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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Different Types of Wrestling Fans
By The Doc
Nov 19, 2013 - 11:20:32 PM

The Snowman is a genius

It has been an interesting year for the WWE. I have been writing for LOP for almost ten years now either as a reviewer or columnist, interacting with fans of all ages from around the globe. Never in that period can I recall there being a greater division between what the fans of professional wrestling want in the WWE product than I have seen in 2013. Wrestlemania 29 clearly catered to different sect of the fan base than the one that makes up the bulk of our readers at LOP. Many of you blasted the WWE for their failure to use current stars; some even skipped Wrestlemania altogether. In a decade, I had never seen so much hate for a Wrestlemania card or as much disappointment in the execution (which, like the card itself, drew a very mixed critical reaction from different groups of enthusiasts). 1 million buys for a third straight year showed that a lot of people cared about Mania even if the internet crowd thought it not up to standard. Summerslam, conversely, was a dream scenario for one group of fans, lauded by critics across the board, but viewed by a substantially smaller number of people than is considered fiscally acceptable.

The wrestling fan base has changed as the world has changed and with that change has come a number of different groups that want different things. Since the WWE is the only major wrestling company, it seemingly picks and chooses from which parts of the audience it most desires to placate in any given month. Clearly, Wrestlemania and Summerslam were driven by separate forces. I could not honestly tell you who the WWE was trying to please with Survivor Series, providing as good an example as any that it has become just another PPV. Seeing as though Survivor Series interests me as much as washing and drying my socks, I decided to take a deeper look at the current fan base and its different brands of enthusiasts. I have narrowed it down to three types, each with its own subset of two categories, and have attempted to detail which groups that the WWE prefers and when they are most likely to cater to them.

Type A: The Biggest Fans

*Category 1: The Ultimate* - Given the fact that so many fans that are part of the internet wrestling community have come to strongly dislike being lumped into that group due to its negative stigma, I have renamed it “The Ultimate.” This is the type of fan that loves wrestling so much that he/she will make it a part of his/her daily routine to read about it, listen to shows that talk about it, or find any other media outlet that covers it. Some may even go so far as to write critical reviews, columns, and/or books about wrestling. The WWE clearly does not cater to this group. Oddly, it seems as if major pro wrestling companies have always scoffed at this kind of fan instead of embracing it. While I can neither confirm nor deny the feelings of top executives, it often comes across as though people like Vince McMahon still view “Ultimate” level fans as the booger eaters in their parents’ basements. In reality, the “Ultimate” has created numerous avenues for companies like WWE to get attention that they otherwise would not get. It might not be the attention that they want, but is not one of Vince’s famous sayings, “any press is good press”? With the internet now the primary resource for information, the “Ultimate” is a fan category that grows by the year and has become more influential over the past decade. The thirst for insider news has bred a legion of enthusiasts that are very vocal in sharing their opinions, often cluing in other members of the fan base as to the happenings to which they would not otherwise be privy. In essence, this is our category of fan, including those of us that provide you with that outlet for information.

*Category 2: The Diehard* - Seemingly, this is the more acceptable subcategory of the “Biggest” fans. These folks may not jump online every day to quench a thirst for wrestling knowledge, but there should be no questioning their passion for pro wrestling. For all intents and purposes, the WWE loves them. They travel across continents to attend Wrestlemanias every year, buy the DVDs featuring top superstar documentaries and “greatest match” compilations, and boisterously pack arenas across the globe. They are not considered “smart marks,” but they are definitely intelligent fans that are relatively “in the know.” Terms that most smarks feel are reserved only for their exclusive club are by no means lost on the “Diehard.” Well versed in the “lingo” through books, magazines, JR’s blog, or otherwise, the “Diehard” can carry on a full-length conversation with anyone for any length of time about the key points in their wrestling fandom. Basically, the difference between them and the “Ultimate” is the same difference between the sports fan that watches every week(end) and knows most of the players (“Diehard”) and the fan that reads Scouts.com religiously for college recruiting and has an ESPN Insider account to follow the draft status of the top players about to enter the pro ranks (“Ultimate”). An argument can be made that the “Ultimate” has become the fan that determines which wrestlers actually get over, cueing the “Diehard” to join them in the vocal minority and prompting the rest of the fan base to follow suit.

What the WWE wants from this type of fan is for them to collectively pour their passion into their product, but what the WWE gets from this type of fan, additionally, is a passion that holds them accountable and prevents them from resting on their laurels during a time when they otherwise have no competition in pro wrestling. They pump energy into the fan base and the WWE loves that. Yet, they also spread gossip like high school kids and the WWE (much like the NFL and NBA here in the States) probably hates that. We are a double-edged sword, us “Biggest” fans, sustaining our interest in pro wrestling but with an inability to accept anything less than maximum potential of a product.

