March 3, 2009
Reel Wrestling provides wrestling reality
By BOB KAPUR - SLAM! Wrestling
In recent years, the Internet has dramatically changed the manner in which we practice celebrity worship. Websites like TMZ.com feature video of the unguarded and uncensored moments of the rich and famous for the entire world to see. A new site, ReelWrestling.com, directs this spotlight on the stars of the squared circle.
For the past year, ReelWrestling has been posting candid video footage of WWE stars away from the buildings in which they perform, out of character, and away from the cleansing filter of WWE’s media relations department. Frequently, the video is taken in airports as the wrestlers arrive to a city, or outside of a building after a show. Often, ReelWrestling engages, or tries to engage, the wrestler in an unscheduled interview, to varying degrees of success.
In the age of reality TV, it’s not unexpected that someone would eventually point their lens towards stars other than those from Hollywood. With their large fan base and a growing Internet wrestling community in general, wrestlers seem an obvious target for this kind of attention. One only needs to watch the recent cellphone video of Chris Jericho’s parking lot confrontation with some fans in Victoria at the beginning of February as proof. To have been on the forefront of this specific niche is something Chris Walsh, the creator and President of ReelWrestling, is proud of.
"I had this idea three years ago, to focus only on wrestling," Walsh told SLAM! Wrestling. "It had never been done before, so I thought it was pretty innovative."
Walsh notes that WWE had tried to do something similar in the past, but he boasts that his site is far better than the company’s official attempts. He credits this mainly to the fact that fans want to see video that’s completely genuine, as opposed to the manufactured reality that WWE was creating and passing off as real.
"They were doing a Cribs type of show, and a Day in the Life of a WWE Superstar. But the reality is they are never going to be able to do this as well as I can," he boasted. "Their business is putting on a wrestling show. In terms of paparazzi or guerrilla journalism or whatever you want to call it, they can’t do it better than us."
This seems a bold claim, but one that Walsh is confident will result in continued exposure. The site is already receiving great word-of-mouth, he said, and he believes that this trend will continue. Particularly as fans increasingly see the site as a news source, as opposed to only a tabloid video site.
"The main thing for us," he stressed, "is that our photographers and video interviewers need to know the wrestling business. The market wants us to be wrestling savvy. Our biggest video so far, with about 20,000 hits, is the video of Jeff Hardy the night he won the championship for the first time. The reason why is that the interview is about wrestling, which requires the photographer to know enough about it to ask the right questions."
Eventually, Walsh hopes that the site is seen as valuable enough and informative enough that it becomes a must-see destination for every wrestling fan -- and one from which money can be made.
"At this point, the revenue model is pretty much advertising through Google ads and affiliate links. In the future, I’m hoping it will move to selling commercials where an ad plays before each video."
It would be, he feels, a logical advertising medium for TNA Wrestling, as the site is specifically targeted to their demographic.
"If they were willing, I think there would be a good opportunity for them to advertise through us," he said. "What I see is they give us access to their wrestlers (for videos). Also, we can air their pay-per-view commercial spots before a WWE video. That would give them exposure to WWE fans who come to watch videos, and maybe draw them to see their product."
Of course, the ultimate coup would be an official partnership with WWE, whose wrestlers are currently the only stars featured on the site. Despite Vince McMahon’s historical negative stance on competitor websites, making such a deal unlikely, Walsh is undeterred.
"Now, with Vince looking to get mainstream coverage -- look at how they brought in [Floyd] Mayweather and Donald Trump -- I think they understand that whatever gets them out there is a good thing."
But even if WWE doesn’t officially partner with ReelWrestling, that won’t preclude the site from posting videos of the company’s stars. Indeed, Walsh’s goal is to create and post more and more content on an ongoing basis -- even if some people object to the nature of some of the videos in question.
Walsh is aware that his site isn’t to everyone’s tastes. That some people see the videos as too invasive, particularly those in which the wrestler is clearly uncomfortable or visibly unhappy with being caught on tape. Another detracting view is that while the wrestlers may be public figures, their wives and girlfriends, who often are shown in the clips, aren’t.
Walsh isn’t too sympathetic to those views, arguing that what he does is pretty harmless at the end of the day.
"I get emails from people who say that the wrestlers are people and we shouldn’t invade their privacy," he acknowledged, "but the point is that the person sending the email is still watching the video, and he wants to know when the next one will be up.
"I don’t think I’m crossing any boundaries, legally or otherwise. They’re in the airports signing autographs for fans and taking pictures. I don’t think that this is any different. I think they know that it comes with the territory."
Walsh’s view is that he’s merely filling a need in the marketplace, noting that the videos would likely get posted somewhere else if his site didn’t exist.
"If you go outside of Britney Spears’ house, you’ll see 40 paparazzi there looking to get photos that they can then sell to magazines. I want to have that kind of deal where I have a bunch of freelancers who get content for us. That’s the kind of marketplace I want to create."
Bob Kapur is fed up with Windows XP. Share your computer horror stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.