So You Want To / Be a Booker
So you want to book some wrestling matches? Okay; however, you should consider that good wrestling booking is a skill set that is both rare and extremely difficult to implement. More have failed at it than succeeded
. However, there are some basic rules to consider when working as a booker.
The Golden Rule
You are selling a product. The fans give you money for this product. If the fans are not interested in your product, they will not give you money. Without their money, you are out of a job. Therefore, your first and only responsibility is to the fans. Not your family; not your friends; not your shareholders; not anyone else. This is because only the fans give money
to you. Failure to follow this rule will result in a failure of your business.
- Never let your own ego get in the way of business. This is seemingly the hardest thing for bookers to do, and it is the thing which damages wrestling most of all. Vince McMahon squandered millions and millions of dollars on the Invasion angle to humiliate his old rivals, all because he could not accept that a rival promotion had stood its ground against him, and UPN execs were so disillusioned by the WCW brand's hemorrhage of money in its dying days that they were all too happy to oblige. These things cost him millions; if he had put ego and pride aside and convinced the Network he could harness the WCW that kicked his ass for over a year, the Invasion would have rolled on for multiple years, making all parties money hand over fist. It cannot be overstated how much of a license to print money that angle was. The lesson is a stark one: put your own ego first and you will pay for it.
- Never punish wrestlers for Real Life misdemeanors by depushing, burying, or otherwise harming their Kayfabe talent. Again, this requires superhuman continence on the part of bookers considering how desperate for new material they must be (more wrestlers have been reduced to laughingstocks due to writer's block than any other factor). Reminder: Your wrestlers are your business. If you damage their credibility through a series of protracted losses, you aren't harming them — you're harming your own business, because you have just told the fans that this wrestler cannot be taken seriously. To harm a wrestler's aura is to harm the business. Be a professional; do what actual businesses do; have a disciplinary process. Take the wrestler off-television, dock their pay. Have a legally airtight code of conduct that states in black and white what is expected of your employees so they know. Have a set of clearly defined boundaries that you will not allow to be crossed. You know, like a real business. Wrestling needs to leave its carnival days behind it, and march into the modern era.
- This is the #1 mistake WWE continues to make year after year. SummerSlam 2017 contained no less than four examples of wrestlers being intentionally buried because of real-life issues: Baron Corbin (after already having been made to look like a moron by squandering his Money in the Bank briefcase cash-in on a spectacularly inept failed attempt on Jinder Mahal) was squashed by good ol' Big Match John as punishment for making a tactless tweet denigrating a detractor he did not know was an American soldier even though he promptly took back the denigrating parts of his remark after being told such; Naomi lost her Smack Down Women's Championship to Natalya in a mystifyingly pointless bit of booking that apparently stemmed from notorious bully John "Bradshaw" Layfield being upset about a misstep she made on commentary with him and complaining to people upstairs; Enzo Amore was thoroughly humiliated during his part in a dull match between ex-partner Big Cass and new ally The Big Show, being left lying in the ring in a pool of baby oil, stripped to his underwear presumably as a consequence of backstage heat he'd earned; and Rusev was beaten with a single RKO by Randy Orton, supposedly in response to him asking for his release from the company in the wake of horrible booking he'd already received as a result of marrying Lana. While the event overall was saved by a number of big, exciting matches, the booking of up-and-coming talent into oblivion as a result of backstage politics came under considerable criticism.
- Celebrities should be used carefully; never pay more than they can bring, and remember your core business. This is the difference between William Shatner and Bob Barker producing two of the best WWE Raw guest-host gigs of 2009, and countless other "celebs" showing up unprepared, slightly tipsy, and merely using the show to shill their latest project. It's all in how they relate to the wrestling.
- Wrestlers should be treated well, and should have a solid say about matters relating to their health, jobs and well-being (but never booking decisions; see Employee Relations, rule #3).
- Wrestling leads to horrible injuries as limbs and bodies wear out. Give your wrestlers ample injury time off; let them return to their position on the card when they come back. But even if they want to (and they often will), never rush an injured wrestler back into the ring before they're medically ready. Creating this kind of a positive working environment is good for the wrestlers' performances and the fans. See The Golden Rule.
- As a further thought, if you're in the United States, you really should pay your workers' health-care benefits if you can afford it; keeping them healthy keeps your product healthy. Lose them, and you lose a skill set that is not easy to replace. WWE does not provide its employees with health insurance, claiming they are independent contractors. Learn from their mistake.
- Remember that while cool spots are great for the fans to watch, they should be balanced with their effect on your performers' bodies. A leading theory behind Chris Benoit's behavior during his family's tragic incident is the fact that he had suffered repeated concussions from years of diving headbutts and German suplexes. The NFL has been learning to take brain damage more seriously, with examinations after every serious hit and they compete wearing state-of-the-art helmets and protective gear! None but the most ruthless fans would rather see an extra couple feet of elevation on the latest broken table spot du jour than a slightly less impressive, but much less dangerous maneuver.
