April will be the first full month of televised empty arena shows from WWE and AEW.
Former WCW President Eric Bischoff discussed how he might have handled this pandemic if he were still running WCW on his podcast, 83 Weeks. Bischoff ran WCW for during the height of the Monday Night Wars in the 90s.
“If I was running something right now and was faced with the situation we were in right now, I would advocate pulling the stuff off the air,” Bischoff said. “I know WWE can’t do that because they have a massive television contract with FOX and USA. I don’t know what AEWs relationship is with TNT, but if it were possible without any risk of losing those contracts in the future, then I would just take it off the air. Unfortunately with the situation we are seeing now, WWE is continuing to put content out and we continue to see the audience deteriorate week after week after week.
“As I’m watching and seeing the ratings every week, I see NXT this week outperformed AEW by a handful of viewers, but AEW had around 600,000 viewers. Let that sink in. Half a million viewers across the country, a population of 330 million people in the United States who are locked in their homes. That’s frightening. The people that were watching AEW when it was in the 700-900 thousand, a good chunk of that audience has said ‘Ah, I don’t want to watch this stuff anymore’. They’ve made that decision to seek their entertainment elsewhere. You’ve got to get them back, how are you going to get them back? Especially in the case of AEW that still has the new car smell, now they’re going to be faced with rebuilding their audience, how do you do that when you’re still new? NXT same thing. They’ve been struggling and having a hard time competing with AEW.”
“What’s the bigger risk? Convincing my audience over the next 6 months that my product sucks because I’m putting on a product that was never designed to be produced in front of no audience or would my odds be better if I pulled my programming until things normalize. Would I be better off pulling the show until things normalize and coming back with a vengeance with excitement and a live audience or should I spend the next 6 months convincing my audience that my product really isn’t that fun to watch and they didn’t make their own decision they just don’t want to watch it anymore. In my gut, I feel they’re losing the audience, the audience wasn’t that strong to begin with. I would advocate pulling the plug and coming back with a vengeance as soon as I could as opposed to what you’re seeing now. I have a hard time watching, just a tough situation.”
Bischoff discussed if he could see any wrestling company doing an arena show this year.
“I don’t know,” Bischoff said. “In this environment nobody knows, this is a virus that we’ve never had to deal with before. If I was a betting man, I wouldn’t bet on it. Not only is it going to take a period of time before the collective population of the United States and the world starts really believing this pandemic is actually under control as opposed to hoping it’s going to be soon. The very early indications are that we’re starting to see things getting under control but there’s a big difference between getting under control and getting to the point where the entire industry as a whole gets comfortable with the idea of putting 10, 12, 15, 20, 60 thousand people in an arena.
“I don’t see it happening this year and I’m an optimistic person. I just don’t see it happening, the end of 2020 is 8 months away, I think it’s going to take longer than 8 months before things get even close to normal.”
Bischoff also talked about WWE being tone deaf to what the fans want in their wrestling. He noted the issues of having people sitting in the Gorilla position instead of being out and experiencing the show with the fans.
“You’re not experiencing what’s going on in the ring the same way the people are,” Bischoff said. “It’s one of the things WWE could do a better job of, it’s really getting a better feel for what the audience really wants as opposed to assuming what they want, laying it out in great detail, putting on a set of cans, sitting back in a little draped off room for 2 or 3 hours and losing yourself in a monitor. You’re not really feeling the audience.
“In many respects, one of the things that I think people could do better today is to really understand the audience, whether it’s through research, whether its dressing up in a disguise and sitting in the cheap seats and watching the show with the fans just to get a better idea of what the fans are really thinking.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.