Keith Cohen has been a wrestling fan since that fateful day in 1983 when he saw Bob Backlund viciously assaulted by the Iron Sheik. 30 years later, he still loves it just as much. He welcomes you to send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @strutter71 (where you are also welcome to follow him).
The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony, held annually the night before WrestleMania, has always fascinated me. I always thought it was cool to see some of the stars of yesteryear being given the spotlight one more time, and WWE always does a great job on video packages to both entertain and educate current fans who may not be aware of some of the industry’s history.
So when it was announced at last year’s WrestleMania that the big show would be held in my neck of the woods in 2013, the decision was made pretty early on to attend not just Mania itself, but also Fan Axxess and the Hall of Fame.
After a great time at Axxess on Saturday morning with my daughter and brother, we anxiously headed into the city to see one of the most loaded Hall of Fame classes in recent memory get their due.
For those who have never attended the HOF ceremony live, there are a few things to be aware of. Signs were posted on every entrance door stating that this was a classy affair, and respect was expected to be shown to all the wrestlers and their inductors. Chanting, cat-calls, and boos were not only inappropriate, but would not be tolerated and would lead to violators being ejected from the building.
This fact was reinforced by Michael Cole, who came to the podium twice before the show started to remind the crowd that this was not a typical wrestling event and fans, while encouraged to enjoy themselves, should not engage in any offensive behavior.
For the most part, the audience complied. At least for a little while.
Then, Maria Menounos came out to induct Bob Backlund. Before the event, many fans had expressed confusion, if not displeasure, over the fact that Menounos had been tapped to induct Backlund. Whether you agreed with the choice or not, the way she was treated by the crowd during her speech was unbelievably disrespectful. For what it’s worth, I was fine with the choice.
Menounos has appeared on WWE television several times in the past and is a self-professed fan of the business. On top of this, she and Backlund have been close friends for many years. Plus, to the best of my knowledge, the inductees do have a say in choosing their inductors. None of these facts, apparently, were enough for many ignorant so-called “fans” who proceeded to ignore all previous warnings and jeered her loudly while she spoke.
The Menounos incident was not an isolated case, either. While it was certainly the most egregious case of fan misbehavior, there were several other instances were I felt the crowd crossed the line.
The funny thing about all this? I don’t really blame the crowd, at least not fully.
Certainly, people need to be held accountable for their actions and many of the fans that I shared the experience with should be ashamed of themselves. But a good portion of the blame must be placed on WWE itself. In thinking about the entire night, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that they need to make a change to the HOF experience.
First, don’t hand out warnings of ejection from the building if you have no intention of carrying through. Granted, Madison Square Garden is a huge arena and it is obviously impossible to police everyone. However, there was no effort made whatsoever.
I counted ZERO security personnel at any point during the evening. I’m not talking about MSG employees, I mean WWE staff. If they don’t want fans shouting out at inappropriate times, they need to have people in place to stop these incidents. This would be made easier by moving the ceremony into smaller venues. It’s too easy for people to act like morons when they are in such a large space and nearly impossible to detect.
A move to a more intimate setting should be accompanied by higher ticket prices. Would a higher price point be a deterrent for many fans? Exactly. That’s the point. People paying higher prices for a nice evening in a smaller setting would be less likely to act out inappropriately.
Of course, it is not likely that the McMahon’s would be willing to give up the amount of revenue they make from selling out an arena like MSG in exchange for a smaller venue.
Even with an increased ticket price, a 2,000 seat theater is going to bring in less money than a 20,000 seat arena. The alternative, then, is to make changes to the event itself.
The sad fact is that three and a half hours of speeches is too long for the attention span of the average wrestling fan. Put strict time limits on the speeches. I happen to be a HUGE fan of Mick Foley, but his speech Saturday night was simply too long.
Later on, during Bob Backlund’s highly energetic and entertaining induction, Vince McMahon came out to try and get him to wrap up. Why let Foley go for so long only to try and cut Backlund short?
If they are going to stay in large arenas, they need to do more to keep the fans engaged. We need more moments like the bit with Foley dropping an elbow on Jericho, and less of the 45 minutes of talking that preceded it. Have more fun with it and don’t take it as seriously. It would be a more entertaining show and everyone involved would have more fun.
Your move, WWE.