- A special caveat is in order for promoters of Garbage Wrestling. By their very nature, hardcore-style matches are very dangerous to compete in, even if everything goes right. Smaller independent promotions use hardcore matches to display the kind of ultra-violence that would never be seen on nationally televised shows, which builds them a niche, but also paints them into a corner and does little to truly set apart their talent; it doesn't take an impressive physique or a great deal of training to be smashed with a fluorescent light bulb, after all. Before deciding to book these kind of matches, take special care to weigh the risks and benefits to not only your performers, but to the reputation of your promotion.
- Steroids and drugs are bad. This really cannot be stressed enough in a business where entire locker rooms could probably fail a drug test at any given time. It's gotten so bad that a cursory glance at the list of wrestlers who've died in the last twenty years or so shows that a wrestler who began his career after 1995 has a life expectancy of about 39. Drugs are the single biggest threat to the wrestling business and need to be taken seriously. Anyone caught using is a liability at best, and a danger at worst. People will always want to see steroidal physiques, but superior in-ring action, mic work, and overall stage presence will more than compensate. To the claim that audiences only want to see steroidal physiques, there is an argument to be made that if more "normal" physiques are made the norm, there would be no demand for the 'roid freaks. If you disagree with this rule, there are only two names that need mentioning: Nancy and Daniel Benoit.
- It is worth noting here that Benoit's problems were much exacerbated by brain damage caused by his diving headbutts from the top turnbuckle and chairshots to the back of the head. One neurologist described his brain as that of a 85-yeasr-old man with Alzheimer's. Know what he could have used? Better and more thorough health care to catch the warning signs of drug and bodily abuse before they led to catastrophic damage; see Rule #5 above.
- On a more positive note, 2 more names of popular wrestlers who weren't 'roid freaks: Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. In fact, Punk got quite a lot of character mileage from The Gimmick of pointedly NOT using drugs.
- The majority of wrestling should be simple, one-on-one or tag-team matches with no interference; Face vs. Heel. This is the basic product you are selling, and it’s what the audience wants. One stipulation can be a good thing — a steel cage match instead of a regular match can drum up business — and the capper to a truly well-crafted feud. When you have a Contract-On-a-Pole, Two Out of Three Falls, lumberjack match contested in a steel cage under a time limit, it gets ridiculous. The more swerves, gimmicks, run-ins, etc. you add to a match, the more confusing it becomes. Confused audiences are bored audiences, and bored audiences don't come back, costing you both fans and money. "Angle" was the preferred terminology over "storyline" among bookers for decades specifically because it was a constant reminder to keep things simple. A match or build up to one rarely needs more than one "hook".
- As a side note, it may seem strange, but good taste should generally prevail when it comes to most storylines and simple angles. The more "out-there" a storyline becomes, generally the less interest the fanbase has (because they're interested in wrestling), the more you make yourself look unpalatable to the mainstream, and the less business in the long run. There are too many cases demonstrating this principle to go into detail. As a general rule, necrophilia, incest and similar themes are the purview of 18 certificate Euroshlock, not a fight between two big angry foes. There is a reason that even mentioning the Katie Vick saga will make those fans who remember it feel a little ashamed of their love for the "sport". Additionally, an individual wrestler who's tarred with a particularly distasteful gimmick can have his career permanently damaged by association with it. If your promotion gains a reputation for doing this, it becomes that much harder to hire new talent.
- "Protecting" your wrestlers (that is, to take your franchise players and keep them from losing, or having them lose via outside factors) is something that is a very fine line to walk. One the one hand, New Japan Pro-Wrestling can be very much a crapshoot where even the top tier superstars on the roster can lose clean to a lowly midcard performer at any given event (especially during its round robin tournament arcs where they don't want someone to go undefeated). On the other, WWE takes a lot of flak for booking several matches a card to end inconclusively or with a distraction leading to a quick pin in an effort to keep both sides looking equal in the eyes of the fans, with the end result being a kind of status quagmire where all wrestlers are made to look strong and therefore none of them do. There is no right answer as far as which direction to take things, but keep in mind that fans are very understanding of the "any given Sunday" aspect of matches wherein sometimes, even for a superior wrestler, it's just not their night. When fans can predict a winner of a match because of the wrestler's relative positions in the company hierarchy, you've gone too far. But if you have a position where the John Cenas of the world lose clean to the Santino Marellas without any shenanigans, you've also gone too far. The lesson is to protect, but not coddle.
- Clearly observe your wrestlers, and make a note of their strengths and weaknesses. Play to your wrestlers’ strengths, and hide their weaknesses. Learn who you've got working for you and don't just throw opponents together. This was something that was done particularly well in ECW. Playing to your wrestlers' strengths can be the difference between Malenko vs. Guerrero (a feud of two completely evenly-matched technical wrestlers, widely regarded as one of the best sets of matches ECW ever produced) and The Big Show vs. Batista (a WCW giant and a WWE power-face, neither of whom were known for their technical skill, booked as the "best" in ECW).
