Working the Marks


AS I SEE IT: Working the Marks
Bob Magee
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets

Wrestling has always had a strange relationship with those who pay money to support its very existence…..better known as fans.

The entire mindset of wrestling is based on the carnies, “working the marks”, the mindset that comes from old time carnivals, where games of chance had odds…shall we say…. “improved” to benefit the carnival operators. Various acts were often not what they seemed to be. That’s all understandable…but much of it came from another time and place.

A lot of the mindset still exists in professional wrestling (or in Vince-speak “sports entertainment”). The mindset is that the writers, wrestlers and others who are involved in the product have some sort of secret knowledge that fans don’t….and fans don’t have a right (or only a limited one) to give opinions on the product; and are laughed at…sometimes very openly.

I need to get this one in before I get a hundred emails…knowing wrestling is a work doesn’t give fans a right to be disrespectful of what wrestlers do to learn their craft, no matter where they learn it or how big the stage is they perform on. It doesn’t give fans the right to get into personal lives of wrestlers…with the notable exception of when performers have thrown the certain wide open and displayed their personal business on social media.

Some promotions do market to “smart marks” and open the curtain a little bit to let fans who a long time ago (to quote Bobby Heenan), “know our secrets better than we do”. But even there, probably less than what those smart marks think they do. After all, do you want the actor on your favorite soap opera, nighttime drama, or novela to tell you everything that’s going on? Do you want the magician to show you how it’s done with every trick?

Depending on how a wrestling promotion, whether it’s WWE, or the smallest independent promotion running once a month at the local flea market operates…the way it treats fans on the everyday basis differs. Some promotions place an emphasis on treating fans with respect (yes, it’s a way to get them to keep money as well as just being decent). Most of the time WWE does very well with this.

There are a ton of fan conventions in existence which give fans a chance to see their favorite performers…as seen at the 2300 (ECW) Arena this weekend, with an Icons of Pro Wrestling Convention that has a list of wrestlers and wrestling legends that seems longer than this entire blog. Information is available here. Many of you went to Wrestlemania Axxess and other events last weekend, and were a part of those events.

But the way wrestling treats fans on an everyday basis still seems colored by this mindset. I was made aware of an incident this week on an independent wrestling show, where a wrestler did something that was mean (at best) to a special needs fan. This performer could be corrected for this behavior…but in a way it seems just one more part of the old school carny mindset of “we’re better than you” that still exists among some. It isn’t just one incident. The mindset is there in all too many places.Take a look at John Bradshaw Layfield’s constant ridicule of fans who haven’t purchased WWE Network (and if you think he’s not doing it at Vince McMahon’s direct command, think again).

Even if it’s done in part as his JBL character, it’s still grating on the nerves. News flash: there are STILL buffering and log-in issues with WWE Network. A quick look at social media saw a ton of complaints by with people who couldn’t access Wrestlemania, or who had a difficult time accessing it, or getting a constant feed. Same thing for other WWE PPVs or NXT events. Another part of this are the constant

remarks on WWE TV about “the people on the Internet”, especially after a RAW, Smackdown, or PPV that wasn’t to the liking of some.

When your company’s business model is now one with a major emphasis on using the Internet to view your product…ridiculing those who talk about your product on the Internet makes zero sense. Ever seen actors on Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead go on social media and ridicule fans when a character gets killed? Nope. Instead, The Walking Dead has a show after Walking Dead airs where fans do what? TALK ABOUT IT. Think characters get brought back “from the dead” or plot twists gets reversed if fans complain too loudly in every form of daytime or nighttime drama? Yup.

I never took a business course at my alma mater, Rutgers University. But Business 101 at the University of Common Sense says rule one of business is “Make it as easy as possible for someone to give you their money”. Rule two is “Be good to your customers. Don’t ridicule them…in fact, make it as easy as possible for them to give you feedback on your product”. Rule three is “Listen to your customers”.

Look at country music. It has fan conventions galore. Old school daytime soap operas, night time dramas, new school soaps…fan conventions galore. Hell, horror movie fan conventions are an industry in and of themselves. Ever hear fans get ridiculed there? Nope.

I don’t suggest wrestlers and promoters have to be saints. Saints are usually dead and found in books. Fans CAN be annoying sometimes (I know, I am one). But in the end, any business lives by catering to the needs of those paying money to see it, whether live, on digital media, or traditional media. Wrestling would be better served by leaving the carnies in the dark history they come from….and changing their mindset.

Until next time…
Bob Magee