Hey, I make no apologies, I’m a WWE guy. I know the WWE is no different than McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and Starbucks, a huge, publicly traded company that is first and foremost concerned with profitability and market share. It’s a wildly successful business run by a man whose sole objective is to make money. The actual wrestling is secondary, really just a vehicle to showcase the individual Superstars, who in turn grab the attention of fans eager to buy the t-shirts, action figures, and Glamasuits that keep the money rolling in. And as long as the WWE is making money, Vince is going to stick with what works no matter how much some fans wish he would revamp certain aspects of his product (like booking the Divas strong on TV). Starbucks may burn their coffee, but they sell a boatload of it every day. I may grumble about the quality, and I may grumble about the price, but there I am every day ordering a white chocolate mocha from the barista (no, not Batista…although if this MMA thing doesn’t work out, you never know…)
A little known fact about me: I can’t function in the morning without a monster cup of coffee. I’m not one of those people that bounce out of bed when I wake up. I’m grouchy and irritable. My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I stumble around like Ric Flair after an all-night bender. Truthfully, my wife’s not much better, but since she gets up with the kids she already has a pot of coffee brewing by the time I stagger into the kitchen (God bless her, it’s the little things that keep love alive). I don’t even say hi to my family until I’m one cup down. Once I get that first cup in me, though, I start to get excited for the day ahead and I’m a pretty easy guy to be around. But before that?
At home we have this whole routine down pat. When I travel, however, this is a bit more problematic. Recently I was headed to New York and along the way I decided to make a quick pit stop in Pennsylvania to see some old friends. It was a nice visit until I woke up the next morning and went looking for the coffee maker. Uh oh. Turns out my friends aren’t coffee drinkers. I think they were a little frightened because it looked like Mike Knox was rummaging through their kitchen. I tried to contain my disappointment and made a quick exit, telling them it was “time to hit the road, gotta stay ahead of traffic!”
I jumped behind the wheel and started a frantic search for my morning coffee (I probably shouldn’t have been driving considering I was barely dressed and my eyes were glued shut…oh well). Since I grew up in York I knew I could stop at the Colonial Coffee Shop, a cute family-run restaurant not too far away. Nope, I drove right by and plowed ahead until I found that familiar green and while logo, the Palace of Starbucks. After 40 ounces of coffee I started to feel more human, but then something odd happened. I started to feel a little guilty about my decision to not stop at the Colonial. It was closer and the coffee is actually really good. Am I that “domesticated” by American branding that I have lost sight of small businesses and their struggle to compete? Has my soul been kidnapped by the Wal-Marts of the world?
I bet this would make Vince smile because down deep he knows he has me. I’m forever property of the WWE, branded by Terry Funk at the Double Cross Ranch.
For some reason this made me think about my Diva Dirt coworkers. Many of them love SHIMMER, an all-female independent promotion. In fact, in many ways they prefer SHIMMER to the WWE. They love the passion of the girls, the intimacy of the shows, and supporting the uphill climb of indy promotions in today’s financial climate. Several of them even traveled to the recent SHIMMER tapings in Berwyn, IL. Somehow I bet, unlike me, they would have gone to the Colonial Coffee Shop, skipping right past the Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks on every corner.
I had a great time in New York but for some reason I couldn’t get SHIMMER out of my head. Before joining Diva Dirt I only followed the WWE, stretching back to my first live event in 1985. Since then the WWE has been a part of my life just like McDonald’s and other big name companies. It wasn’t until Diva Dirt exposed me to so many other aspects of women’s wrestling that I started to see the full spectrum of the industry. Now armed with the knowledge and exposure to TNA, SHIMMER, OVW, etc., I wonder if I have been changed at all. I think I would have enjoyed joining Jennifer, Steven, and the rest on their pilgrimage to Illinois But would I really choose that over a WWE show? And what does my answer say about me?
To learn more about SHIMMER, I asked Diva Dirt’s Jennifer to clue me in:
SHIMMER is something every real fan of true female wrestling should experience at least once in their life. The atmosphere is electric, because everyone is there for the right reason – to support women’s wrestling, to support these athletes who go out there and bust their asses every time they’re in the ring. The setting is intimate, much more cozy than a WWE event, and the athletes actually interact with the crowd quite a bit more than anything I’d ever seen. This is a part of the charm. There is real passion here, everyone who steps into the ring is doing it for the love of the sport. It’s little wonder every show sees a packed house, and people come from halfway across the world to watch these athletes perform.
