What I would like to do now is begin to work toward the end of my How Wrestling Wins blog. It’s been very time consuming but I felt compelled to share a few of my thoughts and fears with our leaders and of course you, my readership.
Now I realize not everyone agrees with what I’ve written and for some, very little of what I’ve put to paper but in every case I know I’ve made each of you think. There’s nothing better a writer can do than make his readership think. It’s the largest compliment a man of letters can receive.
But we must stop kidding ourselves, wrestling is in deep trouble.
As to my opinions, many have asked how I come up with them. I guess the answer comes from my mother; she used to always say I was born asking “why.” To this day I still ask why. I challenge everything I read and hear and most of what I see. This inquisitiveness hasn’t always endeared me to those I come in contact with but what I found through the process of asking why is there seems to be evidence that suggests more of us should be doing it.
Because the word why has everything to do with 1) a lot of what we thought was true never was and 2) the world we live in being so dynamic that some of what was actually true 30 minutes ago isn’t anymore. So when you ask why it usually places you at least a half hour ahead of the competition.
Years ago it didn’t matter if the sport filled gymnasiums or wrestlers outnumbered spectators but today it does! Everything we do has to be about our bottom line and the depth of the hole we’re currently in.
I hope everyone understands that the more revenue we produce, the quicker the sports challenges disappear.
With few exceptions, whatever happens in a sport that’s bad gets whitewashed proportional to the income it produces.
If anyone in wrestling would have done or been accused of what a certain quarterback from Florida State was accused of, or did, what do you think would happen? Not only would the athlete have been thrown out of school but the program more than likely would have been dropped as well.
Now I’m not saying, indicating or even hinting that our sport is full of bad boys, to the contrary. But when challenges occur within an athletic department, only those who produce revenue get to walk away unscathed, which is a mirror of society in general. As to the question if that is right or wrong, that’s not the issue here. It is the way it is so until others answer those questions I think it’s wise if we play by the rules that are already in place. So, if we’re to ever cheat the hangman, wrestling has to become a revenue producer.
To be clear, sports have four noticeable revenue streams:
- Ticket sales.
- Broadcast rights.
- Merchandise licensing.
- Corporate sponsorships.
So how does wrestling fare:
- Ticket sales. NOTHING REMOTELY CLOSE TO SUSTAINABILITY. NO DIVISION IPROGRAM IN AMERICA MAKES MONEY.
- Broadcast rights. NONE. WE CAN’T EVEN GIVE OUR PROGRAMMING AWAY FOR FREE.
- Merchandise licensing. NON EXISTENT, WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU SAW A YOUNG PERSON WEARING A SWEATSHIRT WITH THE NAME DAKE OR TAYLOR ON THE BACK?
- Corporate sponsorships. TO FEW TO MENTION, AND WHAT WE DO HAVE AREN’T SPONSORSHIPS, THEY’RE REBATES FROM WRESTLING COMPANIES WHO GIVE BACK PROPORTIONALLY TO A PERCENTAGE OF THEIR SALES.
Regarding ticket sales, you’ll read that this year’s NCAA tournament set a new attendance record. That may be true for “paid attendance” but it’s far from being accurate relative to people sitting in the stands. I know what the NCAA was trying to do, and it’s commendable, but it gives the wrestling community a sense of relief that the sport isn’t in that bad of shape.
What the NCAA doesn’t understand about wrestling or maybe it does is many in our sport don’t understand marketing semantics or political wordsmithing.
In the case of “paid attendance” the NCAA chose their words carefully. They made the decision to highlight the positive when the fact was there were an alarming number of unoccupied seats at this year’s event as well as in previous years.
What others think:
“With Wade’s intimate knowledge of wrestling, he calls to the mat the leaders of this community in an attempt to save the sport from extinction. Whether you agree with Wade’s opinion or not, this is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of wrestling.”
As to political wordsmithing, when an athletic director says “if you don’t improve your revenue numbers things could get difficult” coaches hear, “could you please work on getting more people to come to your meets.”
That’s a very large mistake because what was just said was, “I’m getting ready to drop your sport unless I see a significant attitude change on your part and a heck of a lot more tickets being sold.”
Then when the program is dropped the coach is absolutely stunned. He feels he was never warned and the administrator knows his message couldn’t have been clearer. There’s just a very noticeable disconnect between the black and white of wrestling and the greys of administration. If Darwin were alive today he’d redefine his survival of the fittest theory to read; those who can see the widest spectrum of greys are the ones who live.
