Do event names really matter?
– Chris O’Mealy 7/15/17 – 10:00Pm
This past Sunday, the WWE ran a PPV event called “Great Balls of Fire.” I am not making this up. That is what they called the event. To WWE’s credit, they cheesed up the promos for the PPV by using drive-in movie theater settings and malt shops while hyping the event. They could’ve done a lot more to jazz up a show named after a 1964 Jerry Lee Lewis song, but that’s not the point here. With such a ridiculous name being used to advertise a WWE PPV event, the question we must ask ourselves is, does the name of the show make a difference to the show itself? Should we judge the show based on its name, or the quality of the show itself? The answer isn’t as black and white as you might think.
Wrestling PPV events have always had names to them. Once they became commonplace and would run once a month, the names would become more consistent. WWE always had the big four, with WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. WCW had some great names for their events too, like Starrcade, Halloween Havoc, The Great American Bash, and World War 3, to name a few. ECW gave us events like November to Remember, GFW gives us events like Slammiversary, NJPW gives us Wrestle Kingdom, and so on and so forth. Events have names to distinguish them and make them unique. This is also useful for referencing past events. It’s easy to mention a match that happened at the 1992 Royal Rumble, rather than “that event from January of 1992 on pay-pre-view.”
Of course, not all names have been good. When the WWF started the In Your House monthly events, they gave each one a tag name. Some of them were cool, some of them made you roll your eyes. But you still ordered them so you could see what happened next in the sagas of The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley and more. People bought the event regardless of the name, because they wanted to see how the matches that were built up on television would pan out. Had Bret Hart Vs. Shawn Michaels taken place at an event called Jazztastic ’97, people would’ve laughed at the name, but bought the PPV in record numbers to see what the outcome would’ve been. In retrospect, we as fans tend to focus back on an event and recall the amazing matches that took place (or not so amazing matches) and push the concern of the event’s corny name aside. In a lot of ways, the event name ceases to be important once the card has taken place. It’s only then do we look back on the event with fondness or disgust, regardless of the name being clever or not. When we look back at ECW December to Dismember, we cringe. Not because the name of the event was bad, but because the show we got was atrocious.
Many event names used over and over by a company as big as the WWE even have the same meanings. Let’s be honest, Backlash and Payback are essentially the same concept for an event. Judgment Day and Armageddon are two different words describing a similar event. They sound pretty cool though, so we roll with them. Of course, WWE has also named PPVs things like Capitol Punishment and Fatal 4 Way, which aren’t good names at all. Or they’ve done eye-rolling puns like Global Warning or my personal favorite, abbreviated names of past events, shortening the Great American Bash to just The Bash. These aren’t good names. No one is arguing that. However, when the Bash event from 2009 is brought up, people quickly gloss over the name and focus on the incredible match between Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio that took place. The name becomes an afterthought, as the focus is on the amazing wrestling match that took place.
That brings me back to the Great Balls of Fire event. The name was bad, and everyone knew it, but the event ended up being very good. People were talking about it big time the next day. People talked about the brutal fight between Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar. They talked about Roman Reigns trying to kill Braun Strowman with an ambulance. They talked about the amazing Iron Man match that the Hardy Boys had with Cesaro and Sheamus. They talked about the revenge Sasha Banks took on Alexa Bliss when Bliss got herself intentionally counted out. They talked about the showdown between long time partners Big Cass and Enzo Amore. Hell, they even talked about the short filler match between Heath Slater and Curt Hawkins that was specifically designed to be a distraction from the aftermath of the Strowman-Reigns match, in which the finish wasn’t even broadcast on television! People were talking, and the stigma of the name that had existed ever since its inception blew away very quickly. The ridiculous memes that came out of the event’s announcement went away, and the focus moved forward quickly.
So does the name matter? People were talking about it, albeit in a mostly negative fashion before the matches took place, but they WERE talking about it. The unique and odd name stood out. However, nobody bought or watched the event because it was called Great Balls of Fire. The event name could’ve been called anything. It was the card that sold the show. I knew I was watching to see Joe and Brock, Roman and Braun, the Iron Man match, the women’s match, Enzo Vs. Cass, and even the rest of the undercard. The name made no difference to the selling of the card itself. That said, the name of the event, should it become annual, will make a difference in the long run.
