COMMENTARY | Unlike in most forms of entertainment, professional wrestling fans are just as much a part of the show as the performers are.
When viewers at home watch television shows, a live audience plays virtually no role. Some sitcoms have a live audience to laugh on cue, but most reality shows, dramas, and movies do not have live audiences as part of their presentation.
To a greater degree, fans do have a role in how sporting events play out. Loud football fans can help home teams succeed on defense, basketball fans can distract visiting players when shooting free throws, and even the slightest of noises can wreak havoc on the PGA golf tour. But pro wrestling fans at live, televised events have far more power than most realize.
Despite the derogatory opinions of people who don't understand the business, pro wrestling is a complex art form that combines elements of athleticism and entertainment. The formula has to be just right to keep both "sports" and "entertainment" fans happy. And unlike the script writers for sitcoms, dramas, and movies, wrestling writers need the live crowd to buy into it so fans watching at home are conveyed the proper message.
For the most part, the wrestlers deemed to be good guys (babyfaces) or bad guys (heels) generate the appropriate fan responses. However, wrestling fans occasionally go rogue and don't cheer or boo on cue. Officially, wrestling organizations support fans' right of freedom of speech. But behind the scenes, it must be a nightmare when fans don't do what they're supposed to do.
In the old days, wrestling fans would simply chant "boring" when they weren't happy with a match. This was worse than any expletive for the wrestlers in the ring and could mean a quick trip to the unemployment line. But lately, unhappy wrestling fans have gotten more creative when they become upset.
The latest trend seems to be chanting the names of random personalities when two other wrestlers are in the ring. This has become quite prevalent in the WWE, where Randy Savage, JBL, and Jerry Lawler are popular chants. These chants appear to be spontaneous and when the programming is live, such as pay-per-views or WWE Raw, there isn't much the production crew can do to drown it out.
Recently, wrestling fans have adopted Daniel Bryan as their favorite anti-authority figure. This storyline played out much differently in the late 1990s when Steve Austin opposed Vince McMahon. WWF fans were satiated back then because Austin usually got the best of McMahon and he was in the main event picture for years. Today, Bryan can't get the best of The Authority and he is rarely in main events any more.
The situation came to a head at WWE Royal Rumble 2014 when the fans in attendance angrily voiced their displeasure throughout the pay-per-view. In particular, the fans made a number of derogatory chants during the John Cena vs. Randy Orton match, as well the Royal Rumble match. When Daniel Bryan didn't come out as part of the Royal Rumble match, the fans were obviously angry.
And now the WWE could be moving towards an even worse doomsday scenario. If CM Punk has legitimately left the WWE, I can't even begin to imagine what Raw will be like on March 3. That night, Raw will air live from Chicago, CM Punk's hometown. My imagination is not capable of fully grasping what the fans will be like that night if CM Punk does not appear.
The WWE always says it listens to its fans when making its creative decisions. But lately, angry wrestling fans are getting bolder about voicing their opinions. PG programming, the same wrestlers getting pushed, and recycled angles are all driving wrestling fans closer and closer to a tipping point.
To answer the question I posed in the headline, wrestling fans going rogue is definitely bad for business in the short term. But it would be much worse if fans stopped attending or watching wrestling all together. If Randy Orton was upset by how the Royal Rumble crowd treated him, he'd be a lot more upset if he had to wrestle John Cena in an empty arena.
But in the long run, wresting fans voicing their opinions is good for business. I know the writers would love to have the fans behave on cue, but that's not in the nature of the business. When the WWF listened to its fans in the late 1990s, it revolutionized the industry and helped McMahon defeat ECW and WCW. If McMahon does so again, it could lead to another golden era of professional wrestling.
Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of pro wrestling. Patrick's favorite wrestling promotion was Mid-South Wrestling back in the 1980s. Patrick's favorite wrestling angle of all-time was the NWO and his favorite wrestler is Roddy Piper. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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