Ever since the Internet moved past the domain of college campuses and government offices and into the home, it's been used as a method to discuss the ins and outs of the pro wrestling world. From the pro wrestling forums on Usenet and the forums on services like America OnLine and Prodigy to Reddit and various social media today, the world of sports entertainment (kayfabe or otherwise) has been analyzed, argued about, criticized and made fun of for decades.
The ever expanding popularity of the Internet can also be attributed as a factor in the rise of popularity of wrestling during the Monday Night Wars. If Scott Hall's first post-WWE appearance on WCW television happened, say, in 1992 as opposed to 1996, would the buzz have spread as quickly without fans jumping on AOL Instant Messenger, email and message boards? When Tony Shiavone announced that Mick Foley was gonna put butts in seats by winning the WWE title, how many of those millions of viewers turned switched to Raw because their buddy sent them an IM about it?
We, uh, don't actually have those stats. These were more rhetorical questions than anything else. Also, Scott Hall was still in WCW in 1992 so, yeah, that was a weird question. Let's move on.
It's also been a way for fans to directly influence the product itself. We're not talking those moments where fans can get on the WWE App and decide the stipulation of the upcoming Sheamus/Randy Orton match out of three options that are essentially three different ways to say "No DQ match" (we're on to you, WWE). We're talking the in-jokes, the outrage and the surprise-ruining breaking news that changed the way the way the wrestling business did, well, business. Some of these are very specific while others are just general things that still made a huge difference.
From little details to major changes, here's the 10 times the Internet (that's you guys!) affected the world of pro wrestling.
10 The iPPV
For years, it was considered a sign of success if your wrestling promotion was able to broadcast a major event via a nationwide Pay Per View network. WWE dominated the market for years, followed by WCW's extension of the format into nearly monthly PPVs. ECW was, in some ways, considered having made it to the "big time" when they put on their first PPV event in 1997, Barely Legal.
9 Vince Russo's Obsession With "Internet Marks"
Say what you want about Vince Russo (and you no doubt will), but he was certainly ahead of his time in a lot of ways. He was one of the first in the business to recognize the growing community of fans online. Many of his fourth wall breaking angles and "swerves" in his waning days in WCW were set up to play up to the "internet marks". There were two problems with this strategy, however.
First, you have to take into consideration that in 1999, the majority of wrestling fans weren't actively online, much less online discussing wrestling. Angles written with the online wrestling fans in mind were lost on the casual fan, causing them to switch over to WWE programming - or stop watching wrestling altogether.
8 Storylines via Social Media
Now it's 2015, however, and now even your grandmother is online. Well, mine is, anyway. Social media dominates the internet landscape, with brands around the world focusing their marketing on what's "trending" on services like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram... MySpace? Friendster? I don't know. I'm old.
7 Brock Lesnar's 2012 Return Spoiled
One of the rebuttals to the "wrestling is fake" argument is that it's no different than any other scripted TV show. Although its live nature and narrative structure might be different, it's still a episodic series telling stories.
Wrestling fans however, unlike fans of other TV shows, will actively seek out impending results of upcoming events or performer returns online - sometimes to the point where last minute booking changes have to be made just to keep some element of surprise.
6 The Growing Popularity of Non-American Wrestling in the U.S.
Well before streaming media or YouTube or, hell, even before online video itself, the only way to catch Japanese wrestling - short of actually going to Japan - was to purchase video of it on VHS. Wrestling magazines would feature ads from video services selling these tapes, which were then copied and traded among friends. For instance, in my college days, my friends and I would spend countless evenings watching classic matches from Japan when we weren't busy not going on dates.
5 WWE Acknowledging Other Promotions
From the early days in the 1980s you would never - eeeeeeeeeever- hear the names of other promotions on their TV programming. As far as they were concerned, they didn't exist. There were certainly exceptions - Ric Flair showing up on with the NWA title belt, for example (although the NWA was never mentioned by name). This rule was broken constantly during the Monday Night Wars (but then, what rules weren't?), but once the dust settled, WWE went back to pretending they were the only game in town. Which, let's be honest, they kinda were.
4 The WWE Network
The WWE Network is the culmination of all of the company's online output - from their website to their YouTube channel to their investment in Tout (that clearly went well, didn't it?) to even their social media. Much like the service it's based on - MLB.TV - the WWE Network can give fans nearly unlimited content as well as access to live events. And, it's Internet only.
It's possible that part of the strategy to move most of their PPV focus onto the network is centered around the fact that people simply weren't paying for the damn PPVs. Instead, streaming technology had advanced to the point that people would simply stream the events live online for free. The fact that this is clearly illegal didn't deter anyone - new streams would pop up as quickly as the old ones got shut down.
2 Hijacking Raw
If there's anything that hath more fury than a fanbase scorned, it's a scorned fanbase that can organize online. When CM Punk unceremoniously made his exit from the company and it seemed as if their demands for a Daniel Bryan success story were going unheard, the plotting began. Using Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media to create their own smarky Arabic Spring, fans conspired to "hijack" PPVs and episodes of Raw through the use of chanting.
1 The "Death" of Kayfabe
Maintaining the illusion of pro wrestling as a legitimate athletic competition was more than just a time honored tradition in the industry. It was considered vital to the success of the business overall. While over time, especially with the end of the territory system, the insistence on this diminished - Vince McMahon, for instance, coining the term "sports entertainment" and pretty much flat out telling the world what it already knew. Still, a level of secrecy was maintained. Breaking this code of silence could very well lead to THE BUSINESS BEING DESTROYED!
Then the Internet came along and ruined all of that.
Backstage, behind the scenes news and rumors were nothing new, of course. "Dirtsheets" like Dave Meltzer's "Wrestling Observer" were available, if not known about by the average wrestling fan. However, it's one thing to "expose the business" to a few hundred newsletter subscribers - it's a different animal when it's done on a website the whole world has easy access to.
Eventually, terms like "heat", "babyface/heel", "push" - hell, even "kayfabe" itself - were as commonplace among the lexicon of fans as they were the workers themselves. The wrestling reports on this very website - this very article - is a direct result of this. Nowadays, wrestling companies harbor no illusions - WWE themselves have two programs alone devoted to the behind the scenes activities of their company (although no less scripted than any other "reality" show)
Overall, there's still so much the casual wrestling fan - no matter how "smart" they think they are - simply isn't going to know about the world behind the curtain without actually being there. However, by letting the fans into that world, even just a little bit, didn't "destroy the business." On the contrary, it's made it all the more compelling.
Those are just 10 of ours. What other ways has the Internet changed the wrestling world?
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!