Before we get into this week, a quick stunning surprise to me: with this, I will have completed my seventh year of this column. That does not seem remotely possible and I wound up liking it a heck of a lot more than I expected to. It is a different style of writing than I am used to doing and it has been a lot of fun. I’ll be continuing it for a good while, as it lets me look at wrestling in another way. Thanks for reading along for the last seven years (seriously, that should not be possible) and with that out of the way, let’s get to it this week.
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed just about everything involving wrestling at one point or another over the last year and a half. The good thing is that things are about to get back to normal though, at least in WWE, as the fans will be back in less than a month. That change is a long time in coming, and since the wrestlers are basically going to be starting over in a sense, it would be smart if WWE started doing something involving the fans a lot more frequently.
Lance Storm (who has more simple yet insightful sayings than almost anyone in wrestling) once said that it makes sense to play to the camera in wrestling because there are a lot more people on the other side of it than there are in the arena. Now that makes perfect sense as it is absolutely right, but there are still quite a few people in the arena (at least in theory). Those people deserve some attention as well, and there is something WWE can have its wrestlers to do cater to them a bit more.
When you look back at wrestling over the years, there are a few things that you keep seeing in one form or another. One of the most important is getting the crowd invested in the match or segment that is taking place in front of them, but for some reason this has become a nearly lost art form. It is not completely extinct and there are still people who know how to do it, but for some reason you just do not see it as often these days and that is a shame.
The art of playing to the crowd has become increasingly lost over the years. There are so many easy examples of this and they tend to be associated with some of the bigger names in wrestling. You have Hulk Hogan putting his hand to his ears and then asking WHATCHA GONNA DO, Steve Austin saying “If you want to see X, give me a H*** YEAH!” and roughly 39 different Rock catchphrases, just to name some of the bigger ones throughout the last generation.
It can be done by anyone in wrestling (“Sit down fat boy!” from Ric Flair and Chris Jericho putting people on the List spring to mind on the dark side) but it all comes down to the same thing: get the people involved and have them feel like they are being acknowledged. For some reason this has become more and more of a lost art these days, with a few big ones still being around (Jericho and the Judas Sing A Long for instance) but they are becoming fewer and farther between.
How many wrestlers do you see come out, do their promos, and maybe say a catchphrase? The fans might say it along with them, but how many wrestlers either talk directly to the fans or acknowledge them in some way? It isn’t even like it takes very long to do and the fans are suddenly far more invested than they would have been otherwise. The wrestlers are supposed to keep the fans engaged, so why not speak to them a little bit and make them feel like they matter?
It isn’t even like this is a hard thing to make work, even multiple times throughout the course of a show. The wrestlers don’t need to go out and conduct a live survey with the fans or even anything close. A simple “what do you all think of that” or “I’m going to do it right here tonight in” whatever town they’re in. If you remember, John Cena had a catchphrase during the US Open Challenge, as he would say “it looks like *insert town here* is the place to be.”.
Really that’s about all you need to do. Just mention something that you know the fans are going to like and get them involved, even for a few moments. It might be the definition of a cheap pop, but how many wrestlers come out to complete silence and then leave to even silenter silence? Mick Foley nearly made another career out of cheap pops and he is certainly not alone. Wrestlers keep using this idea since they began playing to the crowd and it will always work.
I can’t imagine it is that hard to figure out that fans are there and finding a way to keep the people engaged in the show is not the hardest thing in the world. Sitting around for three hours is not exactly a simple concept, so throwing something out there every now and then helps. Get the fans’ attention again and you might even be able to keep them paying attention for the rest of the night. It isn’t like everything else that WWE has been doing as of late would be keeping the fans all that interested in the first place. Maybe it could even help them get through whatever Alexa Bliss is doing that week.
This is something that has been done for years and it is something that any wrestler today can do so easily. It is just a matter of making the fans know that they matter more in a way other than just occupying a seat. By talking to the fans in some way, or even just acknowledging that they are there, it brings up the energy of the show in a big way. That has been the case for all of wrestling history and it still is the case today.
If you need any proof, just look at probably the most famous home crowd in modern wrestling history: the ECW Arena. There were a lot of problems in ECW, but crowd energy was never one of them. The ECW roster figured out how to play to their fans and it brought the company to a level that it never would have been able to reach otherwise. Promotions such as NXT and (to a lesser extent) AEW have figured this out as well. You would think that WWE would want a bit of that excitement, but that is not what we see most of the time.
When you think of modern WWE, energy is not one of the things that often springs to mind. While there are several reasons that might be the case, one of the biggest is that the fans do not seem to be engaged by anything that they are seeing. Instead of being a part of the show, it feels more like the crowd is on the outside looking in. That takes away so much of the potential energy that a show could have, which seems like such a waste of what could be there.
WWE is practically coming into a new world when its fans come back to the events. They have made a huge deal about the fans coming back and it would make all the sense in the world to acknowledge them during the shows. It doesn’t need to be something like a big tribute to them, because it would be a lot better to do more than that. The fans are the people who are the big change to almost everything that WWE is doing going forward. Treat them like they are there, because it makes things better for all of the people on the other side of the camera.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books.
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