There are no such thing as casual wrestling fans. The term needs to die, along with the indirect tribalism that comes with it. Even if I once believed in the “casual” fan; I can assure you — it’s a myth. For context, let’s look at a rhetorical conversation…
Let’s say you consider yourself a Star Trek fan (as we all should). You watch the shows (Strange New Worlds, Discover, Lower Deck, etc.) on a weekly basis on Paramount, and you quietly enjoy the series. You aren’t on social media talking about it; you aren’t privy to all the news surrounding the Star Trek universe, and you may not have a lot of Star Trek merchandise. If there’s a fan convention in your area with past Star Trek stars, you probably don’t go.
Then you meet some nerd one day who echoes your love for Star Trek. However, he is terminally online, and discusses the show at length on social media. He is constantly updated all of the latest news, owns dozens of pieces of Star Trek merchandise and has paid for multiple pictures with past Star Trek stars at conventions.
Once this nerd realizes that you aren’t participating in the fandom in the same way he is, he utters these words:
“Oh, so you’re a casual Star Trek fan.”
“Casual? What the fu-”
And then the conversation with this dork becomes more awkward than it should be.
With that context behind us, let’s dig in.
The Myth of the Casual Fan
Most like to throw the casual fan term around, along with the Monday Night Wars. Record viewership with the upward trend that was pro wrestling in the late 90s clearly leaves room for this term to exist. But keep in mind that the most viewed wrestling television program of all time was the February 5th, 1988 edition of WWF’s Main Event.
This is well before the Monday Night Wars.
As a whole, wrestling fans have existed for literally over one hundred years. Even before the internet blew up, if you told a wrestling fan that they were “casual” because they didn’t subscribe to the Wrestling Observer and partake in tape trading, you would probably get called a annoying dork.
Since the early 2000s, the pro wrestling audience has largely shrunk. Many were lost to MMA, many simply grew out of it, and many have succumbed to an increasingly overstimulated society where there are so many options for media entertainment that we can’t keep up. In 2023, either you enjoy pro wrestling — or you don’t.
Up to 90% of the TV viewing audience for both WWE and AEW are not terminally online. They have found a way to simply watch a weekly wrestling program without the need to go online to converse about it, or follow up on non-kayfabe news.
There are no such thing as “casual” wrestling fans. There are only just wrestling fans.
Even if a general fan only tunes in for PPVs in the same way some sports fans only tune in for the playoffs — they’re still just fans. Not “casuals”. So what do we call the minority 10% that are online to discuss professional wrestling?
Dorks. We call them dorks.
(and yes, I am a dork as well)
Internet Wrestling Fans Are Dorks. That’s Okay, but…
Stardom is one of the best wrestling promotions in the world right now. There is nothing wrong with being a Stardom fan, and if you’re a complete dork like myself, will travel all the way to Tokyo to catch an upcoming PPV this year.
However, I would speculate that well less than 10% of the non-Japanese average wrestling fan even knows what Stardom is, much less anyone from the company. Embracing online conversation about pro-wrestling from the most niche promotions to the top dogs in WWE and AEW is great. But it’s far from the norm for the majority of wrestling fans.
Even if none of us really know what’s happening backstage, we can all try our best to discuss what we think we know in a giant Dunning-Kruger Effect-like bubble. It is truly grand to share pro wrestling across the globe in its many forms and styles; and engage in endless conversation surrounding such subjects. The larger online wrestling community is wonderful when discussion is fruitful, we can respect different opinions, and adults are in the room.
BUT…(and here’s where the but comes in…)
Amidst discussion of TV ratings, booking decisions, uprising stars, comes the worst type of internet fan, which makes a lot of us dorks look bad.
The Wrestling Troll
When you get paid no money to obsess over your love for one entertainment company, and in the same breath work hard to insult the other competitor entertainment company you don’t like…
You have issues.
But what this does is create an unnecessary separation. It creates the illusion of the casual fan, as many regular wrestling fans aren’t unpaid goofs that create wrestling memes to get a few dozen likes on social media. Or spend far too much time behind a moniker for the sole purpose of trolling the wrestling show they don’t like.
To call the majority of wrestling fans that aren’t terminally online sops “casual” is kind of a slap in the face to those that just lead normal lives that just want to watch their favorite weekly wrestling show.
And it makes it hard for online wrestling dorks (like myself) who don’t want to engage in tribalism, and actually have productive discussions about our passion for wrestling, to exist and avoid these trolls.
Hot take, but the large majority of the wrestling fan base doesn’t care if “plans were changed at the last minute” by Vince McMahon. They don’t care if Tony Khan is still (after 4 years) learning on the job on how to be a successful wrestling promoter. Most wrestling fans couldn’t give less of a shit if AEW’s year-over-year TV ratings for last week’s Dynamite is up or down.
Most wrestling fans aren’t online dorks. And they especially aren’t trolls.
There Are No Casual Fans
With wrestling TV ratings at numbers nowhere near what they were during the 80s and the Attitude Era, it’s safe to say that what remains of the base are fans who will go out of their way to tune in on a weekly basis. But remember, up to 90% of who tune in, are barely, if ever, on social media talking about it.
If a fan isn’t online in any capacity, it doesn’t automatically make them “casual”.
If anyone (including myself) tries to claim that WWE books to the “casual fan”, they should find someone to kick them in the dick, much like Sammy Guevera did to Chris Jericho last night. Sure, both WWE and AEW will pull the celebrity card for the occasional spike in TV ratings. But if a 12-year-old Logan Paul fan tunes in to an episode of Smackdown because Paul was advertised, he’s not there to watch WWE’s brand of wrestling — he’s there to see Logan Paul.
This kid isn’t a wrestling fan in any way, he’s the fan of a doofy bit-coin grifter who sells terrible sports drinks. If he then becomes a WWE fan after, then he’s just now a wrestling fan. Not a casual.
The term “casual” fan just needs to die.
You either like wrestling or you don’t. Yes, there are multiple levels of fandom that come with it. However, being a person that loves discussing the inner-workings of the industry, booking techniques, history, and niche promotions, doesn’t make that person any more of a fan than a person who just likes to quietly watch on a weekly basis — and nothing more.
Do you want to know the secret to “getting the casuals” and increasing TV ratings?
BOOK A BETTER WRESTILNG SHOW, IDIOT.
You take two or more talented wrestlers; you create a believable conflict, you build the hype for a future match between the talents over weeks time, and thus, give viewers a reason to go out of their way to tune in for said match. At that point, you either have a payoff, or continue the story through other means.
Rinse and repeat for all feuds on the show.
I bet if you asked a “casual” fan and an internet fan how to “book good wrestling”, you would basically get that exact same answer.
The internet has overcomplicated professional wrestling. Online and non-online fans will simply like what they like out of their wrestling product; be it WWE or AEW. Getting out of the mindset of what “works” for the “casual” fan, and what “works” for the “smart fan” is what is most important here.
There are no casual fans. There are just different levels of wresting fandoms. And when pro wrestling is supported by all walks of wrestling life (even the goofy trolls), then these labels no longer matter — and we can all just enjoy a great wrestling product together.
Stop overthinking this. Pro wrestling was not meant to be an exercise in mental gymnastics.