Since our son was born over a year ago, the kind of wrestling shows that my husband and I attend has changed. True, it hasn’t meant too much of a shift for us, as we’ve been fans of companies that run all-ages shows, like Attack! Pro Wrestling and Revolution Pro Wrestling, since before we became parents, regularly attending shows and frequently watching them online. But adding to our family and so seeking out suitable wrestling content for our son has really made us aware of how important these family-friendly shows are, for wrestlers and fans alike.
Family-friendly wrestling has been a staple of the British scene for decades. For the longest time, it was the dominant form of British wrestling on offer. The 1970s/80s boom period, the time the many who don’t regularly consume wrestling will reference when British wrestling in any form is discussed, was massively successful because of the family market. That magical formula of captivating both parents and children and seemingly everyone in between was watched and loved by millions who were completely immersed in the bold beloved stories of heroes versus villains. The stars of the day regularly received rock-star level reactions. Family-friendly was very good business, and it still can be today. So it’s not a new idea; in fact to some it’s expected – BritWres meaning a family-friendly show, watching the kids getting involved and loving the interactive entertainment. It’s physical theatre, maybe at its most theatrical. Maybe that’s why some people look down on it.
I’ve noticed, since I started looking out family-friendly shows that some fans are not fond of the style or, more often, not fond of the audience those shows attracts. One interaction that stands out to me is someone piping up on Twitter that they enjoy the wrestling company I mentioned we’d be going to see; only the children at the shows spoil it because they keep cheering the wrong people. Firstly, no one should be telling kids they’re cheering for the ‘wrong’ people or trying to shape their opinions of wrestlers when part of their wrestling experience should be deciding who they do and don’t like. Also, this is a show that is advertised as being for all the family and that children are clearly welcome to attend. Yes, shows like that will feature talents loved by the hardcore BritWres fan community, but that doesn’t mean that children can’t enjoy those matches in their own way too; full of enthusiasm, instinctive reactions and passion. If the wrestlers can perform on all age shows as well as age-restricted ones, then surely children can enjoy their work. It’s the kind of enjoyment that should be encouraged not squashed.
There’s something incredibly joyful about watching children rush up to the crowd barriers to high five their heroes and boo the villains who have no problem mouthing back. We enjoy seeing the kids wearing masks and buying merchandise and practicing moves on each other during the interval. I’ve chatted to parents whose kids enjoy going to summer wrestling classes. Maybe they won’t end up working in the business but going to these family-friendly shows has clearly already sparked at least an interest in wrestling that goes beyond just attending shows. They want to try being part of it, at least for the summer. Maybe for some, it’ll go further and these shows could mean the beginning of a wrestler’s career.
Because there are many companies running family-friendly shows in BritWres, it makes sense that any wrestler wanting to get as many bookings as possible should learn how to wrestle in a family-friendly style. Not only will this mean more bookings, it also means diversifying their range as an in-ring performer and developing their skills in crowd interaction. Working at an all-age show could mean creating a whole new character or tweaking who a wrestler works as now so that they can simply twist things slightly depending on who they’re working in front of. Many wrestlers have stated that working on shows in places like Butlins, which can mean wrestling a number of shows every day, often switching characters between each other, is a brilliant learning curve that every wrestler should experience.
Not only is family-friendly good business on the independent circuit, ITV’s World of Sport relaunch is clearly aimed squarely at a broad family audience and showcases terrific British talent who excel at entertaining all ages. If a success, World of Sport will offer the most mainstream wrestling television product available in the UK in decades, beaming all-ages entertainment, a gateway to every other type of wrestling to be explored and enjoyed, into millions of homes on Saturday nights. It’s also, of course, the business of the biggest wrestling company in the world. The WWE is rated PG and prides itself on being suitable for all the family, i.e. for the biggest audience possible. If wrestlers want to work for either company one day, they will have to be able to work well in a family-friendly environment and as a family-friendly character. So why not start learning now? Why not have that as part of a skillset that could prove essential later on when trying to land a dream job?
Best of all, we’ve seen that attending family-friendly shows rarely means experiencing an identical style each time. Attack! Pro Wrestling is like a comic book come to life, it doesn’t patronise the audience and tells often-continuity-heavy stories that includes some outlandish characters while never failing to entertain an audience of young and old and producing shows that can also be enjoyed without knowing any of the back story. There’s companies like Fight Club Pro that allow children of all ages to attend with a warning to interested parents about the content they will see and the language they’ll hear. All of Revolution Pro Wrestling’s shows are child-friendly, as long as attending children are accompanied by an adult, and often contain dream independent scene matches featuring impressive import talent that can’t be seen elsewhere in the UK and matches adored by critics. The Contenders shows from OTT Wrestling – shows that showcase up and coming talent as well as beloved OTT regulars – are open to an all-age audience and are very similar content and style-wise to their age-restricted shows with a few exceptions (clean language, no hardcore wrestling moments).
By tapping into the family friendly market, companies and wrestlers are able to diversify, broadening their audience and getting children interested at a young age which is surely one of the keys to wrestling’s survival as a whole in any country and era – audience appeal and audience loyalty. All-age shows these days are packed with fantastic wrestling, often performed by a roster that includes the cream of current BritWres talent, as well as broadly entertaining moments and characters that are embraced by adults and children alike. While a number of fans are vocally turned off by the current WWE product, the independent scene can provide a massive variety of alternative content that doesn’t just mean age-restricted shows. It means appealing to people who love or hate WWE, people of all ages, fans of the past, present and future.
Piicture Credit: itv.com