Think about any annual PPV event that systematically let you down. WCW Uncensored is a good example here. The event was often so messy and overbooked with the “unsanctioned” stipulation heavy matches, it became known as WCW’s worst event of the year. Also, if the matches were all unsanctioned, how did championship belts change hands? Things that make you go hmm.
The result of this was that Uncensored lost viewers as hard numbers showed. People simply weren’t buying an event that annually let them down. That is where the name truly comes in. WrestleMania is the draw. Even if the card isn’t great on paper, people are going to buy it in record numbers. Why? Because WrestleMania has spent 33 years making itself the gala of sports entertainment and the one show you know you’ll watch even if you’re just a casual wrestling fan. The Royal Rumble, despite being a big letdown for many years, still draws big numbers because of the Rumble match itself. The Money in the Bank PPV event has a pretty big drawing point now, because people know they’re going to get something cool to tune in to see. If an event, even without a stipulation, were to deliver must-see cards every single year, people would start paying attention to the event over the actual card itself, because they’ll remember that THIS was the event that made them go ooooooo and ahhhhhhh (not the Roman scream) and begin looking forward to the event on an annual basis.
So, if the Great Balls of Fire name returns in 2018 and brings us another excellent show, odds are the name will stick around, and become a draw bigger than the card itself. Remember Bash at the Beach in WCW? That event drew for a few years because of the Hulk Hogan appeal. He debuted there and formed the nWo there. People were buying the event simply to see Bash at the Beach. That’s a big deal. The event itself can outshine the card. On the flipside, if WWE ever ran another failure name of an event, like December to Dismember (sorry to harp on this but it’s a solid example), people would be VERY skeptical. WWE would have to throw together a must-see card with great storyline advancement and positive outcomes, because they’d also have to work to erase the bad taste everyone would still have from the last time that event was ran. They’d have their work cut out for them. Granted, that isn’t the only reason they’ve never ran with that name again, but you can’t blame them. Once the name becomes associated with something that terrible, it’s easier (and smarter) to leave it in the past and move on. WWE did just that.
The Great Balls of Fire event name wasn’t good. But since it delivered, people may associate it with something positive next year, and look forward to it when it returns. If WWE runs the event for a few more years, and makes it great each time, it will continue to draw for them. Big time events like SummerSlam and Survivor Series have disappointed in the past, but have become such a staple that people will still watch and buy them. Hell, the King of the Ring in 1995 is widely considered WWE’s worst PPV of all time, and while that event (sadly) no longer happens, it still ran annually for a while and gave us other great moments and matches. The name can work against itself in the beginning, but if the card can extinguish the laughable name, than almost anything can sell in a positive way.
So take note Vince McMahon, and that ugly bucky beaver toothed Kevin Dunn. Your corny song named themed PPV event worked. But that doesn’t mean we need to sell Detroit Rock City or Stairway to Heaven as event names. Unless you deliver a card that we absolutely cannot miss. Oh, and don’t forget to get the song itself involved. That part is crucial. Hey, you’re going to use a song name, you better get the song too!
Question and answer
I thank my readers for their continued support both here and on my podcasts! I always like to give back in any way that I can, and I give back by answering a few of your questions. Let’s open up the mailbag and see what we got this week.
Q: How does WWE continue to push Roman Reigns as a babyface when he tried to MURDER Braun Strowman at Great Balls of Fire? (@ThisIsChev on Twitter)
A: Great question. WWE is pretty hell-bent on trying to push Roman Reigns as their top babyface. At the Great Balls of Fire event, in his ambulance match with Braun Strowman, Roman (the face) put Strowman (the heel) in the ambulance and ran the vehicle in reverse into a parked semi, trying to kill Strowman. These actions may have worked in the Attitude Era, when an anti-authority babyface Steve Austin tried to kill a mega-heel like Triple H, but the times have changed drastically. Roman isn’t a cool face people are cheering for, he’s being booed. And these actions, performed in this way, did not make him a babyface at all. Even worse, WWE had Strowman walk away from the incident, which would have made him a heroic babyface instantly, had the roles been reversed. If Roman was the heel and Braun was the face in this match, they would’ve created two insanely over characters in one moment on Sunday. Instead, this makes the fans boo Roman harder and cheer Braun more, which is the opposite of the intended effect, since Roman was still booked as a face on Raw. I don’t get it. And it’s clear a lot of the fans don’t either.
