We spoke to Tassilo Jung of wXw in Germany about the recent growth of the company, and the German market for wrestling. wXw run episodic weekly ‘Shotgun’ shows, as well as huge special events of their network, wXwNOW.
How did wXw achieve the growth you’ve shown over the last few years?
Well, I believe that with most things you end up putting in a lot of hours without people noticing much and at one point you’ve put in enough hours to actually get good at something and then it’s the right point for people to notice you. So in our case, we have all been involved in wrestling since the early 2000’s. We’ve taken over wXw while we were at university as a side project in 2006, and in 2012 we got to the point where we thought about our own future and what to do with our lives and we realised there was potential for growth if we actually treat this as a business.
Before 2012, we ran just one town in Germany about once a month. By now, we run about 35 different towns in Germany and have also run shows in Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, England, America and Japan. When we started, we were running wXw out of our own apartment. Right now we have an office building in Essen, where five to eight people work on a daily basis, plus our wrestling school is right next door and there’s an apartment where our wrestlers or people coming in can live. So, by now we have a certain infrastructure that we can use to grow more.
Has there always been an appetite for wrestling in Germany, but nobody there to fulfil it?
The German wrestling scene is a super-interesting subject. Germany used to be a super hot wrestling market, or Catch wrestling market in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. There were big tournaments in Germany and Austria and you could come over here and work 180 days straight, day after day, and pretty much work the same town six to eight weeks in a row. Business was doing very well. In the mid-90s, there was press coverage with American wrestling and people were more alert to the fact that there was steroid abuse going on and wrestling wasn’t as real and as and as clean cut as it was portrayed. So when the American market recessed, WCW and WWF started running in Europe a lot more. Mid-90s there were over 60 US wrestling events a year in Germany.. So when I was 10 or 11, there was wrestling in Germany six nights a week on television. They were trying to get wrestling to run in the afternoon as well.
The WWF was way more colourful and modern than the old German product so it pretty much took the market. During the Monday night wars, there were less shows in Germany. So when I was getting into wrestling, there was nothing left. You were lucky to get one or two shows a month held in a gymnasium in front of 70 people paying about 10 German Mark back then and it was a bunch of untrained backyard wrestlers, wrestling in their t-shirts instead of gear. So this was pretty much when we got into that, so we couldn’t say that there was an appetite for it, but over the years we had to build a wrestling market in Germany as well. Of course, it’s been super helpful that in the last two or three years, WWE have focused more on the German market. They’ve done some very interesting promotional things – one of the most interesting was German International Goalkeeper Tim Wiese wrestling on their Munich show last November. So this has helped as well.
Do you have any relationship with the WWE?
I think with the European office, we have a pretty good relationship going on. One of their commentators, Sebastian Hackl, used to wrestle for us. We know some of the people there, so that helps. We have worked with WWE with promotion of their tour in February, so they advertise on our social media channels. We have also been in talks with them about how to reach a certain core wrestling audience in Germany where they weren’t quite certain on how to get a grip of them. We don’t have weekly talks or anything but we have had certain business ventures together, so I would say that our contact with WWE is pretty strong. Our contact to WWE America is pretty much where it needs to be.
What German talent do we need to keep an eye on?
I would always look at Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland as one market. So in the last two years, WWE have signed both Alexander Wolfe, who used to wrestle as Axel Tischer, and Aleister Black, who used to work as Tommy End. I think there’s tons of super interesting wrestlers over here. Of course, there’s Walter, who is a very very agile 6ft4 man. If Walter wasn’t as focused as he is on being a part of the wrestling academy and building wrestling in Germany, then I’m pretty sure he could make a ton of money somewhere else.
I think Ilja Dragunov, who has just won 16 Carat, is a super interesting character, doing an 80’s throwback gimmick while bringing in an unbelievable amount of physicality to his matches. Jurn Simmons from the Netherlands is one of the most talented guys I have ever seen. I usually say that the most talented guy I have ever seen is my friend Claudio – Cesaro, and I’m pretty sure that Jurn is right up there with him. He could be a huge star. Axel Dieter Jr for example, is someone who is super impressive. Of the older guys, Absolute Andy, Bad Bones, and there’s Emil Sitoci – they’re all guys that have pretty much everything that you would look for if you were to acquire high level talent.
What kind of adjustments do you have to make to be accessible with issues of language?
I think it works in our favour, if we want to convince anyone of working with a German product over an American one, it’s fairly easy, because German characters can cater to a German audience. It works in our favour domestically, while of course, internationally it’s a bit of a barrier, especially as wXw is not a promotion trying to put on dream match after dream match and there’s a market for that, but that card has been played by so many promotions. Our strength is storytelling and we try to have a deep character development in storylines that are appealing to a more grown-up audience. Transferring the product to a non-German audience is hard. So, all of our weekly show and marquee events have English commentary, and all promos that aren’t in English have subtitles. So we try to get all of our produced content in both languages. And all of our content that is out for free is the same.
What’s the long-term strategy in terms of building talent and building a roster?
We are trying to either build or recruit wrestlers that are from around here. Our core is from Germany or surrounding countries. If we take people that are either lacking in the wrestling game, or their character game, or their promo game, we try to teach them, so I believe most independent promotions don’t have extra talent that is there only to coach talent. Most of our talent gets invited to our wrestling academy to stay there once or twice a year to work on their weaknesses and to produce video packages for them. So we try to get the best possible talent that fits us and wants to do the extensive wXw schedule.
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