Type B: The General Fan

*Category 1: The Pastimer* - This type of fan caught the pro wrestling bug when they were a kid and grew up watching it like many kids do baseball or soccer. Back then, wrestling was like a step up from a cartoon ala the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Thundercats. Something about it drew him/her in and it managed to stick with them. However, they treat wrestling as they age like they do comic books. You would really have to pry it out of them to discover that they watch it, but if you did they could hold a conversation about it easily. The only caveat would be that they would constantly reference the past even if in the midst of a current wrestling event. “There’s nobody like #this guy# anymore,” they might often say. Nevertheless, all they really need is an excuse to get back into it. Little does anyone know that they have a collection of wrestling items somewhere in their house and when their kids or friends’ kids or nieces/nephews watch, they are more than a little obvious in their enjoyment of taking part in watching “that wrestling” with the younglings. It may be one of their less societally accepted pastimes, but they secretly love it. The WWE tries to attract this group during Wrestlemania and Summerslam seasons, especially, drawing them in with nostalgia. In the Wrestlemania Era, the number of this type of fan has grown substantially.

*Category 2: The Habitual* - The WWE’s favorite fan group, the “Habitual” is the viewer that watches every week on TV and buys almost every PPV more or less because that’s just what they do. The “Habitual” found wrestling to be thoroughly enjoyable at some point, perhaps influenced by a more enthusiastic viewer. A particular storyline got them hooked and they’ve been watching Raw and Smackdown ever since, regularly ordering the PPV if at least one match piques their interest. The bottom line is that they are just entertained by wrestling. Some people watch football on the weekends and some Thursdays; the “Habitual” watches wrestling on Monday, Friday, and some Sundays. This type of fan drives the Nielsen ratings and the majority of the PPV buyrates, encompassing a wide variety of ages. Kids come into play, here, contributing a great deal to the merchandise sales of a non-video sort. They buy t-shirts, action figures, toy belts, and the fluff that the WWE designs specifically to entice them. If a fan from the “Biggest” group tried to engage any of these types of fans in a conversation, there would be a notable contrast in interest level. For instance, I once encountered a woman and her son on my flight to Orlando for my second live Wrestlemania. She was about to go to her seventh in a row and, in our brief chat, I could not discern any particular reason why she felt compelled to go. There was no tangible explanation for her – not the history or the pageantry or a particular match – she was just going because it was fun. These fans cannot get enough wrestling and are easily influenced.

What the WWE wants from this type of fan, it usually gets. Lots and lots of money throughout the year comes from Type B. There aren’t as many of these types domestically, anymore, but there sure are a lot of them across the globe. The column I wrote a few weeks ago about WWE profits can largely be attributed to the general fan base, particularly during non-Wrestlemania season.

Type C: The Casual Fan

*Category 1: The Follower* - There is some interest in wrestling for these people, but they basically just watch it because someone else does. The “Follower” will not go out of his/her way to catch Raw, for example, but he/she will watch it if it is on thanks to someone else tuning the channel to USA Network at 9PM on a Monday or an advertisement making it seem as if others might do the same. These fans might be attracted by such advanced hype as a “Live Sex Celebration” or some other catchy headline that suggests a must-see affair. On occasion, the preview of a title match a few days or hours in advance might be enough to convince them. By and large, the “Follower” – as it pertains to wrestling – stays in a perpetual state of being the horse chasing the carrot. They seek their entertainment fix through avenues that they deem relevant to their social groups. Akin to the person that just watches football during the biggest college games or the NFL Playoffs and Super Bowl OR the person that gets into soccer only during the World Cup or European Championships, the “Follower” is an attractive target for WWE marketing during their most popular seasons. The WWE banks on these people for Wrestlemania. They do not refer to Mania in the same sentence as the Super Bowl or World Series just because they are all the culminative events on their respective calendars; it is also because their names alone draw interest from people that otherwise would not watch. The greatest advance in Wrestlemania lore from the past decade has been its stature in the pop culture lexicon. “Followers” will now watch it just because its Wrestlemania.

*Category 2: The Billboard* - The difference between a Wrestlemania that draws over a million buys and the one that draws just under a million buys can often be attributed to how well the WWE attracts the final type of fan that we will discuss today: the “Billboard.” These are the people that are almost solely attracted to wrestling based on the celebrities involved. Only one Wrestlemania in history that drew over a million buys failed to prominently feature a celebrity (X-Seven). The other five have slapped a name (or names) with marquee appeal on the card and put them in a major angle or match. I guarantee you that if Mickey Rourke had wrestled Chris Jericho at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania that WM25 would have easily eclipsed the one million mark because the “Billboard” fan would have eaten it up. The “Billboard” is the reason why the WWE invites Snooki and Maria Menounos into their ring on the biggest show of the year.

If you’re anything like me, you can think of a few people that you know that fall into each of the above categories. Do you have any suggestions for another category? Please share.

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