The Rise of Independent Wrestling…and the Fall of WWE

Ten years ago, independent wrestling was a dark kept secret restricted to a small circle of fans. It’s not hard to understand why either. It had only been six years since the World Wrestling Entertainment had acquired Word Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. In this time, the only promotion that really rose to prominence was Ring Of Honor. However, ROH didn’t have the exposure to make a dent in the market. Youtube was in its infancy and Twitter had just been launched. Today, advances in technology have given rise to the increased awareness of independent wrestling.

There was a time when exposure to independent wrestling was limited to DVD sales. The main driver of revenue and exposure has always been, and continues to be, the sale of DVDs. However, a lot has changed over the last ten years. The rapid growth of Youtube provided an outlet for fans and promotions to upload content to reach a wider audience. Twitter’s popularity blew-up overnight, giving both wrestlers and promoters an avenue to keep in touch with fans. No longer did you have to scour the dirtsheets to find an event or look for a match card. Everything was at your fingertips and it was all in one place.

Earlier this week, Dave Meltzer reported that the World Wrestling Entertainment is about to embark on yet another cost cutting initiative. We have already began to see cost cutting measures, as there are no longer pyrotechnics at shows. Furthermore, it is rumoured that some shows on the WWE Network have been cancelled. Two of these shows are Talking Smack and the Edge and Christian show (Thompson, 2017).

The report also indicated that the WWE Network’s profits are nowhere near their target goal for 2017. According to Meltzer, WWE promised everyone they were going to have bigger profits in 2017 than they had in 2016. “[So] last year’s profits were about $30 million,” said Meltzer on the August 1, 2017 episode of Wrestling Observer Radio. “And this year we’re about halfway through and — I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me – but it’s like five or six million, which means there’s a lot of catching up to do.” (Meltzer quoted in O’Neal, 2017).

On the latest Wrestling Observer Radio podcast, Dave Meltzer reported that the Young Bucks’ and Cody’s Bullet Club T-Shirts were the number two and number three, respectively, best sellers at Hot Topic. This means they have outsold every WWE T-Shirt that the store carries. Titan Towers should not be sleeping on this. If they fell asleep on the Bucks’ Rolling Stone coverage, then this information should wake them up.

If you’re not convinced by T-Shirt sales, then take a look at this survey that was conducted in December last year. 591 responses were collected over a six day period. The results indicated that the WWE outranked the 57 other companies in this survey on the familiarity index. However, they were bested by New Japan Pro Wrestling on the favourability index (PWG ranked third). Interesting to note is that although NJPW ranked second in familiarity, their fans were more inclined to buy their products. PWG ranked sixth on familiarity. You can read more about this study here

The independents may still be ranked below WWE in terms of familiarity, but PWG cracking the top three is an accomplishment. New Japan may not be an indy level promotion, but its accessibility is much lower than the U.S. indies. Still, fans are willing to go out of their way to follow and support the product. As New Japan continues to expand into the North American market, they pose a serious threat to the popularity of the WWE. RE: Bullet Club T-Shirt.

The influence of independent wrestling on the WWE over the past few years is glaringly obvious.  In fact, the once heavily panned “indy style” can now be seen (about 10 years too late) in the WWE. Many of the WWE’s matches resemble an ‘indy style’ match with fast-paced action and fighting spirit sequences. 

At this point, the WWE no longer denies the indy’s existence. They simply can’t. The biggest proof of this is their NXT brand. NXT isn’t a developmental system. It’s actually WWE’s attempt to create their own independent promotion. It’s packaged and sold differently from their other programming. The crowd is smaller (as small as they can make it while still earning a profit) and there is a greater emphasis on the wrestling.

They may not want to admit it, but the Cruserweight Classic was the WWE admitting defeat. In an attempt to gain new subscribers, the WWE resorted to a 32 man tournament featuring independent wrestlers from all over the world. Zack Sabre Jr, TJ Perkins and Tony Neese were just some of the names in this tournament. The WWE had to actually depend on names they did not create to help sell the Network.

The ‘disappointing’ Network figures should come as no surprise to the WWE. It’s a niche product that’s targeted towards a casual audience. Casual fans are not interested in reliving AWA and WCW classics. The Network is catered towards a more hardcore demographic- a demographic that does not support WWE. Many fans already illegally download shows or buy disc sets from a tape trader. These hardcore fans are not going to pay for something they can download for free.

Pivotshare has played a significant role in allowing the indies to reach a wider audience. The streaming service hosts a variety of indy wrestling networks such as CZW, AAW and Progress Wrestling. Fans who would have had to pay high shipping rates and custom duties for DVDs in the years past, can now access an entire catalog of shows instantly for less than $10 a month. Many of these companies host other promotions on their service as well. If a fan had to choose between the WWE Network or Highspots Wrestling Network, then there is more value with the latter.

The WWE Network is now looking to cater to an audience that they chased away many years ago, The hardcore fan simply has no interest in WWE. Their latest attempt at trying to gain their loyalty is to capitalize on the new-found buzz surrounding British promotions. Earlier this year,it was reported that the WWE was looking to add some of the United Kingdom’s indie promotions to their Network (Hall, 2017). Their British Title is just another pathetic attempt of them trying to reap the fruits of someone else’s labour.

I’m sure the the guys on the indies have no problem with being in the WWE. It’s the biggest wrestling company in the world. It’s a bigger platform to reach a wider audience. Plus, it must feel good taking the cheques to the bank. But just how much money is there in the WWE? With all the talks of budget cuts as well as an over-saturated roster, one has to wonder what the payout is like for the guys who are relegated to 205 and NXT.

At the beginning of 2017, the Wrestling Observer reported that Zack Sabre Jr and Kota Ibush turned down contracts with the WWE. Their reason being that they weren’t offered enough money. Based on reports, the amount of money being offered for the year was $20, 000 (Featherstone, 2017). Their contracts would have restricted them to the WWE. This meant that they would not have been able to supplement their income.It’s scary to think that the biggest wrestling company in the world can offer these two big names such a little amount of money.

The rapid loss of Network subscribers and the fall in revenue all raise some red flags. How can a company without any competition experience such turbulent times? Maybe, the competition is coming from where they least expect it. The traditional, draconian business model of the WWE is slowly becoming their downfall. The independents have demonstrated that the benefits of strength in unity far outweigh the benefits of being a monopoly.

The decline in Network revenues may not mean that the WWE is in financial trouble, but cost cutting measures are never a sign of good performance. The WWE is reaping the seeds they have planted back in 2001. Their monopolization of the industry gave them a certain level of comfort. They became stuck in their ways, neglecting the external environment. They are operating under a business model that is no longer sustainable. Consumers watch shows the next day, commercials are fast forwarded and social media has accelerated globalization. The competition isn’t creeping up on them, it has already crept up on them. The bubble that the WWE existed in has burst, leaving them in a very vulnerable position.



  2. Hall, T. (2017, June 03). Update on WWE Network Featuring Indie Promotions. Retrieved from
  3. O’Neal, K. (2017, August 1). Backstage News On WWE Cutbacks, More To Come. Retrieved from
  4. Thompson, A. (2017, July 30). Two More WWE Network Shows Have Been Cancelled. Retrieved from
  5. Thurston, B. (2017, January 05). Pro Wrestling Company Familiarity and Favorability Study: Survey results on 58 companies including WWE, NJPW, ROH, TNA, Lucha Underground and indies. Retrieved from

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