Listen, I don’t believe that the WWE stars lack real passion; you don’t make it to this level of any pursuit without dedicating your life to reaching your full potential. However you certainly don’t get the same FEEL from the WWE experience that Jen talks about here with SHIMMER. I do think money has something to do with this. The WWE stars are well paid and as Cyndi Lauper likes to say, “money changes everything.” The SHIMMER stars bond so strongly because each performer is working towards a common goal: finding work and staying afloat within a very competitive industry. The situation is no different than the NBA vs. college basketball. Nobody in their right mind would argue that NBA players aren’t the best basketball players in the world. But most casual fans would rather root for the college kids, all of whom seem to play with a spirit and passion that slowly dissolves when you are a multi-millionaire (I know I am painting with a broad brush, but I believe this is true in most cases).
[SHIMMER] was so much better than any WWE event I’ve ever gone to. Mainly because the women were accessible during each intermission on both days, and it was an intimate atmosphere. During intermission, the women came out and sold their merchandise, signed autographs and chatted with the fans. They were all very sweet and accommodating (as long as you weren’t creepy!). During the matches, almost every woman interacted with the crowd, be it face or heel, which just made it even better. Of course, the legendary after-parties were just that, legendary. You can’t go out to a club and dance with, say, Randy Orton and Melina after a WWE show. But here, not only does this happen, but you can talk, drink and dance with everyone that shows up at the party (which nearly every wrestler does). It’s like partying with rock stars, who wind up being every bit as human as you and me. There’s no arrogance, no putting on airs. They’re just there to have a good time and relax. And after a grueling two day event, where everyone has put in at least 2, sometimes as many as 4 matches, they deserve to be treated to food, drink and a good time!
There is no doubt the SHIMMER girls are more accessible to their fans and the tapings sound like an amazing experience. Much different than a WWE event. However I do think the WWE tries to reach out into their community as much as possible, but the sheer number of fans always creates an artificial barrier between you and the performers. The stars simply can’t spend a lot of time with individuals. If you want proof go to a WWE Axxess session and jump in line for an autograph. You’ll be waiting a long time (yes, even for Vladimir Kozlov). The superstars are polite and accommodating, but if they don’t keep the line moving some fans won’t get to meet them at all. Imagine if Randy Orton told people where he was partying after a show. The bar would be overrun with fans (including our Cryssi) and he wouldn’t be able to enjoy himself. When my buddy and I were in Phoenix for WM26 we stayed at the same hotel as the wrestlers and we had to show our room keys every single time we used the elevator. Sure the bar scene was lively but it was very controlled…guards were everywhere. I have to admit it was cool to ride the elevator with Kelly Kelly but in general the atmosphere was a little tense because security was so foreboding (obviously with good reason).
Side note (and I can’t stress this enough): The best event on the WWE calendar each year is the WrestleMania Art Auction. You get to actually spend time with the superstars in a relaxed atmosphere. The food and drinks are really good and the art work is actually pretty interesting. If you go, get the VIP tickets, otherwise you’ll be roped off from the area where the stars hang out. If you want to actually “meet” one of your favorite WWE Divas, this is the best possible way (plus you’ll get to hang with me and Cryssi this year…we’re going to tear it up…Jersey style!)
It is very difficult to compare the WWE to anybody else in terms of how they present their product to the general public. Their television production is spectacular. Their arena staging is unmatched. They have their own music company and film company that allows them to manipulate show business in ways TNA and the rest can only envy (well, until they watch “Legendary”). Vince’s global vision has been realized and they are firmly entrenched as the #1 most recognized name in the business. That in itself is pretty powerful and I think deserves a measure of respect. The problem with running a company on such a grand scale, though, is that it becomes impossible to remain accessible to the individual, to the people themselves who make up the large crowds that fill the arenas each night.
In truth, even though the WWE is glitzy and colorful each show is basically generic; each show is basically the same. Sure the match results vary, but the sets, the music, the pyrotechnics, etc. are the same from one town to the next. I’m not knocking Vince here. It has to be this way. To run as many shows as he does the entire WWE machine needs to run smoothly. To sell merchandise you have to create consistency within the product (there is a reason McDonald’s runs an academy to teach managers how to make Big Macs). Let’s not forget the WWE is first and foremost a business. So like Starbucks coffee, with the WWE you know what you are going to get when you buy a ticket for one of their shows. A double-shot expresso of John Cena, Randy Orton, and Bella Twins. But is the actual coffee (in this case, the wrestling) any good?
