So Vince- with Hogan, the territorial stars, and tapping into the pop culture of the 80s- cultivated a huge collection of casual wrestling fans that stayed with the product until the scandals of the early 90s hit the WWF.
Then in '96, because of competition, use of mainstream sports icons like Dennis Rodman and Mike Tyson, and the rise of Steve Austin and The Rock, we had another mainstream period that lasted until about 2001.
Do you think we're ever seeing another one?
Use of mainstream celebrities doesn't work any more (for either WWE or AEW), and ever since John Cena, Vince McMahon has shown absolutely no interest in creating a star that can become bigger than his company and then leave.
AEW meanwhile, while a great success so far, is a success with baked-in wrestling fans. They haven't presented anything that has run the fanbase off to this point, but they haven't really grown it either. We're in this period that Dave Meltzer has often described as “the fewest amount of wrestling fans ever, who are willing to spend the most money on the product ever.”
So with WWE uninterested in creating the next megastar, and the very legitimate question of whether AEW can create one (I like watching Omega and Moxley work, but they 'ain't Austin or Rocky) do you think we ever see an explosion of casual fandom again? Or is the wrestling audience the size it will always be in perpetuity?
Wrestling is, as always, the snake that consumes its own tail to survive. Every time we say “Man there’s no more Hogan and Savage to save the business” then suddenly some crazy new guy comes from the indies or football or a jobber tag team and gets over. I think the boom will come again. It might not look the same and might not be what we want as fans but it’ll come.