Wrestling as a Restaurant

By | July 21, 2015

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.

16 thoughts on “Wrestling as a Restaurant

  1. Rick S.

    I strongly agree with the suggestion of marketing surveys.

    Unfortunately, the goal of your style of wrestling and your target group of spectators aren’t clear.

    Are you going to do a survey among your coaches to determine your style of wrestling?

    Are you going to do a survey among your coaches to determine your target group of spectators?

    Is wrestling like chess where you have knowledgeable spectators? How do you create knowledgeable spectators? Knowledgeable spectators aren’t born, they are created. Do you plan to teach wrestling, as a martial art, much as judo or karate are taught, in a dojo to adults? These adults may never be any good at wrestling, but at least they will be knowledgeable. Perhaps you can get them to go to a dojo by saying the sport is good exercise and helps teach self defence.

    Are you focused on he casual spectator who knows nothing, who continually asks, where’s the action? Where’s the entertainment? What is entertaining about wrestling?

    A take down/stand up style of wrestling can be entertaining if that’s what you say you are and that’s what you give to the spectators. It could be billed as a hit and run style of wrestling like karate.

    A pin/submission style of wrestling can be entertaining if that’s what you say you are and that’s what you give to the spectators. There are NAGA, MMA, other types of wrestling/martial art styles.

    I assume you want the casual spectator.

    I doubt if the casual spectator can spot what is happening in a wrestling match unless something clearly happens, such as a take down, pin, something. How much of it will appear as if nothing is happening, if the two wrestlers are avoiding each other or just playing defence? How long will the casual spectator remain entertained?

    How many casual spectators only go to wrestling matches because they have a child who is wrestling? Ever see a spectator at a wrestling match who can’t answer the question, which boy is your son or nephew? How do you even bring casual spectators in?

    What is your style of wrestling and who are your target spectators?

    Don’t answer you have a style of wrestling that emphasizes pinning if you don’t. Don’t answer you have a take down style if all that happens are defensive matches where only 1 or 2 points are scored.

    Maybe putting lots of team points on the board will help, if for no other reason, it might lead to more action.

    Spectators paid to see 6 minutes of action and deserve 6 minutes of action.

    Get rid of the practice of ending the match by technical fall.

    I would even suggest, change the rule where a match ends early if a pin is scored. If a pin is scored, stand the two wrestlers up and let them wrestle for another pin. End the match after 6 minutes, unless a pin is eminent, in which case, let the match go longer to give the boy a chance to score a final pin.

    Yes, if one wrestler outclasses another wrestler, he may score several pins in 6 minutes. Good. Lots of action and excitement and entertainment. Let’s see how many ways times he can pin his opponent in 6 minutes. Let’s see how many different ways he uses to pin his opponent in 6 minutes.

    You make this change so a pin doesn’t end a match early and you can more easily give team points on the board for pins. If a pin is worth 5 take downs, a wrestler can decide if he goes for take down after take down or goes for pin after pin.

    Kill forfeits. Spectators paid to see wrestling.

    1. Wade Schalles

      Rick . . . you lost me in the first half of your comments. It appears you haven’t been following How Wrestling Wins or you would have already had those questions answered.

      I did like the suggestion of allowing athletes to stay out on the mat after a pin and wrestle the entire time. All be it that it comes with a bunch of “what ifs and legitimate concerns” that would have to be addressed. But it would keep our legends, hero’s and those who can constantly create action on the mat longer.

      That rule change does have many upsides but like society today and no mater what you say, you’re always offending someone, there will be those who are offended by this or any suggestion you or I make.

      The reason for the Tech Fall was to stop “bullying” or “embarrassing” a lesser athlete when bouts were mis-matches. The same could be argued regarding allowing multiple falls to take place. But the upsides for me outweigh the downsides.

