I began to talk about this in How Wrestling Wins but I wanted to revisit it. For its wrestling’s skeleton, the framework that supports the challenge we have of making the sport relevant.
Think for a moment, you just bought a failing restaurant at a good price. You’ve always wanted to be in the food industry and the stars were aligned to make it happen. What now?
The first step in any business with challenges is to determine why the enterprise failed? Actually it should have been done before the contracts were signed. You needed to see if the problems the restaurant had could be fixed and then at what price? The best way to start this process is to employ a marketing company to survey those who live in the vicinity of the restaurant to find out what the problems are? Why didn’t the locals patronize the establishment or if they did, what happened that caused them not to return?
Wrestling for whatever reason hasn’t done that and I’m confused as to the why? We’re failing in an entertainment industry that’s booming with dollars, spectator appeal and an endless growth curve. Yet our leadership is either 1) fearful of what they might find with a survey, 2) are unknowing of simple business practices that leads up to doing a survey or possibly 3) so fanatically competitive that they don’t want to know what’s wrong. But not knowing the basis of our decline is the basis for our decline. I hope that makes sense?
If you don’t know what’s broken, how can you expect to fix it? And if I were to venture a guess, I think it’s a little of all three I mentioned with strong emphasis on the last one; fanatical competitiveness.
The sport simply doesn’t allow any one individual or organization to fix that which ails us. No one in power wants to see a counterpart let alone someone from outside their inner circle receive credit for putting the train back on the track.
It’s an interesting dynamic, organization against organization, power broker against power broker all in an attempt to protect each ones piece of the pie.
Yet each will passionately indicate they’re all on board with strengthening the sport but the only way that will happen is through the creation of commissions where everyone is involved. That’s what we’ve always done and it’s the only way they can minimize the paranoia they feel about their counterparts gaining power.
If you look back in our history, you’ll see quite a few examples of our organizations getting together with great fanfare for the purpose of making a difference. Then a business cycle or two later without great fanfare someone wonders aloud, “what ever happened to that group?”
The answer is they seldom if ever reach consensus on anything. Their fanatical competitiveness, which in one way makes wrestling a wonderful developmental sport for our young men and women, sadly becomes the basis for the sports failures.
Each leader starts with enthusiastic intent to raise the bar but the obsessive will to win derails the discussions. The individual instinct to succeed overrides logic just as emotion overrides logic. This outcome occurs because the sport teaches us to find weaknesses in our opponents and then exploit them so the focus of meetings isn’t to find a way to make a proposal work but rather, to find its weaknesses so they can be pointed out at the expense of the proposal.
That’s what we do in wrestling, we’ve been taught you either get the takedown or you don’t, we don’t have a mechanism in place for an athlete to receive a point for a great attempt or a point and a half if it’s almost successful. We live in a sport of all or nothing. That’s how we’ve been trained and it’s why we always look for a 100% fix of something when deciding to make a change. We’re not interested in an 87% solution, even if the current challenge we’re trying to fix is performing at 54%.
This is why the sport desperately needs outside help from individuals who can see the merits of certain change that might not be perfect but considerably better than what we have. This is the how and why we’ve been stumbling through decades of decline and it’s tough to blame any one individual or organization; although at times I do when it’s too obvious to overlook. Each one of us is a product of our environment, and that’s the proverbial good news-bad news story of wrestling.
The result of this fanatical competitiveness is my restaurant analogy. If the quality of the food receives strong marks in a survey but cockroaches can be seen scurrying about the dining room during the day the fix is easy; call Terminix. But you wouldn’t overlook the infestation and then paint the walls, buy different table cloths and hold a grand opening.
That’s sort of how wrestling approaches challenges. Leadership doesn’t ignore problems, they just don’t know what the problems are? And even if they did, they don’t have a clue which ones to tackle first.
That’s how we approach everything and it’s like shooting at a target in the dark. Sometimes you hit the mark but most of the time you miss the paper. When we don’t have data or an assessable analysis, we’re playing blind man’s bluff.
Now occasionally we do get it right. As an example, the rules committee did good when it enacted the one foot in bounds for takedowns rule and the one where pins can occur with the defensive man’s shoulders out of bounds. As much as I celebrate those changes, good job guys, in the big picture they’re small alterations, similar to handing buckets out to passenger’s on the Titanic.
What wrestling needs before we do anything else is a survey to find out what the sporting community thinks, not what our leadership tells us OR our current spectators feel. Basically, what we’ve done by our actions or inaction has us where we are today.
And talking about blunders, something a marketing company would immediately point out as being a huge error on our parts is the notion that television is the way to go.
Nothing could be further from the truth because . . .
Television doesn’t make anything popular; it only makes it public.
What do you think about inviting the local television station to attend your restaurants Grand Opening? If you think that’s a good idea, raise your hand. Go on, don’t be shy, put your hand in the air. We’ve been doing that for decades, exactly what leadership has told us we need to do.
Okay, let’s go back to the cockroaches for a moment and ask that same question again. If you hadn’t called Terminix and television showed up and the entire city got to watch those little creatures sharing a meal alongside the patrons what do you think the fallout would be?
Television doesn’t make anything popular; it only makes it public.
Being broadcast is the last thing wrestling needs right now, that is until we make the sport engaging enough to become entertaining and user friendly enough to be a pleasant way to spend 2 hours.
It’s my assessment, and granted this is my opinion, that every time a wrestling event is aired, we lose far, far, far more potential spectators than we attract because the sport, our product, is grossly inferior to what’s currently out there in the marketplace.
What does it say to those who are channel surfing when they stumble onto the World Team Trials or Pan American Championships and see a venue that has five empty seats for every one that’s occupied?
Why is it our leadership never seems to understand the absolute need to control the environment when events are being broadcast. Spectators should be required to fill the lower bowl on one side of the gym opposite the cameras before other seats become available. This is so Marketing 101 that it’s boggles my mind why wrestling doesn’t get it?
If I were wrong about how bad wrestling is as a spectator sport, broadcasters would be paying us to air our events instead of the reverse. And America’s businesses would be lining up to become sponsors and spend their advertising dollars on our sport. In the absence of any of this, leadership keeps paying broadcasters and we keep declining.
To summarize, television does not have a place in wrestling’s immediate future; until we improve the product.
Back to the restaurant; if you found out through the survey that the quality of the food was the source of the businesses decline, what would you do first, advertise or hire a new chef? The answer is daa, you’d never recover if you advertised first. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing and wondering why we’re still declining.
The only way we can possible get better is to find out what’s wrong in the sport and that’s through surveys not of our coaches or athletes, or our current spectators but of the general population. That’s the only way to assess the sports strengths and weaknesses, by asking the right kind of questions of those who aren’t currently involved in our sport.
Now I’ve heard hundreds of suggestions for improvement over the years from the wrestling community. Many of them are outstanding ideas but few if any fall into the category of initial must-dos. Putting the cart before the horse or holding an open house before the arrival of Terminix doesn’t work.
If you want to know what I think should be first, read the last two How Wrestling Wins and if you find them entertaining or insightful, read a couple more.