If you ask me why I watch wrestling, I have a lengthy, passionate response, but the gist is a little simpler: my parents were big wrestling fans and I’ve watched it since birth, so “don’t watch wrestling” has never felt like an option. Plus, you know, I run the wrestling portal on UPROXX and am contractually obligated to watch for the rest of my life.
The Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences at the University Of Kansas wanted a better and more psychologically-valid answer, so they conducted a research study to find out why people watch WWE, cheer for its heroes, and boo its villains. For realsies.
Pitch.com spoke with Professor Jordan R. Bass about the results.
Bass tells The Pitch that the majority of the 400 respondents from eight countries reported that they watch pro wrestling for three reasons: novelty (new story lines, characters, etc.), physical skill of athletes, and enjoyment of aggression.
For the survey, Bass, along with KU doctoral research fellow Claire Schaeperkoetter and North Carolina State University assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management Kyle Bunds, used the Manual for the Motivation Scale for Sport Consumption, a rating scale used to measure fans’ reasons for watching various sporting events.
On the Internet, we call the Motivation Scale for Sport Consumption “stars.”
Bass says novelty was the No. 1 motivating factor for wrestling fans, and wrestling organizations such as the WWE are uniquely position to take advantage of those motivations given that the sport is predetermined.
“The reason that I think [the study is] it’s super important, especially for wrestling executives, is they have the ability to alter the story line based on what people want,” Bass says. “If we did this with the Chiefs, say, and we find out the fans are really interested because of novelty — they want new story lines — well, the Chiefs can’t have new players every week. Well, they can, but they wouldn’t be very good. But if wrestling finds out that they really like these story lines and physically skilled athletes, this week they can highlight that.”
Unlike other sports fans, though, wrestling fans don’t live vicariously through the athletes.
“In our context, it was actually below neutral,” Bass says. “The only other one that was low was physical attractiveness of athletes. … That’s always been rated low in terms of every sample.”
I guess the University of Kansas has never heard of Tumblr.
The full interview features interesting bits like fan reactions to Brock Lesnar ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania, some unexpected House Of Cards spoilers and comparisons to both Breaking Bad and college football. Here’s what I learned from the study: being the KU assistant professor of health, sport and exercise science sounds AWESOME.
So, why do this at all? “Who cares? It’s just wrestling!” – The Internet
Bass, who grew up a wrestling fan, says he and his colleagues decided to study pro wrestling due to the lack of research on motivations of fans.
“We don’t really know why wrestling fans are wrestling fans,” he says. “I’m sure the company has internal research or, at least, I hope they do. But, at least academically, we don’t have any peer-review examinations of why wrestling fans are wrestling fans.”
The end result of the study should just be an Eddie Guerrero DVD.