- Let the fans' reaction be your guide. The crowd decides who is a face or heel better than any booker. If they cheer for a wrestler, they're a face. If they boo, they're a heel. It is almost impossible to make a crowd cheer for a heel or boo a face (X-Pac Heat notwithstanding). Bookings should be made according to crowd reactions.
- A notable example of this being done right is the Honky Tonk Man. He had an Elvis Impersonator gimmick that was originally supposed to get him over as a face but the fans hated it and booed him. Rather than keep booking him as a face and trying to force the fans to accept him as such, the WWF turned Honky heel. The Honky Tonk Man went on to become one of the greatest heels in the history of the promotion.
- Another notable example is Dwayne Johnson. When he first entered the WWF, he played Legacy Character Rocky Maivia, based off his grandfather, "High Chief" Peter Maivia. The problem was, this was a bland character that the WWF tried to push to the moon, and fans showed their displeasure by showering him with chants of "Rocky Sucks!" and "Die, Rocky, Die!" Dwayne rolled with this, using the heat to his advantage by turning heel and restyling himself as "The Rock." As "The Rock," Dwayne got so far over with the fans that he was able to turn face again without losing the audience.
- On the flip side, this is the mistake WWE is persistently making with Roman Reigns. Hand-picked as the next big face by Vince McMahon and given a monster push after The Shield broke up, crowds roundly rejected Roman when his shortcomings and limitations became apparent, constantly booing him at every opportunity. Rather than turn him heel to play off the crowd's hatred of him, WWE continued pushing Roman as a face harder and harder, giving him more main events, hanging more titles on him and positioning him as The Hero of WWE even as the fans continued to boo. While Roman's abilities and performances have drastically improved since his solo career began to the point that all but his most ardent haters have to admit that he's a very competent wrestler, his constant face push is still receiving a terrible response. Countless people within the industry have all but begged Vince to turn Roman heel and let him work his way back into favour (like The Rock, above), but Vince persists in insisting that he rather than the fans decides who is face and who is heel, resulting in Roman becoming possibly the most-hated face in wrestling history. Fortunes may be changing for him, however, as he's now playing a much more aggressive Tweener, though only time will tell if this will be enough for him to be Rescued from the Scrappy Heap.
- Conversely, don't try to force the crowd to boo someone they really want to cheer, either. When the crowd still cheered for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin after he allied himself with Vince McMahon in 2001, they transparently tried to get the crowd to boo by having him act completely out of character (crying, tapping out, and so forth). It did not work well.
- A small appendix to this: Don't confuse loving a wrestler with loving to hate them. This was a mistake Vince McMahon made during Shawn Michaels' 90's career. The crowd had became so enamoured with Shawn's cocky, over the top antics that Vince decided to turn him Face. Of course, this meant losing his heel antics, and thus losing the very thing that was making him popular at the time.
- All belts are equally valid. All belts are important. They are your main MacGuffin for angles and plots. As a result, a belt is as important as the champ who carries it says it is. Never forget this. Therefore, no wrestler should ever insult a belt; a belt brings the possessors prestige and respect. Insulting a belt insults your organization. Remember this if you choose to pursue stories where a heel insults a belt; that heel must be publicly destroyed — booked into oblivion — or else you have admitted that the belt (and by extension your company) is worthless.
- NJPW did an exception to this where they had a champion disrespect the belt - throwing it around, smashing it, and otherwise damaging it. However and importantly, the storyline in which this took place had the face wanting the title in order to protect it and restore it. In short, while the physical object was damaged, the title itself was still treated as important.
- All storylines and feuds must be logical; wrestlers must have a simple, clear and easily understood reason to be fighting. The reason must be one over which members of the audience would fight, since there is only so far their Willing Suspension of Disbelief can be stretched.
- Logical reasons are either over championships, believable grudges, tests of excellence (Technician Vs Performer, or two of the best going at it), or a combination of any of the three. Logical reasons do not include behaviors that don't occur in real life (e.g., fighting over the rights to the name “T,” as Booker T once did).
- Grudges should be simple to understand, and related to either previous matches, a personality clash or another person (valet, manager, etc…)
- If two wrestlers do not have a logical reason to fight, it is the bookers’ duty to create one.
- As an extension, no wrestler on your roster should be neglected because Creative has no plans for them. A pro wrestler represents years of training and a skill set that is not easy to duplicate and unless they're just not any good, they should be put to use whenever possible. This is not to say that a wrestler can't go a few weeks without being on television, or that every wrestler on your roster should be utilized all the time; after all, injuries and real life happen and it helps to have a fair number of performers on "standby" at any given time. But when a wrestler goes months on end without performing because your creative department can't come up with anything interesting for them to do, that's less the fault of the wrestler and more the fault of your creative team. It's their job to be creative; if they can't come up with any ideas, then they are the ones that should be future endeavored. If all else fails, ask the wrestler; after a few months of sitting on his couch, it's a good bet that he's bursting with ideas to get himself back on screen, some of which might actually be good.
