2015 Wrestling State of the Union

The state of the union isn’t strong. That’s the bitter reality that people in the extremely insular and isolated world of wrestling don’t wanna hear. Yes big events are being put on. Yes new stars are on the rise. Yes world wrestling seems to now have better leadership and a greater sense of urgency after nearly getting booted out of the Olympics. The reality is still stark.

Greco and Freestyle

The United States of America cannot succeed and will not succeed in Greco-Roman wrestling until we have kids focusing exclusively on Greco from a young age. That means no folkstyle, no AAU, no high school, and no college wrestling. However, at this time we don’t have serious programs dedicated exclusively to Greco at a young age. That is something I’m working on and I’ll keep you updated.

In freestlye the transition from folkstyle is less severe. I’d say dump folkstyle all together to give America more of a competitive advantage. Although a 19 year old Kid like Kyle Snyder or an Aaron Pico shows this transition can be made even at a young age. Still, focusing on freestlye from a young age will yield greater results. Everyone knows this is the case.  Yet, just as in the case with the metric system America can be stubborn to a system we love.  (For the record I absolutely love folkstyle wrestling I just think dumping it will in the long be best…kinda like a divorce).

Demographics

As I have written about before the sport of wrestling cannot succeed in the future if the sport is not available and prospering among all racial, ethnic and religious groups. Wrestling is an ancient sport. A sport that has been practiced by all people at all times. There is no need in America for the strongholds of wrestling to just be in the heart of white suburbia and rural America. The fact that wrestling is largely absent from our inner-cities and ghettos is an indictment on all of us. Something each of us in our cities and areas should be working to address. I’m happy to be part of such an effort in St. Louis. You can be an agent of change in your area.  Beat The Streets by USA Wrestling provides a good blueprint.

This issue can be addressed in your lives. Does your church or synagogue have space that could house a wrestling program? Here at the world championships wrestlers from Muslim countries are heavily represented. However, I can’t think of a single wrestling program in this country geared towards Muslims youth. Latinos and Asians are the fastest growing segments of our population. Wrestling is growing in Latin America and Asia. No reason it can’t grow within those demographics in this country.

Entertainment, Fan Experience and Geography

Colleges are still cutting wrestling. Outside of a handful of schools there is little ticket demand. Wrestlers mostly train hard and then perform before empty seats. While some schools have been innovative in ways to get fans out most are lethargic. When it comes to freestlyle and Greco wrestling outside of a handful of events a year you can waltz right in and sit on the front row. Even the big ticket sellers like the US Open can get outdrawn by a high school basketball game.

The response from wrestling fans is usually a smug insular shrug of the shoulders oblivious to the world around them outside of their small little clique.

In order to get fans in seats wrestling must be an event. This is something USA Wrestling and schools are already working on. Like it or not there just aren’t enough wrestling nerds who will just attend for the action. You need a DJ, at the senior level you probably need dancers, and in general a page has to be borrowed from MMA and boxing. Flowrestling is onto this idea even if their presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

The 2015 World Championships are hosted at The Orleans Arena and Casino in Las Vegas. To put this in perspective The Orleans is an arena that’s hosts b-level boxing matches. The last one that comes to mind is Zab Judah-DeMarcus Corley several years ago. Thank God it’s not in Iowa. If you’re going to have fans staying somewhere for six days it should be someplace fun. A place where you can take family members, friends and lovers who may not even be wrestling fans. People look forward to spending time in Las Vegas. Outside of hardcore wrestling fans and people working in the corn industry there aren’t too many people that look forward to spending any time in Iowa. Of course it’s an economic concern as well. Places like Iowa are cheaper and they have a large built-in fanbase. That’s good for maintaining the status-quo; but that status-quo isn’t good enough.

On that note I applaud NCAA Wrestling in their ambition as they take next year’s championships to the media capitol of the world. A championship in Des Moines cheapens your brand and puts you on par with Frisbee.  St. Louis and Chicago are ideal cities geographically and work great for the finals; but putting on big events in New York is crucial to the growth and popularity of the sport.  Whether that be the Grapple at the Garden, Beat The Streets in Times Square, or the NCAA Division 1 Championships.

A huge problem for wrestling is people wrestle, they love wrestling, and after they stop wrestling they never pay attention to the sport again or attend an event.  If I attend and NCAA or high school football game I never get asked who I’m related to on the team. When I attend wrestling events I always get asked.  If we could just get ex-wrestlers to buy tickets there would be ticket demand to all wrestling events.

Wrestling is strongest in parts of the country with a stagnant population. Agricultural and industrial areas of the Rust Belt that haven’t fared well in the 21st Century Economy. In other words wrestling has a geography that closely mirrors that of Arby’s. In many vibrant and growing parts of the country the sport is in trouble. Absent from the state university systems in the booming states of Florida, Georgia and Texas. Lagging behind in much of the Northeast and while in better shape in California on some levels the west as a whole is problematic for the sport.  Anything to address these trends (and demography is key in this) should be applauded.

The Positives

Great action, tremendous athletes and the 2015 World Championships have really delivered just as every other major wrestling event this year has.  I don’t know about you but I’m really looking forward to Rio ’16 !

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