Long ago, in an era when only a select few had the internet, wrestling audiences were exceedingly animated. We had ECW crowds; who’d chant anything (no matter how brutal) they felt like. We had WCW crowds, who showed their hatred for the nWo by frequently trashing the ring with garbage. Even the WWF fans were excitable, and not shy in bringing their uniquely crafted homemade signs. However we watched wrestling back then, late 90’s crowds had plenty of reasons to react.
Yet sadly, competition died and WWE became the only show in town. Fans not wanting to be banned from/kicked out of events, began adhering to their demands. This never happened in the Attitude Era, as we often saw nWo shirts and other non-WWE merchandise on episodes of Raw & Smackdown. They couldn’t turn these fans away, as it would’ve sent out a message that the freedom of expression is unacceptable, and they’d surely take their money elsewhere. At this time, the WWF was known for taking shots at WCW for kicking out fans who wore WWF merchandise at their shows.
Not needing to risk anything, the 2000’s changed WWE in to a more corporate entity looking to maintain its reputation. They had “PG” rated programming to adhere too. No longer would we see signs referring to Al Snow’s “head”, or anything remotely controversial. Of course, it all makes sense when you’re aiming to target a younger demographic .. as you don’t want kids parents feeling uneasy as they watch. It made sense to clean things up.
A slippery slope though. When you censor you should only go so far. Not only did they start taking away controversial signs, they took away anything referring to recent controversies. Like when CM Punk left the company, there were several reports of WWE confiscating Punk signs. It didn’t stop the WWE Universe chanting “CM Punk” at inopportune times, but at least (in their minds) they’d done something to bury the situation. They felt it was best to kill the distraction, but they adversely took away some freedom of speech.
Have you noticed how fan signs have declined over the years? Back in the Attitude Era you couldn’t move for ’em. Fans like looking back on these shows to spot the funny signs you know would certainly be confiscated today. And I think it’s bad for business. It tells fans they should sit there .. quietly, watch the show and avoid anything controversial. Dead crowds like the one we got at this weeks Raw could become more common, as the louder, loyal, fans go elsewhere. What does it remind me of?
Side Note: Back in 2010, TNA Impact signed Hogan, Bischoff, Flair and others. The “Impact Zone” used to be filled with rowdy “ECW-like” fans who popped for all the right things, while letting you know if there’s anything they didn’t like. This became a problem early in the Hogan/Bischoff regime, as they changed many things which disturbed the identity of TNA Impact. The loyal diehards were so vocal in their disdain that it often ruined matches/promos for those watching at home. Technically, they had the right to express how they felt for the latest changes .. but management didn’t appreciate it at all.
TNA officials went as far to “coach” their audience after an episode of Impact. Officials said the hijacking of shows was hurting the product and they should “play their part”, by refraining from being too vocal. How did the fans respond? The Impact Zone died. All those fans who made the show exciting? They packed it up .. leaving only the quiet, and often disinterested “Universal Studios tourists” to show how far they’d fallen.
And I understand why WWE does not want fans wearing AEW shirts. I get the fact that don’t want advertisement for another wrestling company. But seriously .. AEW hasn’t had one show yet, and this is how worried they are? Why are they so bothered with one or two fans wearing them? It’s not gonna’ make much difference. Would they do the same if someone showed up rocking a ROH or Impact shirt? Highly doubt it. They’re only doing it because AEW is the hot topic, and they don’t want it getting out of hand. Which is logical, yet it continues the disturbing trend of dictating to its paying customers.
I’m English so I can only reference football (soccer) really, but it can work in most sports. Imagine if you had Manchester City (light blue) and Manchester United (red) scheduled for a derby match at Old Trafford. Man Utd don’t want Man City looking good on TV, so they tell them at the door .. “sorry, but you can’t wear Man City shirts today”. The outrage would be absolutely uncontainable. You have people in the same families who support Man City and Man Utd separately, and they sit together despite supporting opposite teams.
Just because you don’t like the opposition, does not mean you should dictate to them. It encourages customers to only go to Man City’s Etihad Stadium derby, and avoid buying any future tickets for games at Old Trafford. Man City could respond “don’t worry Man Utd fans .. we will let you wear your red shirts”. Man City will gain more profit from their derby in future compared to their main rival.
By forcing fans to conform to what you want, you are actively encouraging them to go elsewhere. At the end of the day, everyone should have the freedom to express. I can understand if someone showed up with a risky shirt of two people going at it in a steamy love scene .. then sure, they should expect to be asked to turn it inside out. But when it’s something as simple as a CM Punk sign? An AEW shirt? Or anything which WWE doesn’t necessarily “like” at that time? I think it’s wrong. Eventually, fans will grow tired of it and seek an alternative which doesn’t dictate. Somewhere they aren’t afraid to get a little rowdy after a few beers.
For every report I see of WWE confiscating AEW shirts, Cody Rhodes (or Young Bucks) responds with something like: “Come to AEW! Wear what you want! You won’t be asked to change anything”. And that’s an opportunity handed to them. WWE is giving Cody an extra selling point every time they do this. Fair enough .. don’t let it get out of hand, but don’t show you’re bothered by this “threat”. Even more so when that “threat” hasn’t produced a show yet.
What do you think? Should WWE be confiscating CM Punk signs and AEW shirts? Was the crowd at Raw an adverse effect of years of a mediocre product & being told how to behave? Possibly so. Wrestling fans love wrestling, whether it be WWE, ROH, Impact, New Japan, the indies. They are not in the mindset of having merchandise for every company so they can wear their “uniform” for the day. We get enough of that at work. When we go to a wrestling event, we should be able to wear what we like .. within reason.
— Scrump_1 (@scrump_1) January 28, 2019
The dictatorship continues, but just how long can it continue til WWE sees a loss? When will it get to the point it becomes harmful to their product? So long as it doesn’t, they will keep doing what they think is right for business. One day a fan is going to outright refuse to take their shirt off, and when that day comes .. it will be interesting to see how they handle it. Are they going to be forcibly thrown out of a building for refusing? There’s gonna’ be controversy at some point. Although, I do agree .. if someone is genuinely being a nuisance, or is solely there to make it look like WWE’s treating them unfairly, then those fans should be called out on their BS.
What are your thoughts on this? Is it right of WWE? Or is it wrong for fans to assume they can show up rocking another promotions apparel? Has WWE’s demands spoiled the desire to express? And will this spoil fan interaction in future? I know there’s mixed feelings on this, so I’m looking forward to your comments. Thanks for reading!