- Where possible, storylines and angles should be respectful and tasteful. Shock storylines lose their power if they happen every week. Say the word “fuck” once, and it’s a powerful phrase. Say it 1,000 times, and it’s just a meaningless sound. Teach your audience to expect a largely similar product each week; make them feel safe, secure, comfortable…then blow them out of the water with a logically-plotted event (extra emphasis on "logically-plotted" — poorly-thought-out shocking swerves are what torpedoed WCW) that they'll never see coming.
- All relationships on your show must be logical, and established inter-personal relationships must be maintained. If people are friends, they must stay friends, unless an event witnessed by fans during a show clearly denotes that the nature of the relationship has changed. Likewise for enemies. Unless there is a plot event that makes wrestlers friends, or turns them enemies, they remain simply indifferent rivals. In this business, the Heel–Face Revolving Door is a disaster; wrestlers go from tagging up to hating each other and vice versa while pretending things were always this way far too often, and the list of longtime rivals whose off-screen friendship is suddenly part of the plot just so one guy can turn on the other and add heat for their fifth feud out of nine has become too long to count in the 21st century. It confuses casual fans and irritates long-time fans.
- Match stipulations should always be honored. If a wrestler or the company can’t keep the stipulation, then it simply shouldn’t be made in the first place. Every match stipulation you ignore insults your audience on a very personal level, and proves your company to be untrustworthy — as well as to prove those employees involved are liars. People (and therefore fans) resent being lied to. As a result, stipulations should only be broken due to exceptional outside circumstances (that is, something happens in the Real World that means the stipulation cannot be honored). There should NEVER, EVER be a broken stipulation otherwise. Clearly demarcated boundaries help sustain your integrity without letting the stipulation ruin the possibility of future business.
- Certain stipulations may be worded in such a way that things can be re-set later (e.g: a hair vs. hair match in which the loser stays bald for a year) and fan resentment can be avoided.
- If the worst happens and a stipulation must be broken, this counts as a swerve, and should be the main plot event of a given card. If you're going to include them, give them the respect they deserve. Remember, every stipulation you break loses you credibility and thus, in the long run, fans. Every lost fan is lost income. Therefore, every broken stipulation is lost income.
- Of special consideration are Retirement Matches. Retirement stipulations have been broken so often that fans have now been conditioned to regard it as a Discredited Trope. Terry Funk's "retirement" is a joke that was old in 1999, and Ric Flair's return after his "retirement" clearly demonstrated that no matter how perfect the send-off, no matter how appropriate, no matter how emotional, it won't stick. Why not? Unless you're prepared to support them afterwards, wrestlers have to earn money somehow. We'll say it again: no wrestling promoter has yet invested in a sound retirement plan for their workers, and it's the exception rather than the rule for a wrestler to wisely invest his own income. Unless you're 100% certain that your wrestler isn't going to be performing anywhere afterward, don't use the retirement angle; it's always a lie.
- The relationships on your show exist to further angles. Angles exist to give the fans emotional investment in matches. Matches exist to make the promotion money. Therefore, relationships on your show should never be ignored, and should always be logical. Illogical relationships and foolish stories drive fans, and therefore business, away.
- Heels vs. Faces.
- Faces should win the majority of the time, particularly in the ultimate payoff point to a major feud. Fans want to see the wrestlers they like victorious, and they want to see the wrestlers they hate get their comeuppance. WCW gives us a perfect example of how toxic it can be to the fanbase if the heels always win. A heel having the upper hand for most of a feud is fine, so long as there's a payoff to the fans in the end. In fact, this can make it all the sweeter when the face triumphs in the end, as it shows him triumphing over a real threat rather than making the heel seem like a Harmless Villain. If you decide to have the heel win his feud for whatever reason, there are two important things you should do.
- First, do not have the face dominated by the heel in their final match. Your face will look weak when he finally loses, and it makes the heel come off as more of a bully and less of an actual threat. Don't have the heel dominated by the face either; if the face is just going to be pinned after the heel hits his finisher out of nowhere, then your face will have his credibility damaged as well. Make the wrestlers appear evenly matched, so that the fans will walk away with the impression that it honestly could have gone either way and that if the heel had been a second slower or the face a second quicker, the result would have been different.
- Second, if your fans truly hate the heel, seeing him victorious and celebrating will make them unhappy. Don't let them stay unhappy for long; as soon as the heel gets his hard-fought victory, have another face note show up and let everybody know his intentions to take down the heel. This will give your fans something to look forward to. Just make sure that their patience is eventually rewarded.
- Monster pushes (of either heels or faces) are perfectly acceptable. The monster wrestler should be fed a steady diet of jobbers to destroy; avoid having the monster fight main-eventers anywhere except PPV main events. A monster should be fed mid-carders at PPV before main-eventers. Failure to do so will result in the angle hot-shotting. Mid-carders due to lose to the monster wrestler should be pushed hard for a while before their loss to the monster, which will help the monster establish credibility. The monster’s loss must be used to elevate someone- it is a serious thing to take down a monster.
- Squash matches are perfectly acceptable. Someone has to look at the lights. Be wary of using squash matches too often, though; they're predictable. Use them as the tool they are — they elevate those wrestlers you want to be main-eventers or mid-carders.
