This was what popped in my head as I was watching the US Open from last weekend. I kept thinking about it, because the event, held in Las Vegas, was maybe 20% full for the finals matches. And they did the same thing with the World Cup a few months ago with it in Los Angeles. There were more people rooting for Iran than were rooting for USA in the finals. That isn't pathetic; that's embarrassing.
Now I understand what the committee was thinking. Put great wrestling events all around the country to cultivate a nationwide following to support the sport. That's a great long-term goal, but wrestling isn't ready for that sort of leap; they need to take baby steps first.
This is where NXT really comes in. NXT basically runs as an independent wrestling promotion. It started off, slowly gained popularity near Orlando, FL. They did all of their taped events at one venue and then traveled throughout Florida for house shows. They kept putting on wildly entertaining shows in front of a packed house that was thoroughly invested, and honestly, it just looked like a great time to go see a show live. Now it is a phenomenon that can occasionally travel anywhere in the country and sell out wherever they go.
That is what USA Wrestling needs to do. Let's face it. The Midwest and Pennsylvania are the only areas that have a passionate fan base, and honestly, those are the only places that should have USA wrestling events (There is also Beat the Streets in Times Square, but that's a special attraction. Italy probably doesn't care about wrestling, but if they put matches in the Colosseum, people would come to see the spectacle). But just look at this Finals match between Brent Metcalf and Jordan Oliver. This would be sad for an early round match, but it's just sad considering that these are two of the top 20 wrestlers in the world at their weight, fighting for their shot to be the top dog in the United States.
And when you see elite wrestlers in front of mostly empty arenas, does that look like fun? No, it doesn't, and it doesn't help progress the sport in this country.
USA Wrestling is in a weird spot, as they have all of the best wrestlers in the country, but this country still cares more about college wrestling. Even if USA Wrestling holds their events in the hotbeds of wrestling, they still probably aren't selling out big-time arenas. But if they put it in a consistent spot, it will grow in popularity, because they already have a fantastic product. Get it on a real TV channel, even if it's not live, and just expose people to the product.
But patience is the key. It will take some time, but focusing on one area, and achieving success there is the first step. USA Wrestling isn't ready to branch out. Stick to the core audience, and slowly spread out. In April, the Olympic Trials are in Iowa City, a perfect spot for them. 2020 might need to be there too, but by 2024 you can go out to Philly, and by 2028, maybe you hit New York, and then 2032 can be in Vegas or LA. USA Wrestling doesn't like taking cues from the fake version of the sport, but it could learn a lot about building up their brand by looking at NXT.