I’ll preface this article by saying you should head over to The Lion page and read about me before you read this.
I receive pretty much the same response from people when I tell them I’m a fan of professional wrestling. It’s always this look of incredulity and disbelief. That look is often followed by a question along the lines of, “How can you watch something so stupid?” Most people tend to view me as relatively intelligent and deem the WWE to be “below my intelligence.” First of all, I appreciate most people view me as intelligent, but more so, it’s time to dispel the notion that WWE suffers from a lack of intelligence. So without further ado, here are the top 4 reasons I watch WWE:
People who don’t watch professional wrestling are often under the perception that we viewers believe it to be real. We believe the punches to be real, the twists to be random and the people to be actual wrestlers. Let me dispel this notion right now. WE KNOW IT’S FAKE. We know it’s scripted. We understand it’s considered an “episodic” TV series. In fact, this week’s Monday Night Raw was the 1,080th episode. Think about that: 1,080 episodes. To put that in perspective, Saturday Night Live has run 757 episodes. Lassie ran for 558 episodes. The Simpsons: 541. Law and Order: 456. MASH: 251. South Park: 247. Point is, each show is an individual episode. And as with most other “episodic” television shows, this consists of a main set of characters, plots, scripts and actors, along with many other factors.
We know the wrestlers are actors. There’s a reason that their wrestler names aren’t their real names (though the creativity could use work: a man named Bryan Danielson becomes the wrestler Daniel Bryan? Wonder how long it took them to come up with that). On top of being actors, they’re trained stunt men. They’ve been trained to make the fighting look real without it actually being real (just like professional stunt men). It’s staged. There’s writers and directors. Actors. So given all this, it is a live theatrical performance with stunts. It’s really like the Indiana Jones experience at Disney World, only a bit more physical with a bigger cast. There’s also a reason why many of these actors (no, they aren’t great actors) do professional movie roles, the most famous wrestler-turned-movie star being Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
As a staged production, it’s incredibly lucrative. It is, after all, a business. As if 1,080 episodes isn’t evidence enough of the WWE’s success, take a look at the figures for WrestleMania, the largest yearly professional wrestling event. Last year’s WrestleMania (number 29) held in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (site of the Super Bowl this past Sunday) sold out with 80,676 people on hand to view the event and brought in an estimated $12.3 million, the highest grossing single event in MetLife Stadium history at the time (I’m not sure where this past week’s Super Bowl sits yet). It attracted attendees from all 50 states and 34 different countries, and viewers from over 100 countries and 20 languages. Vince McMahon, CEO and Chairman of the Board of WWE, is currently valued to be worth approximately $1.063 billion. According to WWE’s corporate offices, WWE programming brings in approximately 15 million viewers PER WEEK in the United States, with 78% of that audience aged 21 or older (37% over the age of 50). And while it is still a predominately male viewership, WWE corporate estimates 35% of it’s total viewership to be female.
All this is to say that to truly evaluate WWE, you have to view it as ENTERTAINMENT, not just an attempt at wrestling. It is more or less a soap opera, and when you accept is as such, it has a similar appeal.
While the outcomes of the match and some of the hits are staged, the physicality of the performance is not fake. Injuries are common occurrences in WWE. Here’s a list of injuries that occurred on one night, WrestleMania 29: second-degree burns, muscle contusions, broken nose, meniscus tear and even a wrestler whose abdomen tore off his pelvis. Often, wrestlers deal with concussions and multiple lacerations, often requiring staples or stitches. One wrestler is currently on an injury hiatus due to a dislocated shoulder. Even one of the most revered wrestlers of all time, Edge, was forced into early retirement due to a neck injury (doctors told him that continued wrestling could lead to permanent damage). Not to say anything that elicits injuries automatically qualifies as “physicality.” Just making the point that the physical acts are often very real.
The point is these performers put themselves through rigorous training regimens to maintain their physical fitness to be able to endure the physical beating they put on their bodies each week. And while they are trained to perform the moves in safe ways (i.e., injury avoiding as much as possible) sometimes things happen. Even so, these performers are among the strongest and the most physically fit performers in any arena. Oh, and just in case you’re curious, take a look at the training regimen of John Cena, one of the WWE’s most popular superstars, in Men’s Health.