- Hardcore matches should be used sparingly. Beyond overplaying a gimmick, hardcore matches can destroy the bodies of those involved; just ask Mick Foley, or look at the gravestones of Chris Benoit and his wife and son. Another danger is the increasingly dangerous stunts people will pull to get reactions out of a desensitized crowd. Use them as a blow-off to a bloody feud and promote the hell out of them so your wrestlers won't feel like they're sacrificing a lot for nothing. More harmless stunts like table bumps or blading can be used more frequently. Unprotected hits to the head and New Jack-esque falls should never, ever be used; fans care about the wrestlers, and watching them get crippled will shock and scare away all but the most extreme fans.
- When ordering the card, the opening match and main event are always the two most important segments. The opener gets your crowd pumped and sets the bar for the quality of matches they can expect to see. If your opening match is weak, the expectation is that the rest of the card will be too. The main event is what closes out the night and showcases your best performers; you want to finish on a high note. In between, you can utilize other highs and lows (squash matches, promos, mid-card matches, grudge matches, comedy), but the overall feel of the show should be consistent.
- Authority figures can be done well or badly, whether as heels or as faces. For example, a good face authority figure makes fair matches, stays out of the way, and handles stipulations and personnel decisions only when someone has clearly gotten out of hand. This usually benefits the faces by virtue of blocking some underhanded tactic by a heel, but as the figure is not inherently biased towards the faces, it sometimes can go the other way around if the story involves a heel having a legitimate gripe. A bad face authority figure becomes the center of attention and seemingly goes out of their way to stick it to the heels to the point that fans start viewing the heels as sympathetic and the faces as advantaged and opportunistic, or alternatively is so utterly incompetent and commands so little respect that the heels get to walk all over them as if they weren't even there. A good heel authority figure and a bad heel authority figure both have in common that they abuse their power against faces and thus must be taken down a peg or two and, ultimately, either removed from power or have their schemes defeated in order to reel them back in line until the next Evil Plan. The difference between the two is that the good heel boss is occasionally beaten down, humiliated, called on their garbage, or even strongly opposed enough to represent that the wrestlers they're kicking down actually have a spine, which makes people want to root for said wrestler. The bad heel boss, on the other hand, is one of two extremes: either the humiliation is too frequent and too childish for them to come off as anything more than sympathetic bosses dealing with popular bullying "faces" who must be kept in line, or the opposite takes place and they get to freely condescend the roster without blowback, almost always have their way, never take any losses, and have some internal connections or demographic cards they can deploy as a reason to shame their oppressed enemies into compliance and silence, to the point that the show ends up cast in Arc Fatigue or even Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy because they and their proxies can seemingly never lose.
- If you're gonna book yourself as an evil owner, at least try to look like you have money. Unless you're booking the Welfare Wrestling Federation, waddling into the ring in Crocs shoes and sweatpants makes you look like a hobo. This goes a long way toward helping your company's image and maintaining kayfabe.
- Regardless of how you book any kayfabe 'General Manager' (Big Bad 'Evil Owner', a Big Good face, a Reasonable Authority Figure, an Obstructive Bureaucrat or a simple Mission Control), keep an Author's Saving Throw in hand by setting up someone who has more kayfabe power than the day to day GM. This can range from the owner of the company, someone who represents the 'Network' if you are televised, or even yourself if you prefer to stay backstage. This should be used extremely rarely and for the most part only when Real Life Writes the Plot. Example: If you book a long Women's title feud involving your best female wrestlers, your heel Dark Action Girl and the face Cute Bruiser, and the women come to you and say they want to work a ladder match, you say fine, the GM announces it and promotes it, only for one of them to get legit injured bad enough that they can't do any of the ladder spots, but not badly enough to stop the match, you use the Author's Saving Throw to turn it into another type of match like a Hair vs. Hair match.
- If you're a small promotion (and let's face it, if you're reading this it's safe to assume you're not part of the WWE booking team), your options are to try and copy the big promotions (and it's gonna be an uphill battle to try and beat WWE or even Ring of Honor at their own game), or find your own niche by doing something they're not. For example, CZW specializes in hardcore wrestling that WWE doesn't do in the PG era, while Chikara goes for a more lighthearted, even comedic approach.
- Wrestling and circuses have a lot in common. Some people go to the circus to see the acrobats; some go to see the animal acts; some to see the freakshows; and some for the clowns. Similarly, some people watch wrestling for the high-flyers; some for the technical wrestlers; some for the giants and bodybuilders; some for the talkers; some for the comedy acts; and some for the storylines. Every single wrestler is somebody's favorite. Make sure that somebody gets their money's worth by making them seem as important as possible. Give them ample time with the mic to help them get fans invested, and angles to rope people in. Stories outside the main event may need to be kept simple in the name of efficiency, but never let this be an excuse to neglect them completely.
- In regards to wrestler input into the booking process:
- Wrestlers should have broad creative control of their appearance, moves they are allowed to do and performance (unless you have something like a Young Boy-Young Lion situation, in which case it should be communicated to fans in a way that allows this section of the locker room to save face). Note, this is not the same as letting them book their own matches. You are the one who should ultimately be deciding who goes over, not them. Take advantage of their knowledge and save yourself the work.
