When I was a kid, the WWE, (then known as the WWF) was all about marketing towards kids. Yes, there were legions of adult fans, but the marketing machine of the WWE targeted the younger viewers. And the main mouth piece was the larger than life persona of Hulk Hogan, who championed “Take your vitamins and say your prayers.”
Then, something happened. The kids grew up and everything changed. The lines between heroes and villains blurred and the nice guy was the villain and the guy who flipped everyone off was the hero.
Women wrestlers were also affected by the changes. Their attire became sexier and the crowd lusted for accidental nip slips and chanted for women to show their “puppies.” And many of the women did. It was no longer about their athleticism, but their sexiness. The episodes on TV were raunchy and the crowds were encouraged to participate in the raunchy chants.
I was one of those kids who grew up watching wrestling and kept watching it as an adult. There were times, though, when I felt like the raunchiness was going too far and changed the channel. And while I still loved wrestling, I missed the simple lines of right and wrong, good and bad.
I remember watching one night, after my first child was born, and being saddened by the realization that my kids would grow up without something that was such a big part of my childhood. Something that I loved so much. Because I wasn’t going to let them watch wrestling.
But things are changing in the world of sports entertainment once again.
The WWE has picked up a PG rating and put aside sophomoric humor (for the most part), and the focus is on women as wrestlers, not as sex objects. Some would say there’s still more to do there. As a father of a daughter, I wish the women were given more time to showcase their in-ring skills. One of the wrestlers, Natalya, isn’t just the most technical female wrestler, she is probably one of the best technical wrestlers in all of wrestling and she is unable to showcase her skills because the spotlight is always trained on the guys. (My daughter recently met Natalya and I hope more than ever that my daughter’s new hero gets to shine brightly.) There’s still more work to do there.
But I’m getting sidetracked. Back to the new wave of marketing for the WWE.
The people in the front office of the WWE are marketing geniuses and recognize when there is a shift. I’m not the only one that struggled with the way things were in the WWE. The WWE realized that if it was going to flourish in the future, they needed to grow their fan base once again. And they are doing just that.
When I was a kid, there was a great WWF cartoon called Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. Now, there is a new cartoon out called Slam City, which follows the WWE Superstars after they’ve lost their in-ring jobs. They have even partnered with Scooby Doo and released a cartoon with the WWE Superstars and the mystery-solving team.
The WWE also is pushing Heroes who act like heroes – newer heroes like John Cena, who has granted over 400 Make-A-Wish visits, and Daniel Bryan, who is the constant underdog overcoming one obstacle after another. These are guys that the younger viewers can look up to.
After a recent event for family bloggers, I was able to attend a taping of WWE’s flagship show RAW. Most of the program was appropriate for children. There was a sexual innuendo at the beginning of the show, but it went over my kids’ heads. One curse word was said, but the language was less offensive than what you’ll find on most network TV sitcoms. The one thing that did bother me didn’t have anything to do with the show – it was the crowd. The crowd still resembles the way it was like years ago, mainly adult men, and I wished my kids weren’t hearing some of their language and chants. Then again, try going to any sporting event without hearing cursing and inappropriate language.
As a long-time fan and a father, I appreciate all the WWE is doing to gain back the younger viewers. I’m excited about this new phase in my family’s life, one where we can sit in front of the TV and root for our favorites and boo the villains. And I’m glad that once again it is clear who the heroes and villains are.
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