I realize I’m a pretty opinionated guy. Right or wrong I probably have something to say about everything. It doesn’t matter whether I have strong feelings on a topic or not; if you ask me my opinion about a subject I’ll give you my answer. I’ve always adhered to the mantra, “Don’t ask the question if you may not like the answer.” Unsurprisingly, that has not always worked out for me. People see it as negative. I really don’t agree. Negatives are just easier to remember and more likely to get people riled up. When I see something I don’t like it is WAY easier to write an article or go off on a rant on one of our podcasts. Last night I saw something so shitty I don’t know if it had ever been attempted in the wrestling community.
WrestleCircus, a promotion based in Austin, Texas, built an Indiegogo page asking fans for $200,000 to buy a venue. TO BUY A VENUE! There’s a lot we can go through here. Let’s start with the obvious which is that WrestleCircus is a business. Instead of growing organically, seeking more investors, or getting a freaking bank loan they decided to skip all that and try to hand fans a bill. I know, I know. Fans didn’t have to donate. However, I feel like just creating this crowdsourcing goal makes fans feel obligated to contribute. Fans shouldn’t feel like a promotion they enjoy is being held for ransom.
The owners claimed that the project would “end up being almost a half a million dollars to truly get it the way we want.” First, the great philosopher Mick Jagger once said “You don’t always get what you want.” The Indiegogo page did give some idea of what the fans money would be used for aside from leasing the property. The money would be going to MORE wrestling shows, a training facility, professional lighting, a printing machine, venue space for MMA/boxing promotions, bar and food prep, professional sound/acoustics, and more comfortable chairs. Not joking on that last one. They basically wanted fans to buy their own chairs. *sigh*
The printing machine is just as big a joke to me. They wanted us to give them money for this machine that would then print merchandise that we would then have to spend more money on to have. WHAT!? Look, I’m all for helping promotions and wrestlers, but the logic behind this is extremely flawed. If you are purchasing a printing machine for wrestlers to use for merchandise then isn’t the appropriate thing to have those same wrestlers invest in the printing machine? I mean, they’re the ones that’ll get money for what it puts out.
I also really don’t give a crap about professional sound and lighting. This may just be me, but part of why I like about indie promotions is the DIY nature of it all. I enjoy the more intimate, grimy, punk rock venues 100x more than the larger WWE shows. I think a lot of people who attend independent wrestling regularly feel accordingly.
The point is if you want me or any other fans to give you money to help start or grow your business then we need to be considered investors. I want something out of the money. WrestleCircus was trying to give people shirts, tickets (your row depending on your donation amount), a short training session, or even a chance to be on the booking committee for a show. No offense to anyone who would enjoy one, some, or all of those, but that is a terrible trade. I’m not sure if anyone reading this has been involved or witnessed training or booking of a show, but they aren’t fun. Learning to take bumps SUCKS! It hurts when you do it correctly let alone when you’re first learning and falling on your head. Booking a show is stressful if you actually care. A lot of thought and planning goes into giving the fans the best possible show. Letting a fan or many fans make decisions in such a fashion tells me either the owners a) they wouldn’t listen to you if they care about the longevity of their company or b) they simply don’t care enough about said company. Remember Cyber Sunday? I do and I remember thinking it was the worst PPV’s the WWE had for a long time. If I’m investing in a company I want some assurance that my money is being spent wisely and will make a difference in the long run. Neither of which WrestleCircus or any independent wrestling promotion can guarantee.
Another huge issue with this from the start is that WrestleCircus has only been around for 8 months. Seriously, I have underwear older than WrestleCircus. Most independent wrestling promotions fail. It’s incredibly hard to keep your doors open in this industry. There’s lots of overhead for a very niche market. WrestleCircus has a lot going for them. From what I’ve been able to find out the owners, Al & Lexi Lenhart are at least somewhat affluent. WrestleCircus is in a large metro area. Top indie talent is at every one of their shows. They’ve been able to sell out 10 shows in a row. They have a rabid fan base. Aside from WrestleCircus I just described numerous indie promotions like PWG, AAW, AIW, HOH, etc. Did WrestleCircus think they were the first ones to come up with this idea?
To be a successful promotion you have to be patient and ready to lose money. They’ve been lucky in that they haven’t really had to do those two things. Other promotions, like NWL, who have attempted to buck tradition haven’t been so lucky. Maybe comparing NWL and WrestleCircus is apples and oranges. I would venture to say the NWL had/has a leg up when starting their promotion given the main owner is a very wealthy and successful businessman. NWL is trying to do something different with the way they present wrestling to their audience, but they too have been caught up with trying to make a dollar before they make a dime. NWL essentially purchased two promotions, contracted wrestlers both full and part time, invested a lot of money in production, rented out good sized venues (at least in KC), then tried to pass all of that onto the consumer with high ticket prices.
The business model, if you can call it that, shows the shortsightedness of the owners. They book these amazing cards with some of the best talent around. That costs a lot of money. Obviously selling tickets is a big way to get a portion of it back. If you look at who they bring in, their ticket prices, and the amount of tickets they sell it’s quick to assume they are making little to no profit. That’s where selling your shows comes into play. Whether it be streaming your shows through a service (e.g. Fite Network, Flo Slam, Powerbomb TV), streaming it on your own website (e.g. ROH) or selling DVD’s (PWG, AAW, Wrestling Revolver) it is a good way to make money. Giving it away for free is asinine, right? Well, good old WrestleCircus isn’t having any of that. They’re willing to give up their shows for free just for retweets. For 5k retweets you can watch their show for absolutely free. Why would anyone in the Austin area go to a show if you can watch it online for free? What happens when you realize that giving it away for free is a bad idea then start trying to charge fans again? Nope. When I was in college I had a professor who said, and I’m paraphrasing, to never discount your product when starting a business. I would say giving your steam away for free is a pretty big loss of value.
We wrestling fans are often portrayed as slack-jawed yokels, but that’s not at all accurate. We are quick to gain information and pass it around. When we see something like high ticket prices or a shady Indiegogo we leap to it. Or when we see a fairly new promotion treating fans like dog shit we don’t forget it either. After announcing the crowdsourcing many fans responded to WrestleCircus. Some positive and some negative. Some were more aggressive than others. After basically arguing with people on Twitter defending the plea for money they went on to show their hypocritical nature. They tweeted, “We also have to understand that maybe some ppl on the outside have valid points. We are too close to the situation to know for sure.” Valid point, WrestleCircus! Then came, “Most outside of Austin just think we are some money mark promotion destined for failure. Starting a crowdfund made them feel validated.” Wow. Or maybe you weren’t able to realize what kind of faux pas you just made and people were pointing it out.
I have no doubt that the owners are wrestling fans. You really shouldn’t start a promotion if you know nothing about wrestling. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when your start out booking super shows, then give the stream away for free, and then ask fans to give you money for an unneeded expense that it ruins your goodwill. And that is what WrestleCircus did for many people including myself. I lost a lot of respect in less than 24 hours for a company with a lot of potential. By the time I’ve finished this writing the Indiegogo page has been removed. Good, but the lack of respect these people showed for wrestling fans everywhere is still stuck in the back of my throat. Want to be a successful wrestling indie? Look at PWG, AAW, AIW, and more of the same. Know your product, your audience, your costs, and think long term before you start. If you don’t trust your own business model then why should fans? To make a long story short: Go fuck yourselves, WrestleCircus.
Luke Raven (@ravenluke)