- Never give your wrestlers too much control over their own matches, but always, always, always be willing to listen if they come to you with ideas on how to put someone else over. Despite the views of old school wrestlers and promoters, superstardom is not a zero-sum game. The happiest problem a promoter could have is having too many talented, charismatic athletes in his employ. Just because fans cheer loudly for one guy does not mean they won't cheer just as loudly for someone else. Encourage this type of thinking and go out of your way to reward selflessness. Get your wrestlers out of the mindset of asking, "What can I do to help myself?" but "What can I do to help the company?". If the company does well, then everyone wins. ECW went from a glorified indy promotion to the verge of joining multinational billion-dollar federations because its owner and a strong core of talent went out of their way to build an us-against-the-world team mentality.
- Wrestlers who have charisma and other talents, but only Five Moves of Doom should be booked in matches where this lack of working ability should be obfuscated. For example, John Cena should not be booked to throw punches, and the only time The Big Show should be booked against a high-flyer is for the point of the match to be Big Show throwing the high-flyer around and nothing else.
- Wrestlers who routinely stink up the ring and/or draw X-Pac Heat without making any effort to improve should be dropped without consideration. No matter who they are, or who they are friends with. Your business will be better for it.
- Related to the above topic, backstage politickers are the death of your business. Nothing will destroy morale and work ethic like politics backstage. Find out who the politickers are, and then find reasons to fire them. If you cannot fire them for legal reasons, then book them into oblivion; if they have no marquee value, then they have no power over you at all. If the wrestler is a drawing name and they leave you for the competition, fair enough: let them eat your opponent up from the inside. As the booker, you have personal responsibility for defining how much politics exists. Make it as low as possible, preferably zero. Good locker room morale means wrestlers who are happy to work for you, which leads to better performances, pleased fans, and more money.
- As is true in any organization, wrestling or otherwise, politics in the workplace come into play when some workers believe (or want others to believe) that they know more than everyone else and want to spread that around. Open and honest communication is the key to curbing these tendencies. Many of WCW's backstage problems were caused by secretive angles between a handful of people meant to fool other wrestlers backstage just as much as the fans, which caused trust in management to plummet. A tight lid should be kept on some angles if surprise value is a key component, but otherwise everyone should have an idea what's going on with the company.
- In regards to your non-main-eventers, who are usually the first to be mistreated:
- Treat your jobbers well. Their self-sacrifice is the cornerstone of your business, and without them looking at the lights, your main-eventer will never get over. They are brave men, willing to sell their own glory to create yours; you, your performers, and your company owe them everything.
- Guard your mid-card workers. Remember, their purpose is to establish the credibility of your top-card performers. As a result, they get to beat jobbers, and their losses should generally be protected, to ensure they can continue to build future top-stars. They should never descend to the level of jobbers. Your mid-carders should be those talented workers whose mic skills are essentially non-existent, or those who can talk a good fight, but not wrestle.
- As a side note, every main-eventer was a mid-carder once. Pay attention to the mid-carders who get a reaction from the crowd: those are the guys you push.
- Don't have wrestlers break kayfabe under any circumstances. The same goes for you; don't ever create an angle based on real-life events if that story would contradict a previously established narrative. This is for the same reason that halfway through Blade, Wesley Snipes doesn't stop using his silly rusty voice. It breaks the Willing Suspension of Disbelief a story needs to work! Worked shoots have almost never made big money. Even Andy Kaufman's famous feud with Jerry Lawler initially drew less people to the arenas than usual. Nobody wants to see it; the casual fans will be horribly confused, and the smarks, the only guys who would actually be able to follow what is going on, would really rather you drop the nonsense and just put people in the ring anyway. It makes no money, and serves no purpose other than damaging your credibility with the fans. This is wrestling, not UFC. While there's no need to insist that wrestlers maintain kayfabe outside of the job, as was done for much of professional wrestling's history, the fact that almost everybody knows it's a work in no way means you should call attention to the fictional nature of your storylines and angles. Everything that happens inside the arena and/or on camera should be treated as if it were completely real.
- The Internet Wrestling Community is not a Hive Mind and will complain about everything you do. This is acceptable and their complaints are to be largely ignored. After all, it is impossible to please everybody, and unless ratings, buyrates, and live attendance plummet then there is no reason to believe you are doing a lousy job. We are well into a millennium where most fans can be expected to find access to online devices of some sort and wrestlers promote themselves through services like the world wide web. This has resulted in a lot of people writing about wrestling on the internet, each with completely different tastes, most of them of loud and opinionated. You will piss somebody off. Accept this.