      There is only one style of wrestling – folkstyle. Sure we have the two Olympic styles but BY FAR AND AWAY the style that counts the most in America is the one we practice in elementary, middle and high schools as well as through the college years. Folkstyle is America’s style. And will be for a long time to come but it does create some debate.

      The reason for a survey is to find out what spectators like? Would they like to see submissions as an example? If a majority do, then we should at least entertain the notion and have some serious discussions about it. Wayne Baughman, the retired wrestling legend and old Air Force Academy coach recommended that very thing over two decades ago and was laughed out of the room. Wonder who’s getting the last laugh now given there’s something called the UFC out there who’s doing very well utilizing takedowns, reversals and submissions.


      1. RIck S.

        I agree, you need to find out what spectators like.

        I have been following the discussion.

        That is one part of marketing.

        Another part of marketing is determining the product you are able to sell. The coaches determine the product you are able to sell.

        In a company, if your R&D can’t produce a product you can sell, you get a new R&D team. You don’t have that choice with coaches. You can’t fire the coaches.

        The coaches only get fired when the schools discontinue the sport.

        You need to know what your coaches, i.e., your R&D, are willing to produce and how much flexibility you have.

        I hope you get your point earned becomes a team point. It seems such a small change the coaches might accept it if you sell it as a small change..

        I hope you fight for matches lasting a full 6 minutes, with a pin not ending the match. At first glance, this seems to go contrary to the definition of a pin. However, if every point earned becomes a team point, you are no longer scoring team points based on how the match ends, but on what the athlete does during the match.

        By making a pin less important (not ending a match), but properly allocating points for a pin (a pin is worth 4 or 5 take downs), you should be making a pin more desirable to get.

        What if you can’t change the ways of the coaches? What do you do then?

        One alternative is to start fresh as the UFC or other martial arts styles have done if you can’t change folkstyle.

        Another alternative is to educate your spectators with folkstyle dojos. Spectators will watch a sport they participate in.

        It’s sad you have to address the bullying argument.

        Wrestling is a contact sport with roots in fighting and war. One will get beat up, especially if one is outclassed or unprepared. Didn’t someone once say wrestling is inflicting legal pain without causing injury?

        Of course it’s no fun getting beat up. It could be 6 minutes of agony, but it ends. Your ego might get bruised, but you’re not supposed to get injured. Maybe you learn something and get stronger and tougher for next time. Maybe, just maybe, next time, you’ll be the one delivering the punishment.

        I can see treating wrestlers like wimps the first 2 years while they learn the moves and get comfortable losing.

        Yes, losing. How many times does a boy quit a sport because he can’t handle losing? How do coaches help boys make it through the phase where they lose every match, until they taste victory and start to win and want more.

        As a girlfriend once said regarding her love of Tae Kwon Do, she loved to fight. She could take or leave the kata. She was a third degree black belt, and pretty good at it.

  2. Wade Schalles

    Dom . . . thank you for the kind thoughts. Always nice to read.

    Group . . . how the heck did we go from restaurants to consolations? I’m lost. No where did I mention consolation rounds and I certainly don’t have a dog in that fight.

    If you want to talk about the validity of wrestle backs have fun. Because it appears you’re discussing that we need to polish the silverware to impress the patrons when it’s the food that’s still horrible. Consolations aren’t a big or small issue in wrestling, they shouldn’t be the focus of any of our energies.

    But I will say if we fix the action/entertainment issues that the sport has, wrestle backs could be great fun. Leave wrestling as it is and they are no more or less fun to watch than the finals.

    Don’t get off track here, it’s all about producing a show that people who are currently outside of the sport want to see. And the way you can tell if a sport is producing something that’s desirable is by the number of spectators it attracts.

    Too many dual meets these days don’t have enough fans to start a fight let alone pay for the janitor. We have to fix the food and stop getting mired in the minutia.


