Bodyslams and Dollar Signs [REPOST]
In our world, some would call me a “mark” while others would call me a “smark”. The world I speak of is a community of millions around the world, people from all races, genders, creeds, socio-economic classes, political beliefs, and any other pointless stratification you can think of. We do all have one thing in common, though; we are all fans of professional wrestling.
For the vast majority of you reading this, your first reaction is, “Oh that fake sport? How can you like that?” A smaller minority of you will admit that you used to watch at one point or another and attempt to impress or try to relate to a true fan like me with the knowledge you acquired in that time period or something you have heard recently. A handful of you will admit that you, too, have a deep love of this spectacle.
Before we get too far, you need to accept and learn a few things. Most importantly, “fake” is an offensive word. The results of matches in the ring are predetermined, not fake. The difference is simple. Fake would imply that no one ever gets hit, that no one is hurt, that the action you are seeing is all done by special effects (I.E. 300, Star Wars, Back to the Future: Part III). These men and women, on the other hand, hit each other more often than they miss or take the punishment of a shot themselves so their opponent does not get hurt. Spinal fusion, ACL reattachment, stitches across various body parts, lost teeth, broken bones, post-concussion syndrome: these are all too common injuries in the life of a professional wrestler. The dangers are real, as the saying goes. I used to be involved in a backyard wrestling league and dislocated someone’s shoulder (a person twice my size) with a simple leg drop. But I was only a weekend warrior, the professional wrestlers of today are on the road 250 days a year taking the same punishment night after night!
That amount of days on the road sound familiar? That’s because it’s the same amount of time we consultants spend on the road as well. Palladium consultants have a lot more in common with your average professional wrestler than you may think. We share the same schedules: 4 days on the road, 1 day of promotions/office time, 2 days at home with our friends and family. We, thankfully, have the benefits of health insurance, expenses, and a comparatively steady schedule (we are in one town for three to four days, they are in a new town every night). Professional wrestlers, on the other hand, are “independent contractors” and have to pay their own way based on their contract amounts. There is no health insurance if something goes wrong, and you’d be remise to find an insurance company willing to take on someone with such a high risk lifestyle. And let us not forget that there are also camera operators, grips, directors, truck drivers, writers, promotional personal, and a plethora of others on the same schedule for hardly the same pay. Their sacrifices are barely ever known.
It is those types of “little things” that I try to bring to light in my weekly article for 411mania.com entitled “Hidden Highlights”. “Hidden Highlights” is all about the almost unnoticeable things that go into making a wrestling show look and feel better—anything from a wrestler putting more emphasis into his moves to an announcer referencing obscure history (continuity) to the camera man using an interesting angle. Might I add that 411mania is no “blog spot”. With 15-20 million impressions a month, 411mania is one of the top pop culture information destinations in the world (I’ve received e-mails from countries I have never heard of). Two years ago I applied for a job there with writing samples, a concept, and an example article. “Hidden Highlights” is actually my second anthology series for the site, but is one of the most widely read. The Wrestling Zone gets about 75% of the site’s hits, and as I said “Hidden Highlights” is one of the most popular articles. You do the math.
That brings us back to “marks” and “smarks”. A mark is someone who accepts the product as is and just enjoys what he sees. The term originates from the carnival days of professional wrestling in the early 1900’s. Back then, whenever wrestlers were in public and saw someone approach them, they would use the term “mark” to refer to the fan and that meant that it was time for them to slip back into character. After all, why would hated enemies be walking down the street together? “Smark” is an abbreviation of “Smart mark”, or someone who knows about the backstage politics and news of the industry. There is a generally negative connotation around the word “smark” as the type of person who lives in their parent’s basement, has no social skills, and lets backstage news affect how they view the product. For instance, knowing that Hulk Hogan used his political influence to change match endings to make himself look better makes the smark hate Hulk Hogan. It does not matter if the match was good or well received by the fan, the smark will not accept it because of a disdain for Hulk Hogan the person, not Hulk Hogan the character. It would be like watching Superman and saying, “I know that actor can’t even lift a 25 lbs dumbbell and therefore will not accept him as Superman.” Illogical, but the smark is still a prevalent part of the wrestling community makeup.
Since I know a lot of backstage information, many are inclined to label me a smark. Since I try to enjoy the product at face value and do not let wrestlers’ personal lives affect my judgment, I like to think of myself as a mark. Perhaps I truly lie somewhere in between in another pointless stratification?
This distinction is important to note on the weekend I recently had. From March 29th to April 3rd I was on a wrestling expedition. I (re)packed my bags and headed off to Detroit, MI for the biggest event of the year: WrestleMania 23. WrestleMania is the WWE’s (World Wrestling Entertainment [too much to go in to about what happened to the “F”]) SuperBowl. As a matter of fact, WrestleMania packed Ford Field with 80,103 fans, more than SuperBowl XL just a little over a year ago in the same venue. The WWE generated $5.38 million in ticket sales alone, not to mention an estimated $2.0 million in merchandise at the event. On PPV, the show is expected to top one million worldwide buys at $50 a piece. Plus the DVD comes out in just a month’s time. Wrestling is big business, and the WWE (a publicly traded company) has a market cap of $1.19 billion. Recently, their CFO was promoted to COO, and a new CFO was brought up from within the organization. A major restructuring seems like the perfect time for a certain strategy execution company to come in and help an essentially retail based firm out in Stamford, CT.
WrestleMania, for me, was not just the one night of excitement. Our journey included the Hall of Fame ceremony on Saturday night where legends of past were honored for contributions to the business. On Sunday, our New Zeeland contingent (we had people from as far away as New Zeeland in our group [too much to get in to about how we all know each other]) contacted an international relations representative they know in the WWE and got us backstage access to a special VIP party. I would like to thank WWE Chairman Vince McMahon for the delicious free food and drink. The show that night was filled to the rafters and then some with the 80,103 fans. In a way, it was very spiritual, to know that you are surrounded by people like yourself, who share a common belief or history. Honestly, it was akin to my recent trip to Israel.
The next night we drove from Detroit to Dayton, OH for the regular Monday Night RAW show which is broadcast live every week on the USA network. Even though the arena could barely hold 8,000 people, I found the crowd much more appreciative and ruckus than the crowd at WrestleMania. You see, WrestleMania was filled with smarks who require much more to be satisfied, with people who could afford and had the means to get tickets, with a crowd that needed more than could be offered. In Dayton, there were a lot more kids and people there didn’t travel as much. This was THE event that came to town, and they let the WWE know they were grateful for every second of it. That night, the show scored a 4.3 cable television rating, placing WWE RAW once again as the top cable program for the week.
RAW is consistently in the top 5 rated programs on cable television. It’s nearest competitor—Total Nonstop Action (TNA) on Spike TV—pulls in one-quarter the ratings. Still, TNA is only a four year old company and is growing by leaps and bounds every day. With an expanded second hour of television imminent, the WWE may find they have true competition in the near future. Meanwhile, the WWE also holds five of the top ten Sports DVD sports, rules network television on Friday nights, and owns more trademarks and copyrights than is worth counting. Like I said: big business.
Sadly, there is too much I’d like to share and not nearly enough space to do it in. This was the briefest of recaps I have written about my WrestleMania weekend. I can only say that my first WrestleMania was an unforgettable experience, and perhaps one I can repeat next year in Orlando. To read a lot more details on the experience, I recommend my:
Live Recap of the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony:
Hidden Highlights Issue #84 - WrestleMania 23 Live Edition:
And if you have any more questions about the wrestling business, I’m only an e-mail or phone call away.