As wrestling fans, we’ve all likely heard that question before, at least once. Some notable columnists have championed this very notion for some time now. Each time, I read the articles and consider the suggestions, but usually I don’t lean either way. However, I figured now’s as good a time as any to stop being so ambivalent about it and figure out exactly where my feelings land on the topic.
The case for a uniform offseason.
Imagine WWE or TNA had a regular season, like any other sport. The immediate and obvious benefit would be the planned downtime. Everyone would have time to address life outside of their hectic travel schedules without having to be written off of TV. As a promoter, you could plan a major season opening event (think SummerSlam), and you could close out the year with the biggest PPV of your season-this has WrestleMania written all over it. Then, the talent would have months to work out, recuperate, recharge and be prepared for the next season and whatever challenges and opportunities might be presented to them. Creative-the writers-would have more time to write and brainstorm, and also less TV time to fill. Between the wrestlers having time off and writers having time off, it could actually lead to a fresher product.
The case for the status quo.
I will admit it was hard to really put it together, because wrestling is clearly nothing like the major sports. First and foremost, it’s sports entertainment. Second, wrestling promoters are generally extremely competitive. Unless or until wrestlers had a union like the major US sports, there will always be promoters willing to run year round. If Vince McMahon tomorrow announced that WWE would only run shows 9 months of the year, you can bet that there would be promoters assuring fans that they would still run year-round events, and many would play the WWE off-season against the promotion. I am not one to advocate unionizing, and I am not going to go off on a political tangent. At the end of the day, I think it’s the competitive drive above all else that would keep wrestling running all year.
Honestly, why do I think an off-season would flop? Well, one reason I’ve constantly heard for it is the downtime. No, not Undertaker type downtime where a talent works a couple matches a year. But a few months so that a wrestler could go film a side project or two. Spend time with family. Recover from injuries. And it’s the injury item I will focus on here. As scripted as wrestling might be, you generally can’t predict an injury. But, you can make an angle out of it. I don’t believe a regular wrestling season would avoid injuries so much. Imagine having just come back from the company-mandated 3 month break, and then within a week, you are injured and out for a prolonged absence. Point is, injuries happen all the time in wrestling, and giving wrestlers a few months off all at the same time doesn’t really minimize the injury risk. It limits earning potential for all involved.
There is, of course, also the economy of it all. Wrestling companies would lose a lot by shutting things down for any length of time. What does that matter, you say? Well, the lost revenue would have to be made up somewhere. Fans would pay more for tickets. More for merchandise. More for the PPV. If a wrestling off-season happened, prices would skyrocket to make up for money lost by the work stoppage. And in this day and age, not a single person wants to see their ticket costs go sky high. In this economy, no one wants to pay more.
What options do promoters have? Honestly, I think something similar to what is already being done is all that is needed. You already see older, more established name wrestlers working on short-term contracts, or with significant off time written into their agreements. When other talent needs time off, whether it’s for a movie project, to have surgery or to tend to personal matters such as a wedding, we see them written off TV by way of some angle or another-an injury, a loser leaves town match or some other stipulation. Perhaps we might see companies stagger planned time off so that certain wrestlers are always cycling in or out. It gives wrestlers themselves a semblance of an off-season, without shutting the entire company down for any stretch of time. We as fans are already used to not having every wrestler on every PPV, so really there wouldn’t be a tremendous change. i believe that, for the most part, a similar strategy is already employed (perhaps not as extensive as multiple planned absences simultaneously).
My take? If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Wrestlers like the Undertaker, RVD, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar and The Rock are such established names that, even when working short schedules, the crowds are hot for them. The younger wrestlers are afforded more opportunities to step up and grow, and as they themselves are elevated to top stars, they too would earn the right to work abbreviated schedules. As injuries happen, naturally time off would be given to heal. If a life event comes up (like Cody Rhodes’ wedding) then writers would find a way to write that superstar off. There’s actually a benefit here, in that it keeps the product going but is not tied to an off-season schedule. You can generally guess when certain wrestlers will return, but it still allows for surprise returns, and that can be exciting. If you know when opening day is, returns are expected at that time. It would take some of the surprise away.
There’s been enough chatter about it that it’s quite possible it’s at least been discussed within companies, but unless or until some major stars make a big stink about things, I fully expect things to remain as they’ve been for as long as I’ve followed wrestling. If it ain’t broke…