Is This The End Of ROH?

I was shocked when I saw the news on Twitter about the status of Ring Of Honor, as The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer tweeted that the company released all of the wrestlers from their contracts, and then the organization posted a message on social media to announce that the group would go on hiatus in the first quarter of 2022.

Granted, this could be something as simple as restructuring the promotion so that talent are used on a per-night basis instead of the guaranteed money of a contract, but all things considered, the future looks like it could be very bleak for one of the most influential companies of the past two decades.

The history of Ring Of Honor and its influence are well-documented, as some of the biggest stars of today made their names in the original ROH. Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, and several others were put into the national conversation with their work in ROH. While the history of stellar matches are well-known, many of which took place in dingy buildings, the impact that the in-ring style had on the industry as a whole can’t be understated. Make no mistake about it, much of the style that is seen on TNT today was popularized in ROH in the early-2000s, influencing an entire generation of pro wrestlers.

So, what happened?

A book could and probably will be written one day about Ring Of Honor’s rocky rise from an independently-owned organization to a property of the Sinclair Broadcasting corporation. It’s a similar tale, but the premise for most of ROH’s existence was that it never quite found a balance as an organization, in that it was too big to be small and too small to be big, very reminiscent of the original ECW. ROH was big enough of a platform for tremendous performers to get noticed and make a name for themselves, but too small to compete with the money offers from WWE and TNA at the time. In many ways, the different eras of the promotion were based around what talent exited and how the company had to respond. When CM Punk left, the company still had many of the talent that it unofficially shared with TNA. When the mass exodus of 2007 took place after TNA finally wanted exclusive talent, the company went through somewhat of a low point, particularly the ill-fated Morshima title reign, which looked to be more of a way to try to secure NOAH talent for shows in the bigger markets than anything else.

Keep in mind, there was a period of time when ROH was built on a DVD business model, but as the group had to run more shows to be able to pay talent, it became difficult to entice even the diehard ROH fan base to purchase three or four DVDs at a time, specially when fans knew that the stacked events were booked for certain shows on the ROH calendar. The economic crunch in 2008 not only made DVDs more difficult to sell to the audience, but when gas prices soared, it wasn’t economically feasible for fans to travel to live events.

As we know, the Sinclair purchase kept the company afloat, considering that the economics of attempting to run an independent group on that scale weren’t realistic in 2011. Credit to Carey Silkin for his investment in ROH because without it, the company would’ve folded years earlier and there wouldn’t have been a chance for it’s glory years to shine. As I’ve written before, the Sinclair buyout saved the group, but also changed the purpose for the product. While Kevin Steen’s great run as ROH champion helped jump start the organization, Sinclair Broadcasting bought Ring Of Honor for its relatively cheap original programming for its syndicated stations, as that secures a better ad rate. Sinclair is in the television business, not the wrestling business, and that philosophy is partially why the company took the path it did in recent years.

As we known, ROH provided a platform for The Elite stable to become one of the most popular factions anywhere in wrestling, even at a time when they didn’t have national television exposure. It wasn’t a one-sided deal either because the company in 2017 was drawing sellouts for live events and doing the best business it had done in the history of the company with The Elite at the top of the card. Also as history will tell us, the success of All In, a production that was under the ROH umbrella, ultimately shifted the course of the industry since it provided a blue print for AEW.

The bottom line is, All Elite Wrestling took ROH’s biggest star and the buzz around them, and put it on a much bigger scale. If Sinclair had offered The Elite $1 million contracts to re-sign with ROH then AEW doesn’t exist today. Again, Sinclair isn’t in the wrestling business, and ROH never truly rebuilt from the All Elite exodus in 2019. That’s not a jab against the ROH office either, it would be extremely difficult for any organization to replace that level of talent all at once. In retrospect, it seems like Sinclair opted to invest some cash into the wrestling project too late because the signing of Rush, Bandido, and others wasn’t going to the type of buzz of Cody or The Young Bucks after they went to TNT.

In another form of irony about the similarities throughout the history of the business, the territories were casualties of the expansion of the 80s, WCW and ECW collapsed during the competition of the late-90s, and ROH might be the company to dissolve in the modern era. At a time when AEW has such hype, specifically in recent months, and WWE still has the dominate market share in the United States, the landscape of professional wrestling is very crowded so it’s not easy to get the fans to invest in the product. For example, an ROH pay-per-view is $40, which is a difficult sell on its own based on the WWE Network offering literally thousands of hours of content for $4.99 a month or even free based on a viewer’s cable provider. Tony Khan knows that if he wants to sell a $50 pay-per-view to fans in the modern era, it has to be a stacked show so naturally, fans are going to invest in the event that will give them the most for their money if they are willing to spend $50 on a broadcast. Don’t get me wrong, ROH has a very talented roster that has very good matches, but does the organization have the star power or the hype to sell pay-per-views? How many ROH PPVs have generated the type of rave reviews that AEW events have received?

Again, it’s not a knock on the talent, but rather just a realistic look that ROH doesn’t have the momentum to rally the type of fan support to compete with AEW for the traditional PPV dollars. While Ring Of Honor hasn’t ran many live events as a safety precaution with the pandemic, the fact that All Elite tours weekly will also make it more difficult for ROH to sell live event tickets. In some ways, it goes full-circle because while the circumstances are different, ROH still finds itself too big to be small and too small to be big in terms of finding its audience.

That’s why as disappointing as it is to say this, despite the announced plans for a return in April, I definitely think that Final Battle will be the conclusion of Ring Of Honor. Obviously, the pandemic took a toll on the revenue of the promotion, but the bottom line is, ROH is a commodity of Sinclair Broadcasting and if the suits at Sinclair don’t think the expenses of the wrestling project are worth the original programming for its stations then the corporation isn’t going to keep the company in business. Truth be told, from a strictly business perspective, unless ROH can find a profitable niche within the current pro wrestling landscape then for Sinclair to keep it running would be a negative for the corporation. Maybe the past three years attempting to find that new niche was enough for the executives to reconsider the logistics of the project.

Make no mistake about it, while the potential shutdown of ROH might’ve been unavoidable, if the company actually closes, it’s not good for the industry because there will be talented wrestlers that don’t have a major platform to showcase their skills or make a living in the industry, as well as a place for new talent to be discovered. I’d guess that some of the ROH crew will land somewhere else because they have too much talent not to be an asset for another organization, but the biggest takeaway from the ROH announcement might be the level of competition within the industry.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta
E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta