I saw an article today on the blog Pro Wrestling Men In Tights, entitled "New-age Territories...". I think that it is an interesting subject matter, but I actually disagree with the author on his take.
I do not think the author, "the Rockshow" Ernie Ballz, is an idiot or anything like that, I just think that his idea has so many flaws that it would never work. Rather than pick apart his concept, I decided to just put forth my own idea for ridicule and debate.
Much like Ballz said in his column, the territories of yesteryear are never going to really make a comeback - at least in that form. For something to work, you have to be realistic about the landscape of what you are dealing with. That means that admitting that despite what they may be doing business-wise, to a vast majority of the people in this country, wrestling is the WWE. You have to assume that a vast majority of the fans that attend live events, order PPV, or even just watch WWE programming are not going to bother with anything else, simply because it is not the WWE.
When you look at the billions of dollars at the WWE's disposal, and the establishment of their brand as "wrestling", you should realize that it is impossible to compete with the WWE without a similar billion dollar backing. However, the WWE has a gaping hole in their business model, which is that they are a touring company - a troupe. It is impossible for the WWE to run everywhere consistently. In fact, if you live in a large urban area, WWE probably only comes to town once or twice a year. If you live in a mid-sized city, the WWE may never come to town.
The opportunity for money to be made in the wrestling business comes from attempting to fill the void left by the WWE when they are not running in a particular area. What defines the WWE so strongly are their stars. What independent promotions fail at miserably is the ability to make stars.
The term "independent" in relation to wrestling was originally based on the idea that the NWA was an regulatory body of sorts, and that some promoters were running outside of that organization, or "independent" of it. When the NWA and all of their redtape went away (for all intents and purposes), "independent wrestling" was simply small wrestling shows, where the wrestlers were in fact independent contractors.
What advantage does the WWE have over any other promotion? They are able to pay wrestlers a wage where it can be a full-time job.
In the "old days", the territories were actually formed around what was known as the "booking office". Essentially, promoters were the people who ran live events at arenas, and bookers were the people who provided talent for those events. The booking office was the key. The booking office was essentially the promoter of the wrestlers - the talent. Originally the talent would sign contract with the promoter to work through their office, and it was that office's job to provide the wrestler with enough dates in order to make a living. It was also the office's job to provide the arena promoters with enough desirable talent to fill all of their seats.
Over time and through consolidation, the bookers eventually took over the promotion of the events. However, a business practice was established in the process - a venue that was in need of events would be run on a regular schedule. This gave birth to such things as the weekly wrestling show. However, a wrestler would not be able to make a living just by wrestling once a week, unless a massive gate was drawn every week. So, for a booking office to be viable, it had to be able to book wrestlers into a number of venues and towns, so that they could get enough work. I still believe that this system can work, even though it cannot be on the same scale as the WWE. It still works to an extent in Mexico, where the CMLL promotion is essentially a booking office that also owns (or holds leases to operate) venues across Mexico.
What Ballz essentially stated in his piece was that promoters should group together to share talent. He said that if you had promoters in OH, MI, PA, and IN, they could rotate weekends and share talent, without stepping on each other's toes. Perhaps. What if instead though, you had one booking office in Cleveland, and that booking office provided the talent for shows in the surrounding areas (Akron, Youngstown, Erie, Toledo, and all the small town in between). And what if you had another office down in Cincinnati, which did the same thing (for Dayton, Chillicothe, Portsmouth, Maysville, NKy, Lima). Pittsburgh could have an office too (Wheeling, Washington, Morgantown, Butler,)... see where I am going here?
The problem with Independent wrestling is that promoters generally work on a shoe-string budget, and cannot afford to run shows very often. In turn, wrestlers generally do not get paid much, so they do not want to travel to establish their name. So, what you end up having is wrestlers working for every promoter in the same area, but not providing any continuity. All I am suggesting is that someone take that next step, make that investment, and start putting wrestlers under contract, and then sub-contracting them out to event promoters.
This is how boxing has worked for over a century, and this is how UFC works. Wrestlers essentially would hire the booking office as an agent, and then the agent would book them out. By having someone whose sole job is to promote the wrestlers and not necessarily events, the wrestlers can be made out to be bigger stars.
Granted, there is more to it than just having a guy book talent out, but that is the first step.