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Two out of Ten Americans Are Wrestling Fans, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin Picked as Fan Favorite

Two out of Ten Americans Are Wrestling Fans, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin Picked as Fan Favorite

Fans admit it's not really a sport; Americans split on Gov. Jesse Ventura's participation in WWF "SummerSlam."

by Mark Gillespie


PRINCETON, NJ -- Every Monday night, the television networks shudder as millions of their viewers click away from their prime-time programming -- to watch wrestling. Cable's Monday night wrestling shows get the credit -- or the blame -- for drops in ratings for this year's NCAA men's college basketball championship and that fixture of television sports: "Monday Night Football." The World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling also make millions of dollars every year from pay-per-view events, such as this past weekend's WWF "SummerSlam," which featured former wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura. Wrestling is so big, in fact, that the WWF hopes to raise more than $172 million in a public stock offering later this year.

Who's Watching Wrestling?
Still, despite the hoopla, wrestling remains a preoccupation with only a minority of the American public. A new Gallup poll conducted August 16-18 shows that only 18% of Americans consider themselves to be fans of professional wrestling. This compares to Gallup's estimates that about 59% of Americans are professional baseball fans, and that 41% are professional basketball fans.

Not surprisingly, wrestling fans tend to be young males with high school educations who earn less than $30,000 annually -- and their political ideology tends to lean Democratic. Very few college graduates claim to be professional wrestling fans, and the fan percentage among those over age 30 is also quite low. One interesting note: despite the predominance of white wrestlers on wrestling shows, the percentage of black fans is greater than the percentage of white fans by a two-to-one margin (33% of blacks count themselves as professional wrestling fans, compared to 16% of whites). There are few regional differences, except that the East has fewer wrestling fans than other regions of the country do.

Is Professional Wrestling a Sport?
That question has plagued professional wrestling for years, and even wrestling promoters now label their events "athletic entertainment" as an acknowledgement that the results of wrestling matches are usually predetermined. The poll results show most people understand the difference: 81% of Americans say professional wrestling is not a sport, compared to 17% who say it is. However, the difference drops among those who call themselves wrestling fans, as 56% say it is not a sport -- much lower than among the general population -- compared to 44% who claim it is.

There is little illusion among Americans, however, that wrestling matches are actually unbiased competitions. More than eight out of ten Americans believe the outcomes of most wrestling matches are fixed. Interestingly, a 1951 Gallup poll which asked the same question found that only 17% believed most matches were fixed; 42% of Americans believed only a few matches were fixed, while 24% believed none of them were.

Who Is the Fan Favorite?
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin takes top honors in the ring -- and in the Gallup poll. Twenty-four percent of Americans picked Austin as their favorite wrestler, twice as many as the nearest challenger, Hulk Hogan (12%). Austin is also the only wrestler to show more support among women than among men, with 32% of women picking him as their favorite wrestler compared to 19% of men. Other fan favorites after Austin and Hogan include Bill Goldberg (10%), Sting (7%), and "The Rock" (6%).

Americans Split on Ventura Participation in "SummerSlam"
The new Gallup poll found that 47% of Americans consider it appropriate for Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura to have taken part in the "SummerSlam" event this past weekend, while 43% believe his participation was inappropriate. Among wrestling fans, however, 73% say it is appropriate for him to be a guest "referee."

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,028 adults, 18 years and older, conducted August 16-18, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Now thinking about World Championship Wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation and other professional wrestling that you may see on TV, are you a fan of professional wrestling, or not?

Yes, a fan 12%
No, not a fan 82
No opinion *

Who is your favorite pro wrestler?


Steve Austin 24%
Hulk Hogan 12
Bill Goldberg 10
Sting 7
The Rock 6
Undertaker 2
Sable 2
Jesse Ventura 2
Ric Flair 2
Kevin Nash 1
Other 6
None/No favorite 15
No opinion 11

Do you consider pro wrestling to be a sport, or not?

Yes, a sport 17%
No, not a sport 81
No opinion 2

As you may know, Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler, will be the referee in a pro wrestling event this summer on pay-per-view cable. Do you think it is appropriate or inappropriate for Ventura to participate in that event?

Appropriate 47%
Inappropriate 43
No opinion 10

Would you say that most, a few, or not any professional wrestling matches are fixed?

  Aug 26-31, 1951 Aug 16-18, 1999
Most 17% 82%
A few 42 9
Not any 24 2
No opinion 17 7
  100% 100%

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