Today is Wrestlemania 29 – the biggest event in all of professional wrestling. While I no longer watch the WWE or smaller promotions like TNA regularly, I usually tune in for Wrestlemania simply out of nostalgia. This year I am choosing to abstain from the extravaganza, mainly because I haven't seen my wife in over two weeks and she would kill me if I went to go watch wrestling today, but also because there isn't much mystery about what's going to happen in New Jersey tonight. Triple H will almost certainly get his revenge on Brock Lesnar (and I don't see him losing for a third straight year at the big dance). The Undertaker will definitely beat CM Punk (if not then I will order the replay to watch later). And I don't think there's any doubt that John Cena pins the Rock to take the WWE strap. Those are the three matches I really want to see and I already know how they're going to end. It's too predictable of an event tonight.
So what does wrestling have to do with the K&L spirits blog? A lot, actually. You may not know this (or you might if you've been reading this thing for a while), but the entire model I've used to build this website is based on my years of experience as a super wrestling fan. When I was big into wrestling (mainly 1996-2003), I was a rabid internet reader (yes, there are many wrestling blogs, just like whisky blogs). As scripted and "fake" as the WWE can be, there is a lot of action going on behind the scenes. Basically, politicking. You might think it's as simple as writing a plot line and choosing a winner, but there are some serious egos in the wrestling business (as there are in any business). "Hulk, you're scheduled to lose tonight. Make something happen in fifteen minutes or so." What if Hulk Hogan doesn't want to lose to Randy Savage? What if Kevin Nash goes off the script and says something controversial? What if they can't decide on who's going to be champion? It sounds trivial, I know, but back then it was hugely compelling. When both the WWF and WCW were going head-to-head there were all kinds of rumors about which wrestlers were unhappy and might switch promotions. When one finally did it could be rather amazing, because you never knew for sure if it was going to happen until it did.
I used to run a small wrestling news site in college just for fun, but it fell apart rather quickly because all I really had to offer was analysis. I didn't know anyone in the business. I didn't have any insider sources. Most of what I posted was taken from other people's websites and reposted on mine. I might read what someone else wrote and then offer a counter-argument, but that's as far as I could go. Even with those limited abilities I still had a small readership because I updated it everyday. In the world of internet wrestling geeks "insider" information was golden. We all wanted to know what was happening behind the scenes of our favorite business. Flash-forward to 2009 when I began writing this blog. What was I going to offer that other spirits websites didn't? Industry access. I would make the booze version of a pro-wrestling website and see if that interested people. I knew it would be fun to write, so it wasn't going to be a waste of time if no one liked it. Flash-forward to 2013 and we're getting nearly 20,000 hits a day.
When wrestling blogs were a big deal the industry paid attention (just like the liquor companies do now). The WWF would peruse the message boards, trying to get a grasp of what the public was thinking. If they read enough negative feedback about an angle, they might change the direction. If they noticed grassroots support for an underdog, they might give that wrestler a push. Basically, the emergence of the internet was beginning to change the way that the WWF and WCW were scripted. There were two schools of fans: the "smart" fans (or "smarks") and the ones who just followed on TV. Wrestlers began to acknowledge these "insider" fans on live television when talking on the microphone. They enjoyed misleading them as well, acting like one thing was going to happen, but then switching it up. While the "smarks" were definitely having an impact on the industry, they didn't have nearly as much influence as some believed. This was proven with disastrous consequences when Ted Turner's WCW promotion got desperate.
In 1998, the WWF (which had been dominated by WCW during the mid-90s) was clearly back on top after the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and other big names had brought the federation back to life. In 1999, WCW was clearly trailing in the competition and had hired a writer named Vince Russo away from the WWF to give them an edge. Russo was a big reader of internet blogs and he thought catering to the "smarks" would be a way to get business back. It would go down as one of the worst and most costly experiments of all time and would eventually bankrupt what was left of the company. By reading the message boards, listening to the input of wrestling geeks, and pushing critical darlings to the top of the card, Vince Russo lost WCW nearly $60 million in less than twelve months. His new strategy had greatly overestimated the importance of the internet. With obscure mentions toward insider conflicts, esoteric angles that mirrored internal polical strife, and long-winded promos that talked more about business than wrestling, the insider fans became the focus. The casual fans were absolutely bewildered, however. They had no idea what was going on. They began switching the channel over to the WWF in record numbers.
By 2001, WCW could no longer sustain its business and was purchased by Vince McMahon and the WWE. While WCW was in ruins, the industry had learned an invaluable lesson from Russo's direction: internet wrestling geeks do not pay the bills. The web was (and still is) full of guys who said things like, "If I was in charge, I would do this..." or "WCW is wasting their time with so-and-so, and they need to do this...." Vince Russo had used some of those ideas to terrible results. It turned out that being a wrestling fan and running a wrestling business were two totally different things. The guys who obsessed about wrestling, knew the outcome of every match dating back to 1967, wrote out dream scenarios, and spent every waking hour on the message boards were knowledgable about the wrestling side of wrestling, but they were bad for business. The majority of the population just wanted to have fun. Wrestling wasn't nearly as important to them and they didn't want to participate on that level.
I learned a huge lesson that day as well: in any business you should never solely speak to the initiated. If I were to write a blog that catered only to whisky geeks, then I would lose the readership of the general public I am trying to reach. If I were to write only for the general public, then I would lose the attention of those who I relate with most: the passionate and knowledgeable drinkers. There would have to be a balance between the two. I would have to provide information that whisky geeks cared about, but write it in such a way that anyone could understand it. There would need to be a bit of drama, as well. Like wrestling, there would need to be some sensationalism. Who wants to watch a boring, scientific, well-crafted wrestling match with two uncharismatic, straight-faced athletes? Me, actually. But not many people would! To this day, the best wrestlers are the ones who can tell a story in the ring, not simply execute technically-sound movements. The best wrestlers are the ones who connect with the audience, not simply focus on the details of the match. My favorite wrestler of all time is Shawn Michaels and that man was a master at both aspects. He was charasmatic and over-the-top, but he backed it up in the ring every night. I have a great respect for that.
Today is Wrestlemania, but rather than prepare for this evening's event I am typing up another blog post. While I no longer watch wrestling full-time, I feel its influence everyday when I sit down to write. Part show, part business. Partly scripted, yet sometimes off the cuff. The lessons of wrestling are still deeply entrenched within my psyche. The biggest shows are under the biggest of tents. Everyone needs to feel welcome and everyone needs to have fun. That's what Wrestlemania is all about. It's the Superbowl of the wrestling business. Supergeeks and casual fans gathering together to enjoy something they all appreciate on different levels. That's what I wanted this blog to be about as well.