The very name ‘professional wrestling’ seems a bitter irony to me at the moment.
Because from where I’m standing, there is a lot of very amateurish conduct going on all round.
I’m a professional journalist. I hate to see amateurish writing – badly constructed, badly subbed, partisan gibberish, the kind of tawdry nonsense you see all over the internet. Amateur writers are happy to churn out their work for free, glad that their efforts are honoured with a byline, because they love writing so much. Meanwhile, the rest of us are left gritting our teeth at the name of our trade being dragged through the dirt – and of course, publishers don’t want to buy our work, because why would they when they can get mediocre content for free instead?
I mention this because I can see something similar happening in British wrestling.
So first of all, a tip for wrestlers – please don’t work for free. You shouldn’t find yourself out of pocket when working for someone who’s making money out of your efforts. I realise it’s tempting when you’re trying to launch your career, but why would a promoter ever give you a show fee when you’ve already shown that you’re willing to travel and work for nothing? You’re making a rod for your own back, and you’re screwing over the rest of the wrestlers out there who have to cover their costs somehow.
I have a book on the UK wrestling industry coming out next summer, and I’ve been able to talk to many promoters and go behind the scenes at shows. I’ve seen shows go brilliantly, and I’ve seen them go badly; I’ve seen dismal planning fails, I’ve seen admin errors, and I’ve seen useless marketing. All the best promoters and promotions that I’ve spoken to know that they’re not perfect and are always happy to take ideas on board; and I trust that they’ll take this piece in the spirit in which it’s intended – to bring some professionalism back to British professional wrestling.
With that in mind, here’s my five-point plan to improve all UK wrestling promotions.
1. Get your house in order
Stop with the naïve admin errors. May’s shenanigans about licensing should have flagged up the necessity to double-check your paperwork again and again. If you don’t have the right papers in place, then you’re not going to be able to put on a show. If you’ve not spotted your oversight, then someone else will. Learn from others’ mistakes.
2. Prioritise your products. All of them
Look at your output – not just what’s in the ring (although that’s vital, of course), but your merchandise, your website, your social media, even the programme you give out. Make everything as good as it should be – don’t make it look like your little sideline that allows you in indulge your inner fanboy. On your website, check all your links work and that the navigation of your site makes sense. On your content and flyers, run a spellcheck, or (horror of horrors!) get it edited properly. On your social media, don’t let yourself get dragged into personal correspondence or anonymous sniping or little spats.
3. Your wrestling promotion is never going to monopolise the UK wrestling scene. Deal with it
Everyone is going to have to accept that British wrestling is never going to be run by a single monolithic promotion. It might have operated that way thirty years ago, but in an age where wrestlers (and fans) can communicate very easily and find out what kind of shenanigans are going on elsewhere, promoters are never going to have that kind of control over the industry. So like squabbling toddlers, you’re going to have to learn to share. When I say ‘share’, I mean that you’ll have to share areas and venues (until of course you make enough money to have your very own venue), you’ll have to share fans (because, let’s face it, there are a finite amount of wrestling fans in the UK and you are never going to get a mainstream following behaving the way you are at the moment), and you’re going to have to share talent.
4. Uniqueness is good – and so is showcasing the best in the business
Ah yes, sharing talent. I’m a big fan of the top wrestlers in the UK at the moment; I genuinely think our best can compete with the best anywhere else in the world. But I’m not so blinkered as to fail to accept that sometimes it can be a touch tedious seeing the same names on everyone’s card. The promotions who have a level of exclusivity on their cards, or have the clout to bring in big-name imports, or focus on creating an original product even with the same talent – good for you. This is the way that we’re all going to make a thriving British wrestling scene, where everyone has a unique selling point and their own cachet – after all, everyone has different tastes, and not every promotion will appeal to every fan.
And treat the talent properly. I don’t just mean the people on your card, because that should go without saying (pay them a decent whack, and don’t ask them to risk their necks doing ridiculous spots for you). It is broader than that. For a start, if you’re genuinely bitching and feuding with other promotions, the chances are that their wrestlers know everything that’s happened. In ten years’ time, who are the “British wrestling legends” you’ll want to be booking to attract in the older audiences, keen for a dose of nostalgia? That’s right – the names at the top of the cards all over the UK now. If you’re alienating them now, don’t expect them to want to wrestle on your shows in the future.
5. Professional means professional
I said at the start of this piece that I’m a professional journalist, and I fully sympathise when people who are trying to make a living in an industry feel that they are being usurped by amateurish upstarts. But when I see dreadful copy, I don’t ring an editor and criticise the individual who wrote it and harangue them for commissioning them and then demand that everyone involved in this shameful affair be fired immediately.
You know why? Because that’s not my job. It’s none of my damn business.
My job is to pitch articles and then when they’re commissioned, to write them to my best ability and to deadline. That’s it.
I wouldn’t contact another random journalist who I thought was doing things wrong to offer free copy-editing services, obviously; but neither would I try to smite them. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an essential part of what being a professional means to me.
Similarly, we had a debate here on TOWIS back in May about whether it’s one promotion’s job to help out another. Sure, there is absolutely no imperative that means one promoter is obliged to point out to another what they’re doing wrong. And absolutely, wrestling is a business, and promoters should indeed be out to make money.
So I’d suggest everyone has a plan to make their money by concentrating their efforts on their own work.
Spending your time and labour attempting to destroy or smear other promotions just makes the industry look bad. If a show’s cancelled, you don’t then have a captive audience who desperately want to see some – any! – wrestling, and will happily turn up to another nearby venue in a few days’ time, or travel across the country that evening; you either have a really disappointed audience who will either stay loyal to their original promotion and wait for the next date, or a really angry audience who will decide that British wrestling is a pathetic farce and not go to any more shows, anywhere, ever.
Whether it’s defacing or tearing down a rival’s posters, hacking or trolling a website, posting anonymously on messageboards, or something as apparently innocuous as having spats with other figures in the business on social media – seriously, this is all the very worst of amateurish behaviour. It makes us all look stupid. This isn’t professional, and it’s no way to run a business or handle competition.
The way to do that, of course, is make your product the very best it can possibly be, and put your efforts into marketing that properly – then it’ll speak for itself. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just do your job properly and to the best of your ability- and put on terrific shows.
This is absolutely the only way that the miniscule fanbase for British wrestling will ever expand – and the only way promotions will ever make more money.
Let’s make British professional wrestling something worthy of the name.