WWE and its ambivalence towards the Indian market
India is the second most populous country in the world. With over 1.25 billion people, most of the industries and organizations would consider the country to have the ability to become their biggest market in the world! If that industry or sector just so happens to be new in the country, the potential and opportunity would increase exponentially; but all of those statistics are just theoretical. In hindsight, every organization would think twice before venturing into a new market, but when it comes to professional wrestling, ironically none of the global organizations dared to set foot in the country – or at least make an honest effort in trying to stamp their authority in India. It is even more puzzling when you consider the fact that grappling has been around in India for centuries!
Professional wrestling has always been popular among the Indian fans. Looking back, when WWE visited India in ’96 with Bret Hart as the main face of the company, their one – night event in the city of Bangalore drew about 30, 000 fans! Only a sport like cricket, which is heralded as India’s favorite sport would drag more people for one evening – and that on a really good day! With professional wrestling organizations not willing to take a chance with the Indian market, there are no case studies which can outline the pros and cons of entering the country with a completely new product, and that is where for decades, WWE has missed the ball.
TNA to its credit tried bringing their product to the Indian fans, but with TNA being relatively unknown (compared to the WWE), it did not drag as much attention as TNA would have hoped for. The most important aspect while entering a new territory is bringing in recognizable faces. During the old territory days in the United States, the promoters wouldn’t dare putting on a show without the local hero – the most famous rassler in the territory. Whether you talk about the Ric Flairs, Dusty Rhodes, JYDs and so on, the promoters always banked on those who were famous among their fan base. Unfortunately, TNA did not have a John Cena or an Undertaker to cater to the Indian fans – especially since they aren’t the typical “smart fans” you would find in the United States or the United Kingdom.
WWE on the other hand, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to the second biggest global entertainment organization in the world, is not TNA. Most of today’s generation grew up watching WWE, idolizing the WWE superstars, and wishing they could attend at least one live show of WWE. Although from time to time, WWE does realize that India is an important market by sending superstars such as Kane and Ryback, they haven’t taken any initiative which can prove to be productive for the organization, except for the fact that it brings good PR to the company. WWE has always taken risks, and consequently outlasted their other competitors, but their ambivalence towards entering the Indian market has been nothing short of puzzling.
Talking about global organizations, during my recent conversation with UFC’s CCO Marshall Zelaznik, he hinted at the possibility of UFC entering the country this year with a live event! To be honest, UFC would face more problems with the ministry of sports in India than WWE while entering the country – Similar to the athletic commissions in the United States, but UFC has realized the importance and the opportunities a huge market such as India can possess. Also, MMA isn’t as famous as professional wrestling in India, just because people have known about WWE longer than UFC or any other MMA organization in the world.
The other fact remains that WWE travels all around the world, putting on wrestling shows. WWE will be visiting Asian countries once again in a matter of months when they tour Japan. The fact that WWE has never truly tried to tap the potential of the Indian market remains as one of the biggest mysteries – especially since the majority of the population are teenagers and young adults, who’ve grown up watching WWE! It remains to be seen whether WWE would try doing something to change the status quo of professional wrestling in India, but one has to believe that if WWE makes an honest effort and brings in live events, they won’t be disappointed. Although the metrics would depend upon various factors and variables, if WWE concentrates on places like Mumbai, it won’t be a problem for them to drag similar numbers like they did in 1996!