    1. Violet

      Allow me to clarify. My point isn’t so much that we should get rid of consolations. The point is that when you hire a marketing company to figure out what spectators want, I suspect they’ll come back with big changes like getting rid of consolations. (At all tournaments, even NCAAs, half the spectators leave during consolations. Everyone know this. A market research company will notice this too.)

      They’ll probably come back with other things too, like over simplifying the team scoring (such as doing the medal count method I mentioned earlier). The wrestling community will then, of course, reject these ideas with an uproar, and we’ll be back to the drawing board.

      In other words, the wrestling community wants to have their cake and eat it too.

  3. Ed Bailey

    As for team comprtition, go to the dollar store and get yourself a small calculator and you can figure this out quickly…. it’s amazing, you will know before the coaches do!

  4. Ed Bailey

    I disagree that consolations must go, everybody has the right to be somebody and if eighth place gets you on the podium, than good for you!
    Respect every wrestler, but be a wrestler!

    1. Ed Bailey

      I unfortunately was wrestling in PA when only the top 2 placers went to states , I took third and it sucked for about a month. until i realized, yeah, I di take third in the greatest state of all!

  5. Violet

    I hate to say it, but consolations gotta go. Wrestlers want consolations. Coaches want them. But does anyone care about them who’s not affiliated with a wrestler who has lost? Nope. Do any other sports have consolations? Not really. Of course, this is all part of getting events shorter (down to 2 hours), as you’ve mentioned previously.

    1. dfmitchell

      Respectfully…your focus is too narrow…in terms of athlete development, fan engagement, team competition…consolations are crucial. The sport needs an objective review and realignment with the current culture in older to engage athletes, fans, and media going forward.

      1. Violet

        “The sport needs an objective review.” I agree. And I think it will tell you that nobody wants to sit in a gym for two days watching mostly consolation matches. I’m not sure why you’re saying they bring “fan engagement”?

        Consolations, and tournaments, for that matter, should be strictly and off-season and pre-season thing. This is where the “athlete development” you mention belongs. Dual meets are the way to package the sport for the spectator. Even post-season advancement tournaments *could* be done in a dual meet format if consolations were omitted.

        As for team competition, tournament teams scores are impossible to follow. Everyone know this. If you want it to be less confusing and actually more engaging to fans, consolations shouldn’t be included. In fact, team scores should probably be more like the Olympic medal count: whoever wins the most medals wins. That’s the only thing spectators can really follow.

        1. dfmitchell

          Appreciate your perspective. If the decision makers and influencers successfully pushed tournaments to season end, I might be tempted to agree.
          I think some of the most exciting tournament wrestling is in the wrestlebacks, and we need to market that excitement. The greatest stories at some tournaments are those unknown 1st round losers who suddenly turn the corner and wrestle back through the bracket.
          Character gets revealed, and excitement takes over in the first wrestleback round for semifinal upset victims. I’d rather promote that and use the opportunity to wrestle back to develop athletes than to narrow the field of competitors.

    2. Takedown App

      That’s a great idea. Eliminating the all day nature of individually bracketed tournaments moves the fan-friendly needle in the right direction.

  6. Doug Mitchell

    The danger in our tradition is the same thing that makes it so valuable…there can be only one champion, and the person on that stand got there by performing better than anyone at that event. That tradition is one worth standing on-worth presenting to a larger audience that in many ways is looking for that kind of authenticity with a story.

    However, that is not the way the rest of the world works…if the objective is to win in the marketplace, a full seating area and a marketable product are supreme. Our traditions are our foundation-for those traditions to continue, we need to create a marketable and exciting product in an entertainment dominated culture.

  7. Dom

    So true – if it weren’t for Jeff Blatnik MMA wouldn’t have made it – it was failing miserably with its barbaric rules and negative perception – but organizing the rules into an acceptable battle is why the sport is so popular today – Jeff Blatnik coined the phrase MMA mixed martial arts – they didn’t like it at the time but the sport needed defined and he led the way against the grain – wade you have nailed it over and over again !


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