As to this year’s NCAA’s, the fact remains that wrestling is in serious spectator decline.
“Your Honor, I’d like to submit into evidence Exhibit A.” They are photographs of this year’s NCAA tournament in St. Louis. They were all taken a few minutes after Sandy Stephens welcomed the crowd to each new round of the tournament. It’s a little hard to see, but I’d like to direct the jury to look to the upper decks where those seats where more empty than full.
For the first round Thursday morning.
For the second round Thursday evening.
For the Quarter-Finals Friday morning.
For the Semi-Finals Friday evening.
Now I do commend the NCAA for releasing paid attendance numbers. That does make the sport a winner financially and it does reflect a solid marketing effort on their part. But in doing so it gives the wrestling community hope that the sport is growing, or at least doing nicely when clearly it’s not.
Remember, the NCAA tournament is wrestling’s flagship event but unfortunately it has a gash in its side larger than the one that sank the Titanic.
What message do you think this sends those viewers who are watching wrestling for the first time on ESPN? Remember this is the biggest wrestling event in the world. It’s twice as big as the Olympics and the sport has empty seats in the middle of the arena in the lower bowl? I know what that says to me; the sport isn’t worth watching. It doesn’t matter if it’s true; it’s the perception that counts.
Regarding broadcast rights; I’m glad we have so little. Why would we want anyone to see a show that any network would cancel in its first week of being aired? Putting our sport on television only reminds potential fans why they need to continue to be not interested fans.
Now I realize that’s not true for the 1/100th of 1% of America’s sport spectators who go to wrestling but for the other 99.99% whom we need to attract to survive it’s true. Until we build excitement into our sport, we shouldn’t consider the notion that broadcasting is an end all, be all to our problems.
Being broadcasted does the opposite of what our spectators think it does.
Merchandise licensing; there are a few wrestlers and programs that have licensing deals but they are all with companies within the sport like Cliff Keen, Brute, Asics etc. This does little to help wrestling. When money comes from within and goes back to within that isn’t growth.
Corporate sponsorships; wrestling needs companies such as Avis, Coke, Merrill Lynch and McDonalds et al to see the benefits of being involved with our sport. But right now that’s so far away from happening that we’re on another planet as far as they’re concerned.
We have to stop saving the sport and start growing the sport if we’re to survive.
We must find ways to encourage our rules committee to change scoring in a way that motivates coaches to incentivize their athletes to produce double digit bouts.
We also have to do much more than we’re doing to say “thank you” to those in the stands by our actions. I’ll only give you one example out of about a dozen I would insist on if I were in charge of consumer happiness and one not so unique change to bracketing.
I’d throw all our score clocks in the East river along with the white foam board numbers they place on top of the clocks. Can you imagine going to a Broadway play where the house placed 3 wrestling clocks on the front of the stage between the actors and the audience?
What’s the difference between that and what we do in wrestling? Who’s in charge of this or do we even have anyone in charge? Placement of those clocks in the middle of the action is thoughtless, inconsiderate and rude.
In today’s world of computers, Bluetooth technology and Wi-Fi connectivity, why don’t we have the ability to project a scoreboard on the surface of the mat and while we’re at it make it available electronically to everyone’s cellphone or tablet? At a minimum, suspend each clock from the ceiling so they’re over the center of each mat and out of everyone’s line of sight.
While I’m feeling my oats here, who was the genius who approved putting Mat 4’s clock on the floor during the semi-finals then allowing two cameramen to sit on chairs in front of it? That’s the same as turning off the score board for an NBA game so the fans have to guess how much time is left and who’s winning. And should I mention that unless you’re an eagle or under the age of 30, who can read those clocks with their 4 pica digits?
Regarding the brackets, I’d like to think this is my idea but it’s not. It comes from basketball and wrestling should do it not because it helps the action or woos any spectator. It’s just one of many things I’d do if I were in charge to support my “New and Improved” marketing campaign that I’d begin once I had the sport back on its feet.
I’d like to continue seeding 16 per weight class like they’re currently doing but modify it to mirror NCAA basketball. When other sports get things right, plagiarism isn’t really cheating, it’s the sincerest form of flattery. Here’s what they do and we should mirror. Have four 1st seeds per weight, four 2nd seeds, four 3rd seeds and four 4th seeds. Instead of 1st through 16th seed, elevate the worth of those who receive a seed. Make the Top 4 seeds in wrestling (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) all become a 1st seed in their quarter bracket. Those seeded 5th through 8th become 2nd seeds in their quarter bracket. Those seeded 9th through 12th become 3rd seeds and 13th through 16th become 4th seeds.
