India the saviour of Pro-Wrestling?
The Battle for Supremacy of Red Hot Indian Market
by Abhijith Burli; Money Wise; December-2015
India is not new to the sport of wrestling. But the world-wide phenomenon of professional wrestling is still an unexplored concept in the big Indian market. Professional wrestling is an art form of wrestling with choreographed athleticism and theatrics that is said to have evolved basically from American countries, Europe, Japan and Australia. Our main focus here is about the Pro-Wrestling business based in America although Mexico and Japan still have a parallel market for the business.
Preface: The Journey of Pro-Wrestling:-
Pro-Wrestling has had its share of ups and downs like any other sport or entertainment variants. Pro-wrestling became widely popular during 1940s and 1950s often termed as the first Golden Age of Wrestling. During this phase notable wrestlers like Gorgeous George gained mainstream popularity and inspired next generation to take up Pro-Wrestling. Then, during 1970s and early 1980s Pro-Wrestling business sustained in many parts of America with each wrestling organization drawing its own territory to run its business. Wrestling promoters (wrestling companies) in America would run their promotions confined to their territories. Considering this as an ethical agreement that no promoter would cross their territorial border, promotions often mutually agreed to feature star wrestlers from different promotions as special attractions. During these times, Pro-Wrestling began losing its importance as audience would get split due to too many wrestling promotions running its own shows. The likes of WWWF, NWA, AWA were few promotions who would top the popularity chart while so many others suffered the lack of quality hence visibility. Pro-wrestling needed a revamp and it probably was destined to transcend itself into main stream once again. This would happen with advent of cable television and the change would be in the form of a top wrestling promotion based in New York at the time who would go on to change the landscape of Pro-Wrestling like never before. World Wrestling Federation or WWF (now WWE) and its genius owner Mr Vincent K McMahon charted out new business strategies to be leader in sports entertainment. WWF began acquiring performers (often accused as buying/stealing) from major promotions, thus killing the territorial model. By showcasing wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper nationwide along with celebrities like Cyndy Lauper, Muhammad Ali the business transcended into a Sports Entertainment model overcoming Pro-Wrestling model of business that would reach the world. This indeed was the second Golden Age for Wrestling. Just when this second age of golden period for wrestling made roars over the world, the product slowly started becoming stale until a rival promotion competed head to head for cable TV ratings. The rival promotion WCW (World Championship Wrestling which previously NWA – National Wrestling Alliance in its territorial days) changed the way wrestling show was produced at the time to suit the trends. WCW was owned by media giant Ted Turner. The competition brought best out of each promotion and the TV ratings steeped up to almost 9/10. Naturally the impact that was made by the wrestling industry on the entertainment industry was huge. The Pro-Wrestling art sustained on its own benchmark it had created and the product got to see no new ground breaking changes to it. Fast forward to two decades, this art form began to go stale once again. The ratings began its declination; creativity began losing its lustre. And all audience just grew smart to outsmart the creative story tellers. And WWE felt the need for new unexplored potential markets outside of American, Europe and Canada. On the other side, TNA Wrestling who at one time tasted a pinch of success faced tough challenges. They came close to lose its prime time slot despite showcasing top talents and introducing fresh ideas into the business. The decline in the rating has been a cause of concerns for both these companies. WWE in the past had even thought of shifting base to Canada to sustain on prime time TV. If this is just a matter of pride for one its survival for the other. With India being the second most populous country next to China with 1.2 billion people, it is one the fastest growing economies in the world. India is considered newly industrialized country and possesses all abilities to become their biggest market in the world. And Indian market tempts you too much to be neglected. In a Cricket crazy nation, any sports organization would think twice of venturing into its market but not the wrestling organizations as they are well aware of the fact that money lies beneath the risk. They understand that the Indian fan base can forever provide them with a solid platform to stay alive in the world market for a long time to come.
Battle for Supremacy – Exploring Bucks “off the Turnbuckle”:-
In 2014, WWE’s stock value underwent a significant correction, losing 63.1% of its market capitalization representing a $1.4 billion loss in the company’s market capitalization. Last year it was said that WWE (Stamford Connecticut based company) along with Ten Sports is planning to invest a little over $100 million in the Indian sporting-related entertainment market in order to capitalise a huge unexplored Indian market and this started with Ten Sports airing WWE content in multiple Indian languages for the first time. WWE are not new to India and Indian fans. They are well aware of the Indian fan base from decades. In 1996, WWE which was WWF back then toured India showcasing their top superstars with Bret “The Hitman” Hart as face of the company who was well over wrestling fans at the time. The likes of Owen Hart, Triple H, Yokozuna stole the show back then. The live show garnered close to 35,000 – 50,000 fans. This proved the case that WWF can win big events in a Cricket crazy nation. Then again WWE toured India on a big scale during 2002 in three major cities featuring the likes of Shawn Michaels, Kane, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Test, Gold Dust and Triple H and they were not disappointed either. Then on WWE seems to have faced some bad experience dealing with Indian production and event companies. But WWE couldn’t neglect the tempting Indian market for long. Now, WWE are set to return to India after a gap of 13 years. WWE are set to perform two live event shows at New Delhi on 15th and 16th January, 2016 featuring company’s biggest superstars like John Cena, Dean Ambrose, Cesaro, Sheamus, Big Show, Ryback and many others. WWE’s one of the most popular superstars Daniel Bryan landed in India few days ago and expressed his pleasure saying “It’s a great feeling to be here”. He could anticipate the crowd reception his colleagues would receive when thousands of fans cheered for him for almost fifteen minutes. For now, WWE Tickets are said to be priced around ₹ 1,699 to ₹ 9, 999 and tickets are being sold like hot cakes.
