Big Bens Bigger Opinion: 13/09/13
The Territory System = Good For Business.
Before WWF’s national and International expansion in the 1980’s, Pro Wrestling in the United States was divided into a territory system under one main governing body the National Wrestling Alliance. Promoters in each area of the United States ran shows for their specific market place and obeyed the unwritten rules that for example, a promoter in Texas could not run a show in Memphis and vice-versa. TV was also localised and very rarely did wrestling TV shows overlap into different markets. They were area specific and for the most part promoters respected these boundaries and played by the rules, which were enforced by the NWA. There was also of course one widely recognized World Heavyweight Champion, hand picked by the NWA Board Of Directors, who was expected to tour each territory and defend his title. If he didn’t draw almost everywhere, he was replaced by someone who could.
There were many benefits to this system. Promoters who were NWA members didn’t have to worry about competition from other members and non-members stood very little chance of making a dent in the market place because of the NWA’s size and power.
It wasn’t just the promoters, but the wrestlers too that benefited from the territory system. Wrestlers had tons of options up and down the country to work and earn a good living. If a performer had exhausted all his opponents or had become stale in one area, he could pack up his bags and head to another State where he hadn’t been over-exposed on TV and could be rivatalised by fresh opponents, surroundings and a new audience. By working in different areas and learning different styles and working with talented wrestlers from all over the country, a talent could learn his craft and fine tune his act to the point that if he got a spot in one of the big money territories like Mid Atlantic or New York he was already the full package.
The then WWWF pulled out of this safe but restricting system in the early 60’s in order to book a Champion of it’s own that was a better draw in New York and the East Coast than the NWA’s chosen one and was available for all WWWF shows. They still had an on again/off again working relationship with the NWA but when Vince McMahon Jr. took over the re-branded WWF from his father in the early 80’s he broke every unwritten rule in the book and went into direct competition with every promoter in the country. To cut a long story Vince McMahon Jr. is credited with killing off the territory system in the United States. He then killed off all his competition entirely in the late ’90s. But as almost everyone agrees including McMahon himself, the WWE has began to suffer from the lack of a territory system. Experienced talent is very hard to find in 2013.
But what if the company responsible for the death of the territories, could be the same company that brings them back? It may sound crazy at first, but bare with me…….
If WWE as the most powerful wrestling company on the planet took the role of a governing body and like the NWA in the past, charged Independent Wrestling promotions a small membership fee to join the WWE umbrella, but then let them promote shows in their specific areas, why wouldn’t it benefit all concerned? The smaller member promotions would benefit from being associated with the WWE machine and WWE would have a ton of promotions from which to cultivate talent. The WWE performance center may be a step in the right direction but it is no substitute for being on the road and learning your craft in different territories across the world.
A WWE affiliated territory in Texas, Memphis, St. Louis, The United Kingdom, Australia, Florida etc. could give WWE’s developmental talent places to work and hone their characters and pay their dues, instead of coming off the WWE Production Line and not knowing their arse from their elbow. Many Indy promotions have local TV deals and with WWE’s backing could have slightly improved production and access to WWE contracted talent, which would give talent invaluable experience in front of the TV cameras which is of course essentail for any WWE Superstar.
WWE have managed to create a few home grown stars through their feeder system developmentals like Batista and John Cena but the greatest names of all time arrived at the WWE as full packages who could work a number of styles, had TV experience and had built in characters. Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts, Jerry Lawler, Terry Funk, Ted DiBiase, Rick Rude, the list is endless of guys who came to the WWE as already polished performers from years touring the territories. By the time they got to New York they were ready and able to run with the ball in whatever situation or gimmick they were put in.
This is still true in today’s WWE. The best performers and the ones that stand out and rise to the top and most importantly stay there are the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan not the cookie cutter talents that came up through WWE’s system. Punk and Bryan learned their craft by working all over the world for 10 years before arriving in WWE. Sure they were stuck in developmental for a while but it wasn’t needed, they were ready and the experience they gained before the WWE was what put them on a level higher than their peers. There are a new breed of ex-Indy talents from that mold that WWE have coming through the ranks like Dean Ambrose, Adrian Neville, Seth Rollins, Antonio Cesaro, Kassius Ohno, Sammi Zayn and a few others that stand out head and shoulders among the rest of the interchangeable NXT crew, who for the most part fit that cookie cutter WWE developmental wrestler mold.
If WWE were to as I suggested set up their own territory system across the world, then they could send green NXT talent on the road to find themselves and learn different styles and pay their due. It would also be great for certain main roster talent who have run out of fresh opponents and storylines and become over-exposed to the WWE core audience. Send them out to one of the territories so they don’t get ring rust sitting at home and bring them back when they have a new scenerio or when the WWE audience has had time to miss them. This would of course be a huge boost for the smaller member promotions to have say a Kofi Kingston or a Big Show show up and boost their box office for a month or two and then put over the local star on the way out. It could also be a great way to test a new gimmick, for example instead of debuting the new El Matadores tag team on Raw and watching the gimmick bomb in front of the world, test run it in a WWE affiliated territory so that if it does fail they can go back to the drawing board and Primo and Epico will be saved the embarrassment of a possible career killing flop on worldwide TV. And I have only just scratched the surface on the wealth of benefits a WWE Territory System would bring to the Wrestling business as a whole.
In closing I realise the chances of this actually happening are remote to say the least, it would require the WWE Powers That Be to think outside the box. But if they did, hmmmmmmm now that really would be “Good For Business”
until next time, Be Good and if you can’t be good, be careful ~Ben~