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Can Ring of Honor Become a Household Name?

We are several weeks removed from the biggest news in recent years for Ring of Honor. Their parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, purchased Tribune Broadcasting. The significance of this merger is huge. Tribune owns WGN America, a cable network carried by most cable providers. Currently, ROH airs sporadically on different networks in different markets. Where I live, it airs Saturday nights at 11:30. This time slot is not the most viable way of attracting a mainstream audience. There’s potential for a prime time slot for the promotion’s weekly show.  The question that must now be asked, does ROH have the potential of drawing in the casual viewer?

Ring of Honor was founded in February 2002 by Rob Feinstein, owner of RF Video. What he and later owner Cary Silkin attempted to do was to fill a void left in the industry. That void was due to the fall of Extreme Championship Wrestling, the number three wrestling promotion in the United States. ECW was a trailblazer. Whenever the then World Wrestling Federation or World Championship Wrestling zigged, ECW zagged. They didn’t try to have the big and bombastic sets or production values. They chose to focus on the in-ring action more. Promos were short and sweet.  No sanitized vignettes for younger viewers.  Fast-paced, hard hitting matches rivaled anything from the other major promotions.  Eventually, they would have had to adapt to stay afloat.

Ring of Honor had a similar philosophy. Their matches are longer than typical WWE matches of the late 90s-early 2000s. The athleticism on display put this company on the map.  Much of today’s top talent cut their teeth in ROH. From retired mega stars like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, to current main eventers like Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, all of them made a name for themselves in Ring of Honor. And all have proven that they can move merchandise and put asses in seats.  Many forget that CM Punk was moving merchandise at John Cena levels at one point.

The company also wisely set up talent exchange deals with other promotions. Dragon Gate and Pro Wrestling Noah have had mutually beneficial relationships with ROH. For the past three years, ROH has had a strong working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling. Back in August, Ring of Honor brokered a talent deal with the Mexican promotion, CMLL. This past February, ROH cut a deal with the Japanese women’s promotion, Stardom. All of these deals can do what WWE cannot, present people from other promotions AS THEMSELVES and not some force fed new gimmick. This draws not only the diehard wrestling fans, but promotion vs. promotion style events will ALWAYS draw the attention of a few lapsed or casual viewers.

There are those who claim that Ring of Honor shows are nothing but “indie style dive fests” with guys who don’t know how to tell a story, cut a promo nor have a gimmick that are over. While they do have many performers that are guilty of this, I don’t agree with the assertion that no one has over characters/gimmicks. “Dem boys from Sandy Fork, by God, Deleware”, the Briscoes are entertaining as hell, even if it’s only a promo. Seriously, go and watch interviews that Mark Briscoe hosted in his segment dubbed The Chicken Coop. The “Last Real Man” in pro wrestling, Silas Young, is a callback to the great heel gimmicks of the 80s. Dalton Castle. That’s it, only his name need be said. He is the most over thing in Ring of Honor today and he doesn’t even need to touch a microphone. That’s how red hot his gimmick is. Quite a bit of the workers have the potential to reach the casual viewer.

Ring of Honor hit a bit of a snag with loss of great commentators like Nigel McGuinness and Kevin Kelly. Ian Riccaboni is still finding his footing but does a serviceable job. Colt Cabana is entertaining as hell on the microphone, but the issue is that he and Riccaboni haven’t gelled yet. This will take time, but as with all of the solid teams they’ve had on commentary, the time invested always pays dividends down the road.

Merchandise revenue is one of the primary revenue streams for a wrestling promotion. One would expect a company so much smaller than World Wrestling Entertainment to not even be a blip on the radar. Thankfully, that is not the case. Two words perfectly encapsulate why…Young Bucks.  The Bucks allegedly bring in more merch money than 95% of WWE’s performers. If they were to go to WWE, they’d likely work 3-4 times more dates while making less merchandise money. The Young Bucks, along with their Bullet Club teammate Kenny Omega, reached an agreement with Hot Topic to have their merchandise sold there. This is monumental, as the store has never been a major outlet for pro wrestling material. Between this and the Bucks being the highest sellers on ProWrestlingTees, there’s an audience outside of WWE viewers that are willing to fork over some serious cash.

The ingredients are all there to make a strong prime time wrestling broadcast, except for possibly one of the most vital ones, production values. This is one thing that many insiders and even former members of the creative team (Jim Cornette) said is the company’s biggest flaw. The current people in charge seem unwilling to put some serious money into the look of Ring of Honor. For all of the problems that Impact Wrestling has, it at least looks like they put some decent money into the production, from the in-ring matches to the vignettes. Ring of Honor is the home to such excellent workers that deserve the chance to ply their trade in front of the most eyes possible. Some of the wrestlers there have had the chance to go to the WWE and have chosen to stay in ROH. They should reward that type of loyalty. Not just rewarded in the monetary sense, but in a “Sinclair needs to get off their asses and start putting some money into the product. Enhancing their chances of getting picked up by WGN should be a priority.  Therefore, they need a better looking set, entrance ramp, dasher boards/security barriers, announcer’s desk and lighting.

In conclusion, I fervently believe that Ring of Honor has the potential to become a major player.  They could easily capitalize off of the numerous mistakes made by rival shows like Raw or Impact. What are your thoughts on the weekly ROH show? What would you change about it? Do you think they even should try to compete with WWE? We want to hear your thoughts, so please leave comments.

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1 Comment

  1. Gene Holman

    June 19, 2017 at 8:59 am

    IMO the time for a viable competitor to WWE has long since passed. The only thing a savvy promoter can do is provide an alternative to so called “sports entertainment”. Something like..y’know-pro wrestling. 😀 IME, ROH is a niche product with passionately loyal fans. Maybe they’re happy with that?

    Going after a larger portion of the casual audience would mean a year (or more!!!) of retraining them to expect/appreciate something different from WWE’s promo/skit/sick bump tests. I doubt there would be enough patience to do this.

    Even in that case, a competitive promotion (ROH or no) would have to be ready for the same dirty tricks Vince employed during the death of the territories. Without deep pockets*** and rock solid contracts, I don’t see it happening. Maybe it’s best to stay off Vince’s radar, play to a relatively small, yet loyal audience and do your own thing. JMO.

    ***A quick google search shows me Sinclair has more operating income, revenue and assets than Vince. They haven’t made a move to expand ROH. Is it because they see ROH as a loss leader to keep on the books? A cheap subsidiary that provides content? I don’t know.

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