they are trying to please.
You just know that Ryback match is going to be awful, but you watch it, regardless, because you are a hardcore fan and will always watch WWE. Why would WWE try to make the people they know will watch anyway happy?
They need to focus on those fickle fans who might be turned off by one offensive outfit or bad string of matches. People who are on the fence about WWE might be made into a fan easier with a great storyline than they would with a technical clinic that lasts 45 minutes.
But the fans who come and go are the really important ones. WWE wants those fans to develop into hardcore fans so they can write them off and move onto the next wishy-washy person. It's all a matter of analytics and conversion rates.
This is not an insult towards hardcore fans by WWE. This is basic business. Companies spend more to gain new customers than they do to keep loyal customers because they have to. The same logic applies to fans of WWE, or any sport for that matter.
WWE also wants to get those people who have never seen wrestling to tune in and start liking the show, and in order to do that they need to appeal to a wide range of people.
You're going to watch no matter what they do, so WWE can only hope that what appeals to the masses and what appeals to the hardcore fans happens to line up from time to time.
You can get what you want elsewhere
WWE is an entertainment company. They haven't been a "wrestling promotion" in a long time.
They don't have bookers, they have writers. They don't have wrestlers, they have performers. They don't try to make you think it's real. They try to make you think it's entertaining. Because of these facts, a small rift has grown between WWE and the hardcore fan base over the years.
But you don't have to watch just WWE wrestling. If you like seeing WWE cast-offs with unknowns then you can watch TNA. If you want to see the next generation of wrestlers then you can watch Ring of Honor. If you want to see a spot-fest then you can go on YouTube and watch AAA and CMLL. And if you want to see some technical clinics then you can go search for New Japan matches.
WWE isn't the only game in town, and believe it or not, they actually benefit from these other organizations existing. It gives the fan a companion product, but more on that in a bit.
You can't count WWE out when it comes to great wrestling, though. The sheer talent on the roster has never been higher, and WWE's future is looking bright if the recent call-ups from developmental are any sign of what is to come.
Watch WWE to be entertained, and watch everything else to see whatever else it is you think you need to see.
It's still about ratings, but it's not about competition
WWE doesn't have to compete with anyone anymore. The Monday Night Wars were great for the business, but they will never happen again. WWE doesn't have anyone who is even close to being a threat to their empire like WCW was.
Between DVR, YouTube, mobile devices and affordable computers, there are more ways to watch WWE than ever. By having all those options, it gives you less incentive to watch live.
The Nielsen ratings are the bread and butter of any televised production. DVR playback numbers might show us who is really watching what, but advertisers don't care about those numbers because those people just skip their beer and soda commercials to begin with.
The guy flipping through the channels on a Monday night is more important to WWE than the person who DVRs the show and watches it later because that guy might see something that catches his eye on Raw and decide to stay through to the end of the segment, hour or show.
Iron man matches don't do that. The Bella Twins do that. This guy and everyone like him are just one reason why the ratings shift from week to week, and that is what makes them so important.
It's no longer trying to get WCW fans to watch WWE. Now it's trying to make sure that that guy whose favorite show just had a season finale has something new to watch with Raw or SmackDown.
WWE likes having the other promotions around to satisfy the needs of the hardcore fans as well as act as a training ground for the next generation and a place for released talent to make a living.
Without the other promotions throughout the world, WWE would not be in business. They aren't WWE's competition, they are WWE's companions.
We don't really know what we want
Have you ever tried to get a large group of people agree on what to put on a pizza? Try getting all hardcore fans to agree on something and then tell me pizza is a challenge.
What you want is different from what I want, and what I want is different from what the next guy wants. Why bother trying to appeal to a group of people who don't even share a common opinion?
We all like wrestling. It's what binds us together as a family, but it is literally the last thing we have in common.
WWE's fanbase consists of people from every age, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and any other classification you can use to divide people on a census form. The hardcore fanbase is just as diverse, and we are all stubborn and opinionated about everything when it comes to wrestling.
The hardcore fans and the IWC are not necessarily one and the same, but nearly the entire IWC is almost certainly made up of hardcore fans. Otherwise they wouldn't be on wrestling sites all the time.
The funny thing about the IWC is that some people do not even realize they belong to it. Every week there are two articles that will have opposing opinions on Bleacher Report. One will praise someone, we'll say Randy Orton for now, and the other will criticize him.
If you go to the comments section it is almost a guarantee that you will see someone on the pro-Orton commenting "I hate that the IWC kisses Orton's butt." Then on the anti-Orton article you will see a commenter saying "The IWC hates Orton for no reason. What's the deal?"
Do we hate him or love him? It's neither and it's both at the same time. Even if we do agree on something, it is only a matter of time before half of us change our minds for no reason. The IWC is like the mind of schizophrenic as far as this writer is concerned.
Without even knowing it, these people who are criticizing the IWC are in fact joining its ranks. So welcome, cynics and critics. You're in good company here.
A real world example to back this up
I have a friend named Billy who is also a wrestling fan. He is not a hardcore fan, but he is a fan. He doesn't really read anything on the Internet about wrestling unless a huge story pops up in the news and that includes not reading spoilers. He doesn't even read my stuff, and we've been friends for over a decade.
He watches week to week, but it's not the end of the world if he misses a Raw or SmackDown, and he certainly won't go out of his way to schedule his time around watching the shows. Oh, and he likes John Cena enough to buy his shirt.
He goes to live shows and watches PPVs with me, and he sometimes brings his daughter, which makes his trip twice as expensive as mine. Our dollars are worth exactly the same amount to WWE executives, but the thing that WWE knows is that there are more people like Billy than there are like me.
Billy buys shirts for himself and his daughter who comes to the shows and his daughter who is at home because she's too young because he's a nice guy like that. I haven't bought a shirt in years, and I fit the definition of a hardcore fan way more than he does.
I might buy every PPV, but it's a tax write-off for me and I cover them for Bleacher Report. Billy will simply come over to my place, but if he didn't he would only buy the big events like WrestleMania and SummerSlam. So the profit for WWE evens out in a lot of places.
Those millions of people who tune in every week include maybe a few hundred thousand hardcore fans at the most, and that might be a pretty generous estimate. These numbers are based on an educated guess, but it's a pretty good educated guess.
We stick with it through the thick and the thin, and that is why WWE doesn't need to cater to us, and they are right to focus their energy on the casual fans.
Hardcore fan John might spend three times as much money on WWE products as Casual fan Jeff, but there are 100 Casual fan Jeffs to every one Hardcore fan John.
WWE loves their passionate fans, and they would love to please everyone, but it just isn't possible in any situation where people have varying opinions. The smart move is to go after the biggest possible group of consumers, and the hardcore fan base just doesn't make the cut.
But in the end, won't the things that appeal to the masses all of the time lead to a great product the hardcore fans can enjoy some or most of the time?
At least WWE can rest easy knowing our love-hate relationship is grounded in love. Now, I'm going to rewatch Bryan Danielson vs. Tyler Black from Ring of Honor: Southern Navigation 2008.
Are you a hardcore fan? If so, how does it feel being in the minority?
Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter @BR_Doctor.
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