Why Does Wrestling Continually Fail?

By | May 28, 2013

I had people over to the house to watch the Rumble on the Rails, the dual meet between the United States and Iran. Each of them are far from being wrestling aficionados, actually two of the three had never watched a match before.

Relative to the wrestling, here’s what I heard:

“I thought the objective was to pin a person’s shoulders to the mat? It doesn’t look like anyone is trying to do that.”

“They all look like they are trying not to lose versus win.”

“That guy lost the ball thing and still won the point. Doesn’t that mean he’s way better than the other guy? So why didn’t he just wrestle harder during the match and win it there?”

These are actual observations from intelligent people who watched the match and why wrestling IS NOT a television product.  Again, a USAWrestling failing with some assistance from FILA.

Wrestling isn’t difficult to fix, we just need to treat it as a business and work to elevate the brand by first determining the sports core objectives and market segments. This is exactly what businesses do on a daily and reoccurring basis, and wrestling has never done. That is why so many people have so many opinions regarding the sports direction and how to fix it – because of zero guiding principles.

I think the test whether or not a sport is ready for prime time should be, can you explain the core principles to a five year old? Basketball would be easy, the team who puts the ball in the basket more often than the other team wins. In soccer it’s the team who kicks the ball into the net more than the other team. Swimming and track are also easy, cross the finish line before everyone else.

I wonder what that same five year old would think after 15 minutes of listening to someone trying to explain the core principles of international wrestling?

Sports need to be fan friendly and simple if they want to have a place in today’s media arena. That’s how you begin to build a loyal and responsive fan base.

Wrestling needs to do a consumer group evaluation and compare it against other sports. Wrestling and softball for example. Then wrestling and squash, wrestling and badminton, and so on, to see exactly where our product ranks. Without analytics there is no aim – there is no target – there is no real gasp of what we’re trying to sell. This is so crystal clear to me that it’s painful to even type.

More Oversights and Screw-Ups

It was recently proposed to USA Wrestling that they honor world wrestling month (May) by doing daily press releases on the heroes of our sport. Bruce Baumgartner on Day 1 as an example, Dan Gable on Day 2, Kurt Angle on Day 3 then the Banach’s, the Scheer’s, the Schultz’s and so on. Basically all USAW had to do was copy and paste what is already written about these legends at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. It was simple, assign an intern to the task and have Gary Abbott supervise the output. From there send one out each day to USAWrestling’s extensive contact list and ask America’s other email list owners like the NWCA, Hall of Fame, Brute, Cliff Keen, the AAU, Kenny Chertow, Jack Roller and Ed Gutierrez do the same. I bet between those groups and others, plus college, high school and club coaches we’d reach over 1 million people a day. Can you imagine the impact? It might even be worth the expense to buy space on Yahoo Sports each day. But sadly, USAWrestling couldn’t find the time or have the interest.

Next was a “Fast Pitch Initiative” for the same time period. It was proposed that they arrange with every Major League Baseball club to have an Olympic medal winner throw out the 1st pitch at one of their games. When one of their very senior members of USAWrestling heard this he said, “wrestling is in competition with baseball, they’ll never do it.” That ended the conversation. As a result of their response four calls were made by a non USAW member to the Phillies, the Orioles, the Cubs and the White Sox. The Phillies immediately wanted to schedule it, the Orioles had 2 open dates, the Cubs and White Sox said we’re on board. So much for being in competition with them! This is typical Colorado Springs, they’re not possibility thinkers.

As most of you know, FILA changed quite a few rules two weeks ago to enhance the sport under pressure from the IOC. They instituted them right after the Rumble on the Rails at Grand Central Station as a way of demonstrating their immediate commitment to forward thinking and willingness to take direction. USAWrestling, in turn, parroted FILA’s wish for a new beginning. Making decisive and immediate changes was critical to wrestling’s future just as it was imperative that the IOC see the sport’s willingness for change. The only problem was USAWrestling failed to impart to their membership how critical these changes were and how immediate they needed to go into effect.

So at their Southeastern Regionals this past weekend USAW used the old rules instead of incorporating the new ones. I wonder how that might play out tomorrow at the IOC meeting should they learn of USAWrestling’s failure to follow FILA’s lead.  The light’s on in Colorado Springs but no one’s home.

These are only three examples of dysfunctional leadership that has more interest in keeping their jobs than doing their jobs. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that USAWrestling’s dedicated staff is in any way ineffective or myopic in their views, it’s the leadership that can’t find a lost golf ball in the middle of a sand trap.

The Time is Now

But I’m not alone in these thoughts that USAWrestling Needs New Leadership. My phone has been blowing up since I began writing these blogs. “How do we get them out?” is the main question everyone asks. From regular fans to coaches at every level of the spectrum, from politically connected leaders to equipment manufacturers; everyone is calling.

The time has come, change is absolutely needed and the Board of USAWrestling should convene for a vote of no confidence, and not wait until the September vote of the IOC to do it. Whatever happens in September isn’t contingent on what we do domestically and none of it changes the fact that adjustments are needed. And please, don’t think for one minute that shuffling posteriors from one chair to another will make a difference. It won’t! But if you think a simple fix like that will do, please stop reading.

USAWrestling and the sport of wrestling desperately need a non-wrestler leading the charge; an Executive Director who’s just that, an executive director. MBA credentials and a law degree would be nice.  If it were up to me, I’d hand everything over to Michael Novogratz, shake his hand and say, “thank you for helping!” I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know and wise enough to know who does.  Novogratz is the best America has to offer, he loves the sport as much as you and I do and he’s the one person I trust more than anyone else.

Just Plain Rude

During last weekend’s event in New York, the new President of FILA was introduced. He spoke for approximately 6 minutes and I don’t know if the crowd was predominately press corps, coaches, event sponsors, fans or whom, but watch the video, and listen to the crowd. I was appalled. Although the spectators weren’t visible, it was quite obvious that no one put their fork down or stopped talking long enough to honor the man who just became the leader of FILA.

Watch more video of Nenad Lalovic on flowrestling.org

This one isn’t leadership’s fault, it’s just bad manners. When someone has earned the right, as President Lalovic has, to be introduced and stand at a dais, he deserves respect. That means silverware is put down and conversations end. I can’t imagine what he was thinking but my guess is he thought we were rude; as he should have.

But that’s okay, “we’re wrestling,” and still another reason why we fail.