- Now, having given you that caveat, it is also worth remembering the Wisdom of Crowds — many fans want to contribute to your business being successful (that's part and parcel of being a fan!), so do not ignore them entirely. Instead, if you can afford it, have an office they can contact (preferably via email) with suggestions and feedback. Legally speaking, soliciting creative ideas from people outside the organization is a bad idea, and you should never actually use a fan's idea wholesale as part of your show (unless you like courtrooms and being forced to pay royalties, anyway), but keeping up on this, and noticing general trends in the messages received, can help you determine which angles are working and which wrestlers are getting over. Plus, having a point of contact for fans to write to goes a long way to improving public relations, and helps you avoid looking like Real Life Heels in the process.
- Always remember that wherever the internet is concerned, there will always be leaks. Unless you take absurd lengths to keep everyone in the dark about your booking plans except for the wrestlers involved, and only for their own matches, you have to expect that someone, be it a performer, referee, security guard, or ring crew member, will be willing to sell out the day's planned events to some website or other just for the notoriety value. In a perfect world, it would be nice if spoilers could be kept under wraps, but it is not your responsibility to take draconian measures to make it so. As long as fans are willing to scour the web for the latest dirt, someone will be willing to provide it. In the end, they're only ruining the experience for themselves. Do not book plans at the last minute or engineer a Shocking Swerve just to blindside this one sub-group. They being who they are, there's a better than even chance they'll catch wind of it anyway, and the product will be damaged for the vast majority of your fans, who are now watching something that doesn't make thematic sense because of the haphazard change.
- If the crowd reacts to a rivalry, it should be milked further. Failure to do so loses fan interest. If the fans are not interested in a rivalry, it must be dropped. Failure to do so will bore fans and lose fan interest, besides the fact that there's nothing fans hate more than being force-fed a rivalry they don't care about week after week. It's generally a cue for changing the channel.
- Women can wrestle, so take advantage of this. And those who can't, can still be interesting in other ways not exclusive to their bodies. Lingerie matches and their ilk should be used sparingly; they're fine as a once-in-a-blue-moon Breather Episode type segment, but making them a staple of your product insults 51% of the population, and can therefore hurt 51% of your potential sales. Don't make the mistake of thinking your demographic is entirely either men or thirsty fangirls who only care about the men. Thinking long term, more female wrestling fans (especially young ones) means more girls wanting to become wrestlers, which means more depth of talent in the future. All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling's incredible depth of talent in the 90s was due to hordes of Japanese schoolgirls who idolised the Crush Gals in the 80s, and before them, the Beauty Pair in the 70s.
Remember rule one — you're here to sell a product to the fans. If you hire good female wrestlers, and then book them like proper wrestlers, the fans will treat them like proper wrestlers. If you hire great female wrestlers and give them the green light, they may even steal the show and get a standing ovation. If you hire anyone who looks great but can't wrestle well, rather than throwing them in the ring and booking them to win matches, try hiding their weakness, possibly with a bodyguard, valet or manager role that fits their personality and range. You'll find that opens them up more to fan support as well. Sasha Banks and Lana can exist favorably in the same world, just as Lita and Terri Runnels did, or AJ Styles and Paul Heyman do. If a non-wrestling woman decides she'd like to become a wrestler, allow her plenty of time to train and actually get good before fully transitioning her. (Much of this is the difference between Trish Stratus, who went from a model with a gift of gab and a scandalous talent scout gimmick to one of the most legendary women in WWE history, and most of WWE's manufactured attempts to reproduce Trish in later model-turned-wrestlers whose results varied from barely memorable to utterly disastrous, the most infamous example being Eva Marie's debacle of a career. Heck, even good wrestlers can sometimes benefit from being introduced in a non-wrestling role and transitioning into an in-ring one after getting over. Just ask Rosemary.) Most fans want to see good female wrestlers and support them, and are also pretty good about interesting female non-wrestlers as well. Play to the strengths of those you book and things should work out, male or female.
- In either case, don't be afraid to let the women be sexy or romantic. If they're not interested, don't try to force it (refer to Employee Relations, rule #2). Some are better at just kicking ass, some shine using guile and wit, some as innocent maidens, some in a pompous bitch role, and yes, some are better as the sexy one. Know what works for your talent, as well as the lower and upper limits of your content rating and target audience. (Wrestling tends to court a big 18-to-49-year-old demographic, so there will be room for everything. The question, of course, is how much of what.) And for God's sake, while it is important to put your talent over, do not have your babyfaces, or worse, an untouchable female authority figure, lecture the audience about your women's division being some sort of revolution — especially if the same arena you're in gave a women's match a standing ovation within the past three days. People in The New '10s and beyond are very much aware that female athletes are a thing, both inside and outside the wrestling business. Sexism and misogyny limits your audience, but so does preachy corporate straw feminism (which, on top of throwing unnecessary shade at those of your fans who are men, often becomes the same thing anyway via "bigotry of low expectations").
