Many sports (oddly enough, sumo comes to mind) have within their leagues corruption and cheating, but unlike in sports such as football where throwing a game would be shocking, in popular wrestling – WWE and its predecessors, TNA, et cetera – such behavior is commonplace and fairly well known. Now, what if other sports were to adopt the WWE business plan, optimizing for entertainment value rather than actual sport?
Certainly, there are isolated examples of this, for instance the Harlem Globetrotters, but there are not – at least not to my knowledge as a sports fan(atic) – leagues of football, soccer, basketball, or baseball teams where the winner is decided a priori, where drama (i.e. performance, acting) plays a major role, or where play is maximized for “wow” moments.
Imagine now for an instant that such a thing were not purely hypothetical. What if we did have, say, World Baseball Entertainment (WBE)? What would it look like? How successful would it be? Would it be effective even if spectators knew it was all “fake”?*
In the case of baseball, I suppose pitching would be more or less gone from the game, unless the balls were not true baseballs, so that pitchers could throw with freakish action on their breaking ball and/or more speed. Moreover, home-runs, steals, inside the park home-runs, and diving catches (although, I am not sure how they would set up these) would feature prominently. But, for the game of baseball, would this not ruin everything?
At least for me, part of the fun of a perfect game or a steal or a home-run is that they are rare occurrences. One might even argue that a hit is rare, and in some games the same could be said of a strike.
But, then what makes this form of entertainment so specific to wrestling? I think it has to do with the lack of popularity of “real wrestling” among laypeople, particularly outside of the Olympics and local competition. It takes great amounts of popularity and time to have a game be such that one would actually care if “cheating” were introduced, and wrestling simply never gained the popularity, at least not in, for one, the United States.
Furthermore, it takes time and popularity to have a game reach the point where fans no longer accept change. Look at basketball or football or most other popular sports and you will notice that they have remained largely unchanged, at least in their basic premise, since they gained mass popularity. So, even if someone were to find a way to make the WBE a reality, it is unlikely to happen. People simply do not like change.
*Note: This is something I wonder even with wrestling. Is it more or less entertaining if you know it is fake? Having some actual experience in wrestling and martial arts as well as just plain old fighting, I could, as I think anyone should be able to, see through the WWE from a very young age. (My older brothers were fans.) Even the dramatic aspects seem blown out of proportion. I can’t see how anyone watches it most of the time; it seems to be the worst of the acting world mixed with the best of the wrestling world, just being done very poorly as to remove any reality.