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WHAT KILLED THE FWE? THE QUESTION WE MAY SOON BE ASKING...AND HERE'S THE ANSWER

By Mike Johnson on 2015-03-16 16:14:58

This past Wednesday, FWE, a promotion that has been running the New York City area for the last several years, presented a first-time ever bout with IWGP champion AJ Styles vs. the then-reigning and defending FWE champion John Hennigan aka John Morrison.

It was a match that FWE promoter Jordan Schneider wanted so badly to present that with it being the only night both talents were available, he booked a Wednesday night event in California.  Then, when the venue fell through, Schneider opted to re-book his entire show and move it closer to home, Brooklyn, New York.

The match went 30 minutes and was Best of Three Falls.  Going in, I wondered how they were going to get around the finish.  Was there going to be a run-in?  A DQ?  A time limit draw?  To me, it was fascinating because as much fun athletically as the bout was likely going to be, you never know what wrestling politics are going to play in a finish.  Hennigan, as Johnny Mundo, is on Lucha Underground.  Styles is the IWGP champion and needs to maintain the prestige of that belt. 

It could have been a booking disaster.

Instead, it was one of the nicest surprises of the year as they went over 30 minutes and three falls, with each one ending clean.  It was one of most fulfilling independent bouts seen in the NYC area in some time and it capped off a show that I thought, from top to bottom, was one of the best shows FWE has promoted.

A job well done for Jordan Schneider and his team right?

Artistically, sure.  Financially, well....not really.

"I want to fall on the sword, " said Schneider this morning via telephone   It wasn't the bout or the finish or even the show - broadcast as an iPPV, that led to Schneider's defeated voice as we spoke on the phone Monday AM.

It was the fact that the show, and the match even more prominently than the show, was everywhere from Daily Motion to Youtube to Torrent sites.  Schneider's regular customers have been finding and sending links for days and some of them showcase impressions of over 10,000 for the Styles vs. Morrison bout.

"It's frustrating to see everyone complain about there not being alternatives and preach 'support indy wrestling' but then post a bootleg link on the same page," said Schneider.  "There were links on our own Facebook page, before the show had even been completed for an hour.  I wasn't even out of the building yet.  You almost have to laugh.  No matter what I say, someone is going to complain about me even mentioning this, but the reality is, all of this hurts the bottom line, not just of me, but anyone promoting at this level"

And in 2015, that is reality.

Like a lot of promotions, FWE's biggest enemy is itself - for trying to present something unique, for trying to grow and for trying to make money.  The thousands of impressions are far, far, far beyond the iPPV buys and without the DVD ever being released, will far outlap whatever financial reward the show brings Schneider and the FWE team.

"I could run small crappy shows no one cares to bootleg, but for what?", Schneider said with a sigh.  "You want to try and do something you can be proud of."

It's becoming a more common theme amongst the independent level to have these sort of frustrations.  No matter how hard the promoters try to out-lap those stealing and sharing and torrenting the shows, money is flying out the window...money they will never see again and desperately need.

Meanwhile, those who have no part in the shows are posting them and perhaps even monetizing the material with ad impressions on their own sites, making it a double whammy for promoters like Schneider and others who are running literally, off their own finances, trying to bring people in the doors with a good lineup and good wrestling and hoping, at the end of the day, it's all enough to live and fight another day.

Living and fighting another day, however, is getting harder and harder.

The independent wrestling world, like everything else, has changed with technology.  VHS sales used to be enough to keep ECW alive.  DVD sales built the foundation of Ring of Honor.  iPPV powered WWNLive.com.  Direct downloads have been a mark of CHIKARA'S business.  FWE has done all of that, plus live streams on Youtube (giving complete shows away) and what has it gotten them?

They draw respectable crowds in Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn, but as Jordan said, "I don't just want to run Brooklyn for the rest of my life.  I want to build something here and I want to build something for and with my friends that we can look back on."

What is most fascinating about all of this is that the fans, who in theory, are the most likely to want to support and watch a product like FWE are in many cases, the fans who aren't going to pay for it, just because, hey, why should we, since we don't have to.

That attitude has cut into a lot of independent projects.  Tommy Dreamer recently estimated that his House of Hardcore 7 iPPV ended up, on just ONE site, with the type of views that would have equaled close to a million dollars if people had, you know, actually paid the $15 for the iPPV.  Now, whether that would have actually happened in reality or not, no one will ever know, but the chances are, it won't ever happen, because some fans out there shrug and don't care.

But here's why you should.