This doesn’t hurt the event or the basis of what seeds do . . . keep the best wrestlers apart as long as possible. But this change does encourage more home town papers to have an interest in their native sons who were given a higher seed that what they receive now while visually supporting the sports “New and Improved” marketing slogan.
If you’d like to take bracketing a little further copy basketball again by splitting our 32 man brackets into two 16 man brackets which are facing one another. So after each round our top athletes are moving ever closer to one another; in essence they’re on a collision course.
And for goodness sake, stop treating the spectators at the NCAA’s like idiots by taking the time to explain the rules. You never ever, ever, ever, ever hear that at a tennis match, golf event, football game or swim meet. But not wrestling, we know our fans are low information voters and need the help. It’s rude and offensive. Even if you think it’s necessary, whether you’re teaching a special needs or academically advanced class, you never talk down to anyone, let alone those who are supporting the sport with their dollars and in essence allowing you to have the job you have.
What others think:
“I read your blog and am challenged by it, enjoy it. Keep asking and answering the difficult questions.”
Joe Russell, Head Coach
George Mason University
Oh by the way, Northern State (South Dakota) and Cleveland State just dropped wrestling. I’ll forgo any mention of shock because I’m not shocked. Dismayed yes, shocked no.
But not dismayed in the way you might think. The loss of any program is a catastrophe but in Cleveland’s case even more so for the sport. The university is located in the epicenter of the nation’s strongest high school programs for wrestling and home of St. Paris Graham, this year’s national champions. Cleveland State hosted the NCAA Division I National Championship a few years ago and the city is also home of Notre Dame College, last year’s Division II National Wrestling Champions. And the program is located in the state that houses the current NCAA Division I National Championship Team not to mention Cleveland borders on Congressman Jim Jordan’s District or that the state has over 600 high school programs participating in the sport.
Instead, I’m deeply discouraged at the way I know the sport is going to respond to the loss of these programs. We’ll mobilize the troops and head toward Aberdeen, SD and Cleveland, OH for the purpose of doing battle while overlooking the real enemy . . . the sport of wrestling itself.
The battle we have to win isn’t external, it’s internal. Until our leadership decides to take on the much larger and more difficult issues of deciding to decide and then change there will be more Cleveland State’s in our future; actually a hell of a lot more.
This is what my How Wrestling Wins has been all about. Pulling together a collation of our sports most powerful men and it’s not those who head USAW, the Hall of Fame, the NWCA or coach some of the nation’s top programs. I’m talking about business and political giants who love wrestling and collectively have the guts, gumption and power to make the changes the sport must make. Even at the ire of those in the sport who are used to calling the shots.
We definitely, positively don’t need people to be involved who are part of the sport during this rebirth. For the answers to our survival as a sport isn’t wrestling related; it’s business centric. And if there’s one thing our sport has demonstrated for over a century, it doesn’t have a clue about product development, placement or sales.
Remember, at one time wrestling was the #1 spectator sport in the entire world! Now the only time wrestling is mentioned in any of the major newspapers is when someone writes, “Homeland Security has to grapple with Congress over the new budget” or the headline “Christie Pinned by Bridgegate.” The sport has all but disappeared and been reduced to simple metaphors.
Should we do battle with the administrators at Northern and Cleveland State’s, we will because that is what we’ve always done. Is the battle worth taking on, I guess, but the one thing we should NEVER do is pay the ransoms those schools are asking for reinstatement.
When Cleveland says if you give us $800,000.00 it would go a long way to you achieving your goal and Northern a number I haven’t heard what it is yet, this is extortion. We’ve done this before at other schools and all that did was start the chain reaction of events we’re seeing today.
If you think the word isn’t out among Athletic Directors that if you want financial relief from fund raising drop wrestling. The sport has access to money and they have a history of coming to its rescue.
So as quickly as we bailed the first program out, a second one popped up. It’s been like wrestling’s edition of Whack-a-Mole ever since with no end in sight . . . and we caused it ourselves!
Winning is a national effort, fighting these little but significant battles only assures that wrestling will continue to be dismantled. We need to stop swatting at mosquitos and spray their breeding grounds if we want to stop itching. Wrestling needs to realize there is a much larger picture they’re not seeing.
Next week I’ll finish How Wrestling Wins so there is a conclusion to my attempt to educate those who have become misguided over the decades to what wrestling has become and where it needs to go.
Chapter 16 next Sunday.