Recent estimates suggest that around 80 – 90 million people worldwide watch WWE Monday Night Raw. Now, that’s just an estimate. But look again at that number. That’s estimated at about a quarter of the entire population of the United States. The Super Bowl, for years the largest single-night event worldwide, recorded 93 million viewers in 2012. So really, almost as many people (again estimated) worldwide watch Monday Night Raw WEEKLY as people who watch the Super Bowl.
What this creates is a sense of belonging. Sure, you get that with almost any sport, but the WWE offers a definite chance to feel a part of something bigger. Watch Monday Night Raw some night when Daniel Bryan is performing. You will see a sold-out arena of fans with their index fingers pointed toward the sky chanting “YES! YES! YES!” over and over again in perfect unison. Or watch when Fandango (again, the names could use some creative work) come out and see the fans start “fandango-ing” (dancing and singing along with Fandango’s theme music).
And let’s not forget how active WWE is among social media networks. On top of being very heavily involved on both Facebook and Twitter (the WWE Facebook page has close to 2.6 million likes and the WWE twitter account has 4.04 million followers), the WWE phone app has had more than 6 million downloads.
When you purchase any WWE merchandise (like the air freshener – yes, I said air freshener – that I have in my car), it is often symbolic and features little wording. But when you see someone wearing or having something with one of those symbols, it’s almost an instant bond. For example, when I see someone walking around wearing a black shirt with a big yellow N on it, I know that’s referring to the Nexus (a group from about 3 years ago) and know that they’re a wrestling fan. Instant conversation starter.
One thing that cannot be forgotten when it comes to the WWE, and is actually the thing I appreciate the most about the WWE, is their dedication to charitable work and helping the community. The WWE is incredibly proactive when it comes to helping their fans and the public as whole. A couple general examples:
-The WWE raised more than $500,000 for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts
-Became a founding partner for the 2014 Special Olympic USA Games
-In May of 2013, the WWE offered a $10,000 scholarship to a Full Sail University student to be applied toward her Bachelor degree in Creative Writing in Entertainment
The biggest ways the WWE involves itself in charitable work is through three major campaigns: the Susan G. Komen “Rise Above Cancer” Campaign, the Be A Star Foundation and extensive work with the Make a Wish Foundation.
The Susan G. Komen “Rise Above Cancer” Campaign is a program that the WWE has started doing in conjunction with the Susan G. Komen Foundation every year for National Breast Cancer Awareness month. During this period, the WWE donates 20 percent of all specialty Campaign retail (campaign-themed merch) sales to the Foundation and using air time to promote breast cancer awareness. If you are unaware, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is the world’s largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research. Over the past 30 years, Susan G. Komen has invested more than $790 million in breast cancer research and $1.5 billion in outreach programs worldwide, working globally in over 30 countries. In 2012, the WWE raised $1 million during Breast Cancer Awareness month to support Susan G. Komen.
The Be A Star campaign was cofounded by The Creative Coalition and the WWE. I copy this directly from the campaign website:
“The mission of Be a STAR is to ensure a positive and equitable social environment for everyone regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation through grassroots efforts beginning with education and awareness. Be a STAR promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect because everyone is a star in their own right.
Currently, Be a STAR has 58 alliance members, including National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN), GLAAD, STOMP Out Bullying, The Ad Council and the United Federation of Teachers all partnering together to take action against bullying.”
According to the website, over 30,000 people from all 50 states and 91 international countries have taken the pledge to end bullying through the Be A Star program. As part of the campaign, WWE Superstars and Divas visit two-to-three schools or community centers a month to speak to students about bullying issues.
Finally, few organizations have been as involved with the Make a Wish Foundation as the WWE. For any of you not familiar, the Make a Wish Foundation is an organization that “grants the wish of a child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition in the United States and its territories, on average, every 38 minutes.” Many of you probably saw in the news recently, the Make a Wish Foundation was the Foundation behind the great Batman experience of one child in San Francisco, CA in November.
While I can’t find an estimated total number of wishes the WWE has granted as whole (they granted a total of 129 in 2012 and as of the Summer of 2013, had granted 79 wishes for the year), but WWE Superstar John Cena received the first ever 300th Wish Award being the first (and so for ONLY) person EVER to grant 3oo or more wishes for the Make a Wish Foundation.
I don’t expect any of you to watch WWE after reading this, but maybe it gave you a little insight as to the organization as a whole. It’s corny, it’s cheesy, but it is what it is. And I am a very unashamed fan. Thank you for reading. Please comment!