Tommy Dreamer recently wrote a statement trying to explain to fans that the type of money lost was the thing that could not only change his life but the lives of wrestlers who would work for him and the fans that wanted to support his product.  In some circles, he was vilified for actually wanting to see people pay to watch something that's coming out of his own pocket, money he could instead keep in a bank account for his children's college education...but Dreamer is trying to build something for fans, because he wants there to be pro wrestling that he loves.

But, hey, it's OK, because he made his money off ECW and WWE and he's got more to piss away than anyone reading this likely will have, right? 

Well, how about the case of John Philapavage and Kevin Kiernan, two independent film-makers from Pennsylvania who turned to fans to help complete their "Barbed Wire City" documentary?  The process took them close to a DECADE of interviews, editing and starting and stopping as life got in the way.  The film was released and while mostly critically loved, it was online before the DVDs had even been mailed for the second batch of orders and while the initial printing of DVDs were sold, what John and Kevin had to show for themselves after a decade?  Something that was worth so little that plans to eventually do a "Director's Cut" have pretty much screeched to a halt because the time and effort vs. the money to be made don't exactly make sense to continue the work, especially given their full-time occupations.

So, now we are talking about two guys who just wanted to make a movie to document something they found interesting and at the end of the day, what was that passion and work really worth?   I don't think we'll ever know the answer to that, but whatever it was worth, was certainly sliced thinner by digital files and burned DVDs making the rounds, with zero cents ever landing in the hands of those who toiled on the film....and these aren't guys who had six figure WWE salaries to stuff money away into savings accounts.  They are guys, who like you and me, live check to check, in the real world.

Now, we return to FWE.  Let's say the promotion decides to shut down.  Certainly others will rise to their take place and promote whatever the next Styles vs. Morrison level bout could be, but I find myself more concerned for the Mike Laws, the Jorge Santis, the VSKs and the Wes Dravens of the promotion.

You may not know those names and perhaps you don't care to know them, but they are just some of the local NYC talents who have been working regularly for the promotion and don't get a lot of work outside of it.  I don't know that any of them will go on to get a NXT deal or headline Wrestlemania, but let's say, somewhere out there, now or in the future, there is someone out there who will...and they are using a promotion like FWE to cut their teeth...only to have FWE (or it's fantasy equivalent) shut down...and impede their progress?

Or, look at it this way: What if ECW shut down and there was nowhere for Eddie Guerrero to come and make his name in the United States?  What if ROH had shuttered operations before Samoa Joe or CM Punk could build their legend?  What if IWS in Montreal shut down when Kevin Steen and El Generico were rookies?

Perhaps all those name would have persevered and evolved and grown up in the business to eventually make big money...or perhaps those promotions dying an early death would have sentenced them to being weekend warriors who's dreams were never fulfilled.  How do you know for sure?

The reality is that we'll never know and I'm glad we don't, but I also don't want to see what happens to a Tony Nese or a Ben Ortiz or an Alex Reynolds if the smaller groups they work for continue to bleed out potential earnings, just for the crimes of trying to create and make money...because at the end of the day, that's really all they have done wrong...tried to make money by creating something memorable.

There's no easy answers here.  Championship Wrestling Hollywood has tried to do a fan donation strategy ($2 a month!) and it's never gotten out of the gates.  FWE has tried to give away it's product for free as a way to build to an additional iPPV the next night...only to see both shows leaked online.

So, what killed the FWE?  Nothing yet but it's hard to ignore when someone shoots you in the chest with a shotgun and the reality is, that's what happened to the promotion over the last few days.  What should be a celebratory lap is now a race to the emergency room as they now have to weigh the pros and cons of going forward.  There are no guarantees in life, for sure, but to run a business where the only guarantee is you find yourself feeling ripped off...well no restaurant or store or even wrestling promotion is going to survive that way...nor should it.

It's getting to the point where you have to wonder if the real future will be promoters running live events and then never releasing the footage, just so they can be guaranteed the money that comes from the live gate.  Even if one fan sneaks it, it beats 100,000 watching your tapes for free....but then, that leaves Jordan Schneider and a lot of others delegated to just running smaller shows for the rest of their lives....and that wasn't the plan or dream when these promotions launched.....but neither was watching any potential revenue fly away into a cloud they can't control and in many cases, can't afford to try to.

So, what could kill FWE?  House of Hardcore? EVOLVE? CHIKARA? AAW? AIW?  A multitude of other companies?

The fact that so many people want to watch their products without actually supporting those products....sooner or later, something is going to give and it's pretty obvious what that's going to be.  

In 2015, this is reality...and something to think about if you truly love pro wrestling.

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.  He still maintains a huge collection of ECW VHS tapes that are hidden away in his storage space...and he paid for each one.

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