I don’t think it can be argued that the WWE stars are phenomenal athletes and very good workers. Some are spectacular wrestlers (Chris Jericho). Some are marginal wrestlers (Maryse). Some were born to do this (Cody Rhodes). Some were selected because of their looks (Kelly Kelly). But Vince is selling an entertainment product, not just a wrestling show, so each member of the roster fits a certain piece of his puzzle. For the Divas he has created a division that “seems” to put looks and sex appeal on par with mat skills and technical expertise (with some obvious exceptions). This has resulted in a belief that the WWE girls are somehow inferior to the girls in other promotions. I disagree, I just feel they are…different. They are being asked to do different things, with different skill requirements.
Recently our Melanie discussed the difference between Divas wrestling and Women’s wrestling. I think that is a pretty good way to distinguish the industry. In my opinion the WWE coined the phrase “Divas wrestling” with the way they book their female talent, as essentially complimentary pieces that augment the male superstars. In contrast, promotions like SHIMMER showcase true women’s wrestling; booking shows full of international talent and creative match-making. (The recent SHIMMER taping featured a wild 8-woman SHIMvivor Series main event. How cool is that?!? Better than a 30-second Baywatch bathing suit tag match.)
In fairness, however, the WWE is producing live television shows every week and it is not an all-female promotion. SHIMMER only tapes several times a year and then builds entire shows around its female performers. This leads to obvious differences in story-telling and character development. Case in point – Serena made a surprise appearance at the recent SHIMMER tapings and by all accounts it was an awesome moment. Melina’s return from major knee surgery was shown on tape delay because the WWE was headed to Europe (insert the sound of a deflating balloon…)
Jennifer came away from SHIMMER feeling like she and her friends were a part of something really special. An atmosphere that she and the other fans helped create along with the wrestlers themselves. It was raw and viral, unlike WWE’s Monday Night Raw which is stylized but very over-rated when you are sitting in the stands (I have written about this before, the show is choppy because of TV commercials and lengthy interview segments). This past March I was in the fourth row at WrestleMania 26 and I still didn’t feel that connection to the crowd or (for the most part) the wrestlers. Everything was just so BIG. The stars are performing for every last person watching the ring, whether on TV, the Internet, or the very last row of the arena (which is admirable and extremely difficult) but it cuts into the intimacy of the event. The WWE is creating a consistent, standardized show more than a spirited live performance. Just like every Big Mac needs to be the same. This consistency, along with the power of television, generates revenue and builds a loyal following which is ultimately Vince’s goal, and he does it better than anyone. The Internet and DVD sales have obviously helped the Indie scene stay viable, but without national TV exposure promotions like SHIMMER will continue to struggle to attract a small, yet passionate following.
But isn’t that the beauty of it? Who doesn’t root for the underdog?
Obviously I’m a Beth mark so I support whoever employs The Glamazon. If she finds herself in TNA I will make my voyage to the Impact Zone (and try not to cry when Sting is hiding in the rafters.) As the old expression goes, “Have tiara, will travel.” I’m committed 100%. But aside from my loyalty to her, does the WWE still present a product that deserves my undivided attention? I simply don’t have time to follow every single pro wrestling organization (just like I don’t have time to watch every single great TV show, sorry “Modern Family”). I have to pick and choose. The WWE has done a great job of branding and makes it seem like they are the best option for me and my family, although now I am less sure of this than I was before.
Thankfully there is room for both promotions (and others as well). Variety is important in this and every industry. SHIMMER is more personal and offers a good alternative for a segment of the wrestling market. Whether the actual wrestling is better is a matter of personal opinion. Some people want a pumpkin spice latte. Some people just want their coffee black. For now I plan to book a trip to Atlanta for WrestleMania 27. Who knows. Maybe between now and then I’ll have a change of heart and drive past the Golden Arches, instead stopping at the Colonial Coffee Shop to check out their lunch menu.
– Mr. Glamazon
PS – Congratulations to Kat Waters on signing a new deal with TNA! Best wishes Kat!!
PPS – Speaking of Terry Funk’s branding iron. My first live event was a taping of Saturday Night’s Main Event in October 1985, and on the show the JYD took Jimmy Hart’s pants off and “branded” him right in the middle of the ring. The crowd was going crazy. We forget now the JYD was a huge star once upon a time.
PPPS – I have room for a few more questions in my next mail bag. Send them to [email protected]. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @dlb19338!