The ESPN 30 for 30 special on two-time WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair was the first 30 for 30 on a pro wrestler. That is huge in itself, but there is an even bigger picture taken from it.
WWE is a juggernaut when it comes to its fanbase, the WWE Universe. They are very vocal and extremely interactive on social media. Pro wrestling fans, in general, are active on social media, making pro wrestlers and pro wrestling top trending topics regularly.
Mainstream media has taken notice, especially sports media.
That brings us to Tuesday night, Nov. 7, when ESPN 30 for 30 premiered “Nature Boy,” about the career and life of Ric Flair, a pop culture icon. It marked the first 30 for 30 on a pro wrestler, and it won’t be the last.
Here is a release sent by ESPN PR about the numbers.
ESPN Films’ “Nature Boy” 30 for 30 documentary, which premiered Tuesday night (Nov. 7), averaged 1.8-million viewers according to Nielsen, a 78-percent increase from ESPN’s 2017 30 for 30 premieres to date (1.0 million).
The film on wrestling legend Ric Flair was the highest rated original show on cable that night for adults 18-49. Additionally, “Nature Boy” was the most social program of the day with 238k Twitter interactions.
“The response to the film has been overwhelming,” 30 for 30 Executive Producer John Dahl said in the release. “The viewership totals just drive home the enormous interest that exists in Ric Flair’s life story, regardless of whether you’re a wrestling fan.”
“Nature Boy” ranks as the most-viewed film since last year’s post-Heisman offering, “Catholics vs. Convicts” (2.1 million viewers).
End of press release.
The respect given to a man and the acceptance of his sport (Yes, I said, ‘Sport’) by ESPN has been long overdue.
For years ESPN and mainstream sports media mocked, laughed at, and ridiculed pro wrestling. Words like fake, fixed, and stupid were their norm. There was no coverage.
They did not see– nor care to see – what wrestlers actually do in and out of the ring, or the entertainment value of the wrestlers and the product.
Not to mention the stories: How they get started in the business; Why they do this; The (real) injuries; The rigorous travel schedule; The training; The ability to do something in the ring not everyone can do; The physicality; The athletic background; Their families.
Something happened. Call it the social media craze toward WWE. Plus, people who grew up with the “cool” pro wrestling (nWo, DX, Rock, Austin, Four Horsemen, Flair) were now the ones working in sports mainstream media.
Athletes from other sports, celebrities, entertainers, hip hop artists, rock stars have enjoyed and continue to enjoy pro wrestling.
Pop culture is social media, and pro wrestling is pop culture.
ESPN even hired some WWE announcers to work for them. ESPN started covering WrestleMania, and they had a weekly interview with a WWE superstar.
I recall when ESPN did a special bashing pro wrestling because the ratings of ABC Monday Night Football were dropping, and the Wrestling Monday Night Wars ratings were rising. ESPN and ABC were owned by the same company.
Now, it’s a complete 180 turn by ESPN. The online numbers and clicks mean so much that whatever is topping the social media and trending charts (like WWE) is getting coverage. Other mainstream sports media jumped on the bandwagon as well. You see coverage of pro wrestling online from Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Sporting News, Rolling Stone (music media) and Forbes (business media) among others.
It’s great to see pro wrestlers and pro wrestling get the respect they deserve from mainstream. Sports are entertainment. ESPN is Entertainment and Sports, and WWE is Sports Entertainment. It fits.