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highlyverbal said on July 25th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

“Pro wrestling isn’t quite as pure in this regard because of its scripted nature, but even so: it is quite obviously the case that the wrestlers drive the product. (…) nobody is gonna pay money just to watch the McMahon family soap opera without there being wrestling to drive the product.” (ellipsis added)

I freely admit to being very noob-ish when it comes to pro wrestling, but I always considered them the “boy bands” of the talent pool. Sure, they aren’t NOT talented, but the value is added by the markteting folks who have made a machine to promote the activity. Essentially, there are enough prettyboy or dumb-buff fame-whores out there in the world that finding ones who can stay in character while they kinda sing or kinda wrestle is not the bottleneck. No scarcity.

A counter-example: I follow jui-jitsu and there is a sport that is held back by the non-athlete part of things. The refereeing and running of tournaments is so irregular that it can’t even START to get considered as an Olympic sport. And the athletes seem quite talented to me!

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Sure, they aren’t NOT talented, but the value is added by the markteting folks who have made a machine to promote the activity.

Some value is added by that machine (and MOST of those folks are labor, rather than management too), but you still need good wrestlers to make that work. It’s why Steve Austin as Champ made Vince a billionaire and Diesel almost bankrupted him*.

* Yes, yes, it’s a lot more complicated than just “Austin good; Nash bad”, but in general the talent pool was a lot stronger in 1999 than 1995.

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So Vince McMahon isn’t a wonderful human being? Not to suggest that this isn’t a good article, but that’s not exactly “Man Bites Dog” territory. :)

This is, however, a very good article about the specific ways he’s not a good human being, and the costs his employees pay for it.

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Hennig was a cocaine death

as for bodybuilders and the WWF/E, Superstar Billy Graham was a WWWF champ abd bodybuilder when Vince’s father was in charge, Hulk Hogan’s look got him into wrestling and Hulk-a-mania was actually born in the AWA.

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I’d say that if there’s any incentive for McMahon to give his wrestlers health care (not better health care, ANY health care), it would be the rise of organizations like Ring of Honor, Chikara and TNA. I’m not saying any of those wrestling companies offer health care, but if they do, McMahon should at least match it-and if they don’t, he should start so he can hang that as an advantage. I understand it would raise costs, but it would also make it easier to bring in new talent by pointing out they wouldn’t pay out of pocket if a move goes wrong.

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Farwell3d said on July 25th, 2012 at 8:40 pm

TNA definitely does not provide health insurance. WWE generally does pay for in-ring injury related issues, afaik, but they don’t have provide actual health insurance. TNA has been accused more than once of not even doing that.

ROH and Chikara are both extremely small and have significantly better grounds to call their talent “independent contractors” than the WWE did, and I would be shocked if they offer any health benefits whatsoever.

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@highlyverbal:

Essentially, there are enough prettyboy or dumb-buff fame-whores out there in the world that finding ones who can stay in character while they kinda sing or kinda wrestle is not the bottleneck. No scarcity.

This is a valid point but somewhat exaggerated. Pro wrestlers in general are not scarce, but pro wrestlers talented enough to sell out arenas and move merchandise are harder to cultivate. Finding the next Hulk Hogan isn’t as easy as recruiting a bunch of prettyboys or muscle-men; the industry has tried to do just that on numerous occasions, and only a handful have approached Hogan’s level of success. (And they did so by being rather unlike Hogan, but that’s neither here nor there.) Having a major promotion like WWE backing you up helps a lot, but it’s not always a foolproof model for superstardom; the wrestler is often as important as the management.

One of WWE’s problems over the past decade is the softness of business now that almost all of their top stars from late ’90s/early 2000s have retired. The company has done a poor job of late recruiting new talent and building them up as the next top stars; most of the success stories in WWE over the last eight years have been fortunate accidents rather than signs of a keen eye for talent.

That having been said, WWE’s business is doing well, if only from the inertia of their IPO and the collapse of all meaningful competitors. And I think it’s interesting that WWE almost seems to prefer the current not-so-hot product to the wild successes of the last boom period. The McMahons seem to encourage a certain homogeny among the wrestlers, where they’re all encouraged to have similar looks and styles and none of them get too many victories over each other. If I didn’t know better, I would think they actively avoid creating a “prima donna” like Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin, the better to emphasize that the WWE brand, and not any one performer, is the real selling point of the product. This may hurt them in terms of attendance and sales, but it helps management keep the labor force in its place.

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Tangent-Given the amount of “shoot” interviews available online, I’d say that there aren’t quite as many “shook” current/former WWE wrestlers as you think. Scott Steiner has spent the last two months on Twitter in a flat out race to the bottom re: employability in any mainstream company, yet his viability as a talent will always open doors…

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“At least nowadays the problems mostly aren’t people dying, and that’s certainly a good thing. But it’s setting an awfully low bar to pass, isn’t it?”

Agreed. At the end of the day, you’ve got guys who are putting on a stage show, but one that requires multiple, unavoidably concussive falls, every single night for over 300 days out of the year (not sure what the actual schedule is at this point – likely more days).

What I see here is Vince playing on both sides of the field. On the one hand, you’ve got a guy desperately (sometimes laughably so…alright, MANY times laughably so) trying to separate himself from the ever-present stigma of pro wrestling being territory-driven, dingy redneck fare. I don’t think anyone could objectively state that he hasn’t done that.

On the other hand, he’s conveniently subscribing to philosophies borne of that era. In the old days, when promotions relied on building/showcasing regional talent, the thinking upon receiving an injury wasn’t “Alright, where do I turn in my workman’s comp claim,” it was “Holy sh*t, I’ve got to get back in the damn ring or I’ll get fired/phased out.” This led to wrestlers cutting off casts, wrestling with muscle tears, etc. It wasn’t so much an indication of callousness on the part of management as it was the reality of the time. If you wanted to ply your craft, and a promoter thought you’d be an asset, you were hired. If you were injured or otherwise sidelined, the promoter had to rush to find someone to jump into your spot. The smaller, regional territories couldn’t afford to NOT be that way.

However, Vince’s WWE ain’t that. He has a diverse roster, a fully-operational and generally successful marketing machine, international distribution, obscene merch revenue, etc. I’d say he could pay for a surgery/basic health plan without seeing his bottom line dip much, if at all.

Considering these guys absolutely destroy their bodies doing what they do, with a fraction of the benefits that SAG or Actors’ Equity members get, I’d say they deserve a bit more of a break in that regard.

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“Essentially, there are enough prettyboy or dumb-buff fame-whores out there in the world that finding ones who can stay in character while they kinda sing or kinda wrestle is not the bottleneck. No scarcity.”

Well, sure. You see this in most forms of entertainment. But in pro wrestling, you live and die on your ability to make the audience give a sh*t about what you’re doing.

Now there’s definitely some truth to the whole “anyone who fits the body type can do this” thing. Hell, that’s originally how The Rock started. But if you don’t have “it,” you’re marginalized at best and out of a job at worst.

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“If I didn’t know better, I would think they actively avoid creating a “prima donna” like Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin, the better to emphasize that the WWE brand, and not any one performer, is the real selling point of the product. This may hurt them in terms of attendance and sales, but it helps management keep the labor force in its place.”

They’ve homogenized it to one-camera sitcom levels, IMO. Occasionally you’ll see a breakout character here or there, but it doesn’t feel like they’re RELYING on finding a breakout character. They’re more focused on the overall show.

Then again, with all the social media shoehorning, the “top star” can switch as often as Twitter trends shift.

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