Should #WeStandWithWAW? – ITV World of Sport and the Struggle of British Wrestling

With news that ITV World of Sport is holding a three day TV taping at Epic Studios in Norwich, and WWE having held WWE UK shows there too, it’s been a difficult time for WAW, its owners, talent and fans.  They’ve been left feeling affronted that WAW has been overlooked and left with a sense that they’re being ostracised.   This is a business that they love dearly and in which they have invested years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of pounds.  There’s no mention of the Knight family in the ITV World of Sport roster, despite the years they’ve collectively given to the business.

There can be no doubt that, to many, Epic Studios is the home of WAW and for good reason.  They’ve invested a lot of time and money to get a studio set up for British wrestling that, rightfully, should be the envy of the business.  Very much like Full Sail for WWE NXT, they know the venue inside and out and don’t have to reset their vision every time they step through the door. 

Not only is it filmed in a television studio, it’s rare a show goes by without the type of talent that makes wrestling fans sit up and take notice.  Whether it’s homegrown names like WWE’s Paige, those taking the UK scene by storm, such as Kip Sabian or Alex Windsor, or those who will be spoken about tomorrow (Ricky Knight Jr, for example), WAW work hard to put on a product that fans will love.  Select international talent have graced the WAW ring – Bram, Vicky Guerrero, Victoria, Scott Hall, Mr Anderson, Chris Masters and Alberto El Patron have all rubbed shoulders with The UK Hooligans, Ricky Knight, Sweet Saraya and a who’s who of British wrestling legends and greats, along with the finest of the WAW’s own school.

It’s a product of which WAW can be proud and that pride has become something that has got them stirred up for the impending arrival of ITV World of Sport.

There have been calls for peaceful protests, obtaining the free tickets and not using them, boycotting the product and making the position clear – #WeStandWithWAW tweet the ardent WAW fans, spurred by an impassioned plea by Roy Knight, and it’s a call that’s gaining traction.  WAW fans want to show their support for British wrestling in any way that they can.

British wrestling is broader than this, however, and some fans have made it clear that they want ITV World of Sport to fail and they want to be instrumental in its collapse.  The problem with that is, of course, that if ITV World of Sport fails due to poor attendance when they’re giving away tickets (as is the norm for ITV Studio productions), why would any broadcaster invest in British wrestling again? There’s already been the collapse of 5* Wrestling on a UK broadcaster, which some fans feel is indicative of the future of ITV World of Sport. However, if a major broadcaster fails to make British wrestling work, why should any other try?  

There are arguments that wrestling isn’t an easy fit for television – that it’s “a different business model.”  The truth of that statement is that, if that were truly the case, no wrestling company would be a success if it were truly different – different doesn’t mean incompatible.  Companies that want television will change to fit the television model or won’t be on television, it’s the degree of change that’s the key to success for both sides.  There are many companies with their own streaming service or YouTube presence with varying degrees of popularity and a greater degree of autonomy than they would get under the influence of television.  Even the indomitable WWE must occasionally give in to the broadcasters and advertisers for their television product.

Television may be the much sought after holy grail of British wrestling, but listen to Jim Smallman’s Australia Q&A episode of Tuesday Night Jaw and you’ll hear the other side of the story.  He explains that there’d been discussion about PROGRESS on television, however, the television companies wanted a degree of control so talks fell through.  More power to PROGRESS for taking that stance – they’ve turned down no doubt lucrative deals so that they can retain their vision of their product, and they’ve certainly bucked the trend with global success for a company that was borne out of three wrestling fans starting a business of their own.

A small number of companies have been on television – WAW with its success on Mustard TV, whilst NGW was present on Challenge and local television over the years.  Local television, however, was of variable quality and, as has been seen by recent changes to funding, isn’t the broadcaster golden goose that was hoped. Challenge lost TNA and lost interest in wrestling, too, as it changed its focus in other directions.  Arguably, returning to online streaming gives more freedom than television will ever allow, but television is still probably the dream.

The problem for any broadcaster wanting to pick up British wrestling is that the fans are a loyal bunch – there are exceptions, but many are naturally loyal to their local promotion.  It’s like football; football fans love football but love their local team more. For everyone who wants to see WAW on television, there’ll be an equally ardent fan base who think that PROGRESS, ICW, PCW, Rev Pro, NGW, Defiant or OTT should be available on television, and there’ll be little consensus as to which is the right one to represent British wrestling in British households.

In reality, a successful British wrestling television programme will need to be a combination of television production specialists (after all, if “wrestling is a different business model” excluding television executives is like expecting a bus to move just because the passengers are on it), wrestling executives (but whose vision should they follow?) and the best of the talent in the UK (that’s the easy bit).  Sadly, no matter who runs it, for many it won’t be the right people.

Ardent fans, unfortunately, are difficult people to satisfy.  They are so passionate about the product they love that any slight is seen as offensive and a mockery of the thing they love most.  

Will ITV World of Sport succeed this time?  That’s in the hands of the British wrestling fans.