Your Customer Service Reps
It's just before intermission during the World Wrestling Federation's May 14th live event at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as Al Snow emerges from the locker room and heads towards the giant bay doors in the back of the arena. Tired, hungry and exhausted, he's hoping to get a head start in the long drive for the next night's show in Baltimore, Maryland—marking his ninth straight show in as many days. Before he can reach the exit, however, several fans approach the weary superstar hoping to get his autograph. Setting down his suitcase, Al offers up his John Hancock and poses for photographs.
Later, as this reporter leaves the same building, Snow is just ahead in the parking lot.
"Didn't you leave here like an hour ago?" I jokingly ask him.
"Yeah," he replies, "I'm finally going."
When one is in the public eye, being accessible to the fans goes with the territory. In recent years, both professional baseball and basketball players have mistakenly ignored the masses and the games have suffered for it. In those kinds of instances, egos and bottom lines have taken precedence over the fans, something the Federation Superstars are careful not to do. But where does the role of a Customer Service Representative end and the private life of a superstar begin? Can they give too much of themselves—or not enough? And when it comes to the superstar/fan relationship, where are the uncrossable lines drawn?
"Almost all of the guys we work with are really good with the fans, considering the hectic schedules we keep," Edge comments. "You see a guy like Steve Austin, who is always busy, and anytime a fan approaches him, he's always cool with them. When you see one of the top guys being that accommodating, it trickles down to everyone else."
As many of the superstars explain, it takes barely a minute out of a day and is perhaps the least that celebrities can do to pay back fans for all their support. Common sense dictates that there are times when requests are not appropriate, however—such as when a superstar is eating dinner or spending some quality time with his or her family. Fans should also bear in mind that if a large mob descends on the superstar, there may not be time to accommodate everyone. The majority of spectators are respectful in this regard, but in rare cases they overstep their boundaries.
"There are times when we get to the next city and the hotel, and we're so dead tired that all we want to do is get some sleep," Val Venis explains. "I've actually had fans call my room and say, 'Come down here and sign autographs. You owe us that.' Well I work my tail off, and my job is to entertain and I don't think that is very respectful."
Despite the rare problems he's encountered, Venis insists that the Federation's fans are more dedicated than those of any other major sport. A testament to this, he says, is how you can travel to any city today and see someone wearing a Stone Cold shirt. Others, like Debra, learned a lot from her years accompanying her former husband around the NFL.
"I saw how a lot of the NFL guys treat the fans with arrogance and didn't have time for them," the Southern belle says. "After being around that I try to do all the appearances I can and meet as many of the fans as possible when I'm on the road or even in public. During autograph sessions, I try to spend time with each fan. I just don't sign the picture and not look up. I try to make eye contact with them because if they took the time out to see me and stand in line, then I need to spend a moment with them. Without those fans, I don't have a job."
Several amusing stories arose from questioning the superstars about their experiences signing autographs. The oddest so far comes from Debra—who says she was once asked to sign the stomach of a Chihuahua. Al Snow claims to have inked several pairs of underwear in his day, while a great number of women's breasts and behinds display Val and Edge's signatures.
Edge was once asked by a fan to sign a $20 bill, which disturbed him. "I asked them why a $20 and not a $1, and they told me that's all they had. If I were them, I would have spent it instead!"
As Edge explains, one of the best compliments fans can pay is telling a superstar they enjoy watching him or her wrestle because it shows they respect the business and the product.
"I take offence at people who look down on our fans as if they're a lower denominator than fans of baseball, football or basketball," Snow says. "I'm sorry, but as far as I know I've only seen our fans bring signs to support people. I haven't seen a wrestling fan go outside and stand in 30-degree temperatures while it's snowing, butt-naked with his team colors all over his body. For fans of other sports, it seems like it's quite alright for them to get completely drunk and make asses of themselves in front of their friends and families. Our fans are there to enjoy themselves and watch a show, not act stupid at the expense of someone else."
For many of these athletes—newcomers like Edge and Debra in particular—it's