Sales & Merchandise prospects in India:-
One more area WWE would love to make a mark in India is Sales and Merchandising. WWE have been marketing superstars’ T-shirts and outfits which are expected to be grabbed at first sight. Superstar toys, Championship Belt replicas, action figures, autographed mugs and signed posters are expected to go viral. WWE is also planning to market their much awaited games during its visit. WWE 2K series have been a great success all over the world and WWE is now looking to promote the latest version of the game WWE 2K16 in India.
India & WWE Network:-
WWE has always been years ahead of its counterparts and their visionary are one to be followed. WWE launched a 24×7 streaming network, a subscription-based video streaming service consisting of both a 24-hour linear streaming channel and on-demand programming from WWE’s library. WWE has been high on its own network ever since it was launched and has its own plans for the global expansion. WWE currently have roughly around 1.2 million network users and feels that India is strategically important market for WWE and knows the importance of WWE Network in India. WWE announced that the service will be available in India via desktop, laptop and mobile devices for $ 9.99 per month. WWE Network subscribers in India will receive their first month of service free with no commitment and subscribers can cancel any time. Early this year, Forbes had quoted WWE and Vince McMahon are the future of Sports-Entertainment and WWE Network is the “Wave of the Future” going by this WWE network might turn out to be a success with Indian audience.
Shares of WWE recorded a drop of 23.31% in the last quarter but after it announced the expansion of its WWE Network in India, the shares quickly soared up over 8%
Is India the future for TNA-Wrestling?:-
On the other hand one more wrestling promotion based in USA, TNA Wrestling is getting all set to captivate Indian fans by going live on Indian television. TNA along with MSM (Multi Screen Media) will be hosting three such events on December 2nd 3rd and 4th. The final day event, which will be TNA One Night Only in Mumbai is said to be broadcasted live in India and USA at the same time. MSM mentioned that pro-wrestling is gaining momentum in terms of viewership in India and they are seeing a lot of viewership for TNA Wrestling events. TNA understands the pulse of Indian audience and want to showcase consistent content along with high quality and local programming content. TNA for years have been trying to woo the local audience with Hindi content and have garnered fair amount of visibility. Now they feel TNA One Night Only: Mumbai event will be a trend setter for the future. This allows local viewers to experience a live wrestling event even before WWE crew lands to India. Dixie Carter, the president of TNA Wrestling felt proud of the business relationships established with Indian fans across the country and promised to travel with an incredible roster to India for three historic global live events. Looks like India is a focus territory for many of TNA’s commercial partners where these companies will also get an opportunity to gain that visibility in the country of 1.2 billion populations.
Do You Know?
India is a focus territory for many of TNA’s commercial partners and these companies will also get an opportunity to gain that familiarity in the country with second largest population.
Like WWE, TNA has tried bringing their product to the Indian market before. WWE has been a more popular promotion than TNA denying them that visibility and attention they would have hoped for. However, TNA now seems to understand one aspect which WWE needs to quickly pick up that is to promote local Indian talents on the grand stage. Indian media partner Sony Six has been playing a major role to identify talents in addition to current Indian wrestler in TNA Mahabali Shera who was identified as an upcoming talent by former WWE Champion and current TNA wrestler Kurt Angle. The anticipation is that the event will see Dalip Singh Rana, or The Great Khali, a former WWE champion as a crew in the hunt for new Indian talent. TNA team understands that India is a country that can build the company in coming days and hence they are pressing the need for localization. TNA’s Executive Vice-President of Television and Talent Relations John Gaburick hopes to find a set of upcoming talented wrestlers which could be a ‘Golden Age’ of Indian wrestling. “The talent search will further give Indian wrestlers an opportunity to be a part of the incredible international TNA roster. The Great Khali now runs a Wrestling academy where he trains wrestlers. John Gaburick feels that the academy can act as a feeder for TNA Wrestling in coming days.
Apart from Pro-Wrestling organizations, UFC the biggest Mixed Martial Arts promotion company has also gained a great deal of expansion into Europe, America, Australia, Middle East and other countries. UFC has gained in popularity in over 150 countries directly and they are eager to expand their market in India. But MMA isn’t as famous as Pro-Wrestling in India, as people have known and got connected with WWE longer from couple of generations (over 2 decades). It will be interesting to see these people fight out for the supremacy of Indian market.
Dara Singh & Indian Connection with Pro-Wrestling:-
Did You Know?
- Indian wrestling great Dara Singh was a one-time NWA Canadian Open Tag Team Champion along with Yukon Eric during 1958.
- Dara Singh is said to have defeated American Wrestling great Lou Thesz, a famous name in pro-wrestling world.
- Dara Singh is said to have remained undefeated throughout his long illustrious career which includes around 500 professional wrestling matches.
- Indian wrestling great Dara Singh was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996. The class of 1996 also included the likes of wrestling greats Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair.
Did You Know?
Lovepreet Sangha, the world Kabaddi League Champion and Satender Ved Pal, the two time Kushti Indian National Heavyweight Champion are currently training at WWE and could make television appearances in the coming days.