If pro wrestling is thriving, why is Ring of Honor struggling?


In the 2000s, Ring of Honor was the most prestigious independent wrestling promotion in the United States. Now, with so much competition for fans’ eyes, viewership and ticket sales are on the decline. But why?

When thinking about Ring of Honor, a number of questions come to mind. Does Ring of Honor have the desire to be a top pro wrestling company in the world? Are they satisfied with what they are now? Is Sinclair (their national broadcaster) aware of how they’re viewed by most of the wrestling community in 2019? Is ROH to be thought of as a top-tier international pro wrestling company, or are is it all just a big, fat package of content to feed Sinclair Broadcasting?

These questions aren’t necessarily aimed at the wrestling talent within the company, but rather those in management now. The product is being fumbled and in public, no less. Starting with their poor showing at the G1 Supercard in April at Madison Square Garden, moving to their Portland PR disaster in June followed by a whole summer of underwhelming gate numbers, with none of the shows pulling in more than 600 attendees. Despite co-promoting one of the biggest non-WWE events of the year at Madison Square Garden with New Japan, they’re hemorrhaging fans from their live events at an alarming rate. Why is this happening? And how can it be fixed?

Honor Club and television

As an Honor Club subscriber, let me be blunt: It’s not a joy to use. The interface is heavy-handed compared to other wrestling streaming services like the WWE Network or Powerslam.tv, and the regular outages during live specials are tiresome, especially when there’s little effort to edit the footage for later viewing. I think the spinning ROH tribal logo might even be in the running for top ROH title contender since it’s been known to do a run-in on pretty much every Honor Club live special.

There’s a trove of early ROH footage available, with rare matches from today’s stars before they broke out, and that sounds appealing, sure. But the production values were so low in the past that some of the shows are unwatchable now, especially with how much content is out there and how much higher those productions are.

It’s nice that ROH offers their weekly television show on Honor Club, but the show is now more of a digest show than a wrestling program, heavier on clips, promos and angles and lighter on in-ring action — or, what made ROH popular in the first place. Is it worth $9.99 a month for that? Unless you really love ROH, I’d steer clear of the deal. It’s not like you’d even avoid commercials during TV, either: Honor Club still broadcasts their weekly show with commercials. Fans are paying for that.

So what makes Honor Club worth the price? Is it the special Honor Club live streams I mentioned? Because those are glorified house shows with little to nothing happening in the way of stakes. You’ll see a handful of good matches, maybe even a great match here or there, but with so much product available now, products of higher quality and lower cost, how will ROH compete with this?

Exposure without results

For the unaware: Sinclair Broadcasting, ROH’s parent organization, is a broadcast company with serious distribution in the United States: 162 stations in 79 markets, or 37.5 percent of US households, per Ring of Honor.

What’s more notable, though, is that after factoring out the anomaly that was the G1 Supercard (NJPW drew the house that ROH rented for them) is ROH’s 31 percent drop in attendance this year.

With the same exposure over the past few years, why is it then that attendance is dropping, and this year at such a drastic rate? Is it the recent glut of wrestling available to the world, and are fans fatigued? It’s possible, but it’s not the only answer.

Why is AEW selling out arenas? Why have companies like MLW and GCW had such successes in such short amounts of time? Why is IWTV and Beyond Wrestling’s Uncharted Territory seeing impressive growth in 2019? The problem doesn’t seem to be that there are too many options for wrestling fans, but that wrestling fans are increasingly not choosing to spend their time or money on Ring of Honor because the product is subpar at best. And that’s rooted in creative.

Dropping the ball at G1 Supercard

Some critics have pointed to ROH’s booking and creative choices made in 2019 as one of the main detriments to its business. After The Elite and SoCal Uncensored members left ROH after Final Battle 2018, the company had a few months to regroup and prepare for their big re-emergence alongside NJPW in New York, with both companies getting a chance to showcase what they’ve got to offer post-Elite exodus.

What happened: NJPW got the memo, ROH didn’t.

New Japan delivered some of the best, most critically-acclaimed bouts of the year, crowd-pleasers that all had serious ramifications throughout the rest of the year. NJPW used G1 Supercard to reignite any momentum they thought to have lost after The Elite left the company.

Here’s what Ring of Honor did at G1 Supercard:

• Had a momentumless-Kenny King win the Honor Rumble by hiding under the ring until the end.

• Debuted the Allüre, a new mean girls unit with Mandy Leone and ex-TNA Knockouts team, the Beautiful People (Angelina Love and Velvet Sky).

• Teased the idea of feuding the Briscoes with nZo and Big CazXL without mentioning the angle to New Japan prior to the match.

• Had a very long segment featuring Bully Ray.

• Culminated their side of the program with Matt Taven winning the ROH championship, leading to a flat finish and the beginning of a controversial title run that lasted until September.

After the successful April mega-show with NJPW, ROH’s live attendance has dropped 31 percent, as mentioned above. Their pay-per-view numbers also dropped a shocking 77.7 percent from June to September. From this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscribers only):

Worse are the PPV numbers. The last ROH show, Best in the World on 6/28 in Baltimore did an estimated 3,500 PPV buys. Death Before Dishonor at press time is estimated at just under 800. The actual decline from the last show was 77.7 percent, and this is not a year-to-year drop but a drop from June to September.

So what’s the real explanation for the drop in popularity? Creative is a major element, but ROH’s massive PR blunder back in June didn’t do them any favors, either. In Portland, OR at a show on ROH’s State of the Art mini-tour of the Pacific Northwest, producer Mark “Bully Ray” LoMonaco pulled a fan backstage without approval of building security and informally reprimanded the fan for heckling his partner, Velvet Sky of the Allüre. The fan then went to Twitter with his side of the story after the show, which was viral by morning and being shared on most major wrestling news websites.

ROH promised to launch a private investigation into what happened, and by July they’d come to their conclusion: They were sorry to their “dedicated and loyal” fans that it happened, invoked their kayfabe Code of Honor in the real-life statement, and encouraged people to still come to live shows. It was a non-answer that left a sour taste in most fans’ mouth, as the attendance and pay-per-view numbers told you earlier. This is all without even touching on the dissolution of ROH and NJPW’s working relationship and their closer but more complex one with CMLL.

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This is not to be thought of as yet another article dunking on Ring of Honor, but these are the facts, and there are serious questions to be answered about ROH’s business strategy heading into 2020. How will they maintain their core fanbase? Who is their fanbase now with so much quality competition available, often for free? Will television provide them with more exposure next year, or is the product just not as good as the others?

With WWE on FOX on Friday nights, AEW now emerging, NJPW actually increasing their revenue since splitting with The Elite and ROH, the pro wrestling landscape looks entirely different now. After ROH’s drastic drop in popularity this summer, will they be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other top companies in North America anymore?

Next: Tyson Fury to address WWE Universe on Monday Night Raw

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