Q: Why won’t WWE use past successful gimmick matches (i.e. War Games) from companies they now own, instead of gimmick matches viewers don’t want to see? (Maddog via Facebook)
A: I think the answer is purely egotistical. Chris Jericho mentioned in his book that before the advent of the Elimination Chamber, Triple H was lobbying for War Games to be brought into WWE. Vince was highly against it though, as that was a WCW creation (specifically, a Dusty Rhodes creation) and Vince simply didn’t want anything WCW related to be on his television show. That happened in 2002, so maybe you’d think that they’d have gotten over it by now. Unfortunately, looking at how awful the Sting-HHH feud was in 2015, it’s clear that fragile egos have never gotten over WCW, even though the company has been dead since 2001 and the WWE owns all of their intellectual property! Maybe once Vince McMahon is officially out of power and Triple H is in charge, we’ll see War Games return and the Punjabi Prison burned. Until then, great match concept sit on the shelf in exchange for matches the fans really, really, don’t want to see.
Q: Are there any wrestlers still active, who amaze you that they’re still working? (@MarkJabroni on Twitter)
A: Tons. Any true old timer who can barely move but is still collecting paydays by working matches makes me cringe. Someone like Jerry Lawler who literally had a heart attack on air makes me nervous anytime he gets physical now. I don’t really blame them for keeping their passion and dream alive, but some of these guys have reached a point where they can literally show up at a show, sit down, take photos, and get paid, instead of putting their increasingly fragile bodies at risk. I’d LOVE to have accomplished a career where I could do that! You can’t take the passion away from the boys though, and some of them want to wrestle until they literally can’t move. More power to them, but it sure as hell makes me cringe.
Q: Which federation(s) do you wish would make a comeback and become relevant or even a viable alternative to today’s product? (Russell from prayforaiden.com)
A: Great question. The answer may surprise you: none of them. I want more competition in today’s wrestling universe. I wish the territories would return, and we’d have dozens of options to choose from. Granted, I think we have great choices now – WWE, GFW, ROH, Lucha, NJPW, and indies you can find like CZW, PWG, ECPW, CHIKARA, and GSW – but those are the promotions I want to see grow and thrive, not a throwback using a past name that was a draw. I believe in legacy staying where it is. One of my least favorite things WWE ever did was resurrect ECW and butcher it, because it hurt the past legacy that was Paul Heyman’s ECW. I’d love to see a system like the NWA and AWA return, but not those acronyms. They should remain in the past, with their histories being something we study and duplicate, rather than copy and paste and then butcher. Let them rest in peace, and let’s get the current products out there to get bigger and better.
Q: Were you ever an E-Fed person, and why do you think E-Feds died off? (Matt H on Facebook)
A: I was a big e-fed person in high school, and dropped out of it when I broke into the business in 2005. The fed I ran, the XWF, actually got really popular, and I made some cool friends through there, a few I still talk to, to this day (Shoutouts to Roman, Marcus, and Corey!). I even bonded more with classmates in high school, like my good friend and DDP Yoga trainer Pat McDermott, who I started the Club Kayfabe WrestleTalk podcast with. E-feds are still around, but I think their popularity has waned because the generation of kids who started them all grew up. E-feds were part of the early days of the internet wrestling fan, which would’ve been someone like me, a high school aged kid, getting into very quickly. As we all got older and dropped out of them, they began to fade. Kids still do them online (and maybe adults too) but it’s definitely become less common than it was, back when having a website was the cool and uncommon thing. It’s the same reason why the nostalgia of the Attitude Era and even the 1980’s is still so strong. That was the creation of so many wrestling fans, who all grew up and moved on or changed with the times. The brand extension era did not create nearly as many new fans as Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin did. We were the true generation who got wrestling popular, so in a lot of ways, we’re the most important generation in wrestling. Same goes for e-feds. We made them a thing, but most of us grew up and don’t do them anymore, so they’ve subsided. The only people still doing them are newer fans keeping the tradition alive in their own way.
Chris O’Mealy is a former indy wrestling promoter, ring announcer, manager and referee. He is the founder and moderator of the Club Kayfabe Creative Community (http://www.ckcconline.com) and currently hosts three podcasts and writes for his own blog (http://comealy17.wordpress.com). He can be reached on Twitter @chrisomealy or emailed directly at email@example.com. You may also contact him on Facebook (facebook.com/chrisomealy), but he will only accept a friend request if you ask him first.