- On that note, if you let women compete directly with the men, let them get hit — but don't overdo it. Contrary to what many fanfiction authors believe, the day a woman who's not a Wrestling Monster, even a powerfully built one like Beth Phoenix, beats one of the most renowned male wrestlers and badasses in the world, Shinsuke Nakamura for example, for a World Heavyweight Championship, the match is going to be scrutinized half to death. If the man brutalized the woman and she took his every blow but beat him with Five Moves of Doom John Cena-style, or if he didn't touch her at all because the network won't allow man-on-woman violence, you will get torn asunder and accused of unrealistic pandering to identity politics. But let's say he did hit her with a few big blows which she kicked out of, showing uncanny toughness, but couldn't quite pull the trigger on hitting her with his Finishing Move, and she laid in more moves than he did as well as employed some feminine guile before sneaking in either a roll-up or her own finisher on him. You'll still have many detractors, but that match would be much better received as being grounded in realism, and would most likely win over nearly everyone that even could be won over.
- Female authority figures are just like male authority figures. They can be face, or they can be heel, and either one can be done very well or very badly; see The Product, rule #14. Here are a couple of suggestions to avoid going badly with it. First off, never put a woman using insanity as a gimmick in charge as a babyface authority figure. The gimmick, especially if popular to begin with, will take over the role and cause her to abuse her power just as badly as any heel boss would, only towards the heel side — which normally would be fine if that didn't include being their female boss, emphasis on both terms. Unless the heels are trying to take over the company, you're creating a case of The Unfair Sex. Also, if a woman planned to appear in an authoritative role has a relationship to either you or the owner of the company both inside and outside the storylines, reconsider the idea now because it is a giant red flag. The combination of being of the fairer sex and of having that relationship may cause you to protect her to the point that she can be the hypocritical babyface or condescending tyrant heel who gets away with almost everything with little to no comeuppance (whether physical or simply professional) and can even cut down and weaken the wrestlers through dominating her promos with them and constantly mentioning her sex and family ties to shut them up. No matter how good the woman is with her promos and facial expressions, this will get the company itself side-eyed. In fact, if she's too good at it, it might make it worse and cause people to believe this is the way she is in real life, which ultimately hurts your company's image. Ask Stephanie McMahon, who now hath to protest too much and take a dump all over the kayfabe of the WWE product by saying in almost every interview that she is portraying a "villainous character".
- Long story short: there's a lot of room for return on investment in female talent, but that investment must be wise if it is to be made at all. If you want to throw that money away wasting and misusing your women, you'd be better off not hiring them in the first place.
- Finally, a booker should cultivate interests outside of wrestling, specifically mainstream interests that have nothing to do with wrestling or other Rated M for Manly pursuits. If you become too obsessive about wrestling, you will be unable to see the forest for the trees, and your booking skills will decline. You will become convinced that certain actions are completely the right ones to take, simply because you lack the perspective. In the same way that you must be ruthlessly honest about your workers' abilities, you must be honest with yourself about your own. Both arrogance and excessive humility lead to errors of judgment. Just try to see the truth (and don't rely on others to provide it; have trusted advisors — preferably ones with no conflicts of interest regarding angles — but always follow your own vision). It is your job to be enthusiastic, but not blinkered, and it's very easy to get lost in the minutiae of a thing. Ultimately, and as with so much in life, everything in moderation.
- And as Vince McMahon has also taught us, just because you have interests outside of wrestling does not mean you should try to use your wrestling business-savvy to try and become say, a football or a bodybuilding promoter. Stick to what you do best, and maybe hire other people to run your attempts at branching out.
- To add to this, try to keep up on what's popular with your target demographic at the moment. Use this as fodder for angles and gimmicks, and to determine which celebrities might draw attention to your product (but always make sure they will actually contribute to your core business; see Business Ethics, rule #3). For example, if pirates happen to be popular at the moment, try packaging a wrestler in a tongue-in-cheek pirate gimmick; if they can get the gimmick over, it will draw attention immediately, and if they really make it their own, it will remain over long after the fad has passed. Examples:
- From Western morticians to zombies to gothic warriors to demonic monsters to real fucking dudes, The Undertaker from 1990 to 2003 cycled through a number of different fads, all the while coming back to a single unifying theme of vengeance and death. From 2004 on, he became a well-blended pastiche of all these fads that ultimately formed a champion of cause from the shadows with a grim reaper image and occasional dangerous tendencies, much like Sting since 1997 but far more solitary than Sting was even then. His ability to adapt to the times both in his look and in his wrestling style ended up creating a legend that far outlives his previous aura of invincibility or any one of the appearances he took on, and those have all been memorable.
- For more recent success, when superheroes and agent soldiers like The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. start spiking in popularity again thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what better way to debut three solid athletes than to have them wreck shop dressed in riot gear declaring they're about justice and calling themselves The Shield while doing impromptu mission reports instead of standardized interviews for their backstage promos?
- The pirate example is an example of what happens when a gimmick is either too stuck to its fad or isn't given a chance to breathe beyond it. Vince McMahon didn't understand Paul Burchill's pirate gimmick, so he had it axed within the year — right before the second Pirates of the Caribbean release. Another such "bust" is that between being used ultimately as a vehicle to push Edge, being on a roster stacked with absolute superstars including two true franchise players at the same time, and the uptick in that period of the vampire genre not reaching peak territory yet (which Vince couldn't have known at the time even if he had understood the vampire thing), Gangrel never stood a chance.