Did you know that on Sunday, December 7, the Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State dual wrestling meet was televised live nationally in the U.S. on Fox College Sports Atlantic? Or did you know that on Thursday, December 11, Maryland will host their inaugural home Big Ten dual against four-time defending NCAA champions Penn State, and it will be televised live nationally on the Big Ten Network?
There may actually be a lot more live wrestling televised in the U.S. than you realize. Keeping up with this TV schedule, however, can be difficult, which is where the National Registry for Wrestling comes in.
Established to bring back the many millions of former wrestlers into the sport, one of the features of their web site is a schedule of televised and webcast wrestling events. This schedule is regularly updated, and can be seen here: http://www.nr4w.com/events/.
While viewership of online streamed video is rapidly increasing in the U.S., TV is still the king for the delivery of live sports. One recent report stated: “Viewership of traditional television dropped nearly 4 percent last quarter, as online video streaming jumped 60 percent.” (1)
However, even if you view live sports on non-pay-per-view online services like FOX Sports GO, WatchESPN, and BTN2Go, you will still have to enter on those sites your ID for your pay-TV provider, such as a cable company. That’s their business model for today, although they may eventually shift to creating and adding online-only pay sites, as TV networks like HBO and CBS are already doing.
Many people are tempted just to cut the cord entirely and dump cable or satellite, choosing to get their TV fixes through Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, or a host of devices like Roku, Google Chromecast, or Apple TV. But if you want live sports, you still have to subscribe to cable or satellite.
An article entitled “Even If You Want To Cut The Cord, Sports Is Strapping You To Your TV” advised: “Sports continues to be the one area of programming that viewers wish to see live. It has unscripted drama and with it, a massive viewing audience. With a model that continues to strap you to your television, even if you don’t need it, for streaming sports video content, the notion of a society completely cut from the cord is a ways off. Sports leagues and networks that air the games are offering ways to see games without your TV, but for much of sports, you’ll still need to prove your television provider. That will slow cord-cutting growth to an extent. How much it will impact it depends on sports leagues, and those that negotiate media rights deals. For the sports fan, it may be you that are some of the very last to join the cord-cutting revolution.” (2)
Yes, services like Netflix, which show an array of movies, old TV shows, and a few original series, are growing: “Netflix was primarily responsible for the 3% drop this season in Nielsen’s measure of homes using television. Some 34% of homes have Netflix, up from 22% last year.” (3)
And viewers are spending a lot of time with that service: “Netflix subscribers stream more than 46 hours of movies and TV shows from the service every month on average, according to estimates from the Diffusion Group that are based on Netflix disclosures.” (4)
However, Netflix does not offer any live sports.
In addition, there seem to be no publicly reported figures for the viewership of wrestling on the various free, freemium, and pay-per-view webcasts, leading one to believe that the numbers are not particularly significant. The only exception is the aggregate number released for the annual NCAA Div. I Wrestling Championships on the ESPN TV and online networks.
So sports fans are stuck, for the moment at least, with pay-TV providers, which remain far more popular than online video, again for the moment.
The other side of this, though, is that since sports is one of the main attractions keeping people as subscribers to cable and satellite TV, these providers are actively searching out for compelling live sports to show. This can actually be a unique opportunity and advantage for wrestling — but only if it can demonstrate that it can get decent ratings and retain subscribers for these companies.
What, then, must wrestling do to increase its appeal and ratings so it is showcased more on live TV, and on larger networks?
Coach Tom Brands of the top-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes noted that even on the Big Ten Network, wrestling must compete for coverage not only with the two most popular college sports, football and men’s basketball, but also ice hockey and women’s basketball.
“I think if we can get some more pizzazz in there, where things aren’t so tight and coaches are coaching a more entertaining style, I think we can get it to where our ratings start to separate ourselves from ice hockey and women’s basketball. But it’s going to take some work,” he said in an interview.
“It’s a lot more fun when you’re scoring 12, 13, 14, 15 points than it is when you’re scoring two or three points. It’s a lot more fun for everybody,” he added.
Many people from other styles of mat competition have recognized this as well. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Rigan Machado, who is now the commissioner of the newly-formed Jiu-Jitsu World League, has developed a new set of rules which reward aggressive action and penalize stalling, all in order to popularize jiu-jitsu.
“What’s missing in jiu-jitsu is to go to the next level, to go professional, to be sure athletes get paid,” like in other sports, he said in an interview.
“And the only way you can do that is by getting the TV. But to get the TV, you have a transformation. We need to readjust the rules to be more exciting, more aggressive, because in TV, the good fights which finish with a little points here and there is not enough. They have to put a lot of points on the board, a lot of submissions, a lot of big throws. And that’s what I did.”
He has also teamed up in this venture with veteran sports TV executive Mat Tinley, who also had been a boxing promoter with America Presents when it represented Mike Tyson.
And yet another sport has just made it to big-time TV. Last week it was announced that ESPN will be televising events from the World Armwrestling League (WAL), including the 2014 World Armwrestling League Championship and the 2015 World Armwrestling League season. WAL came into existence based on the “Game of Arms” series about arm wrestling which aired on the AMC network earlier this year.
So wrestling has a lot of work to do in order to expand beyond the occasional telecast on small networks, and break into the limelight in this already very crowded sports TV market. That is yet another urgent challenge facing the world’s oldest sport.
The entire show with the interview with Tom Brands can be played here:
The entire show with the interview with Rigan Machado can be played here:
(Eddie Goldman is host and producer of the No Holds Barred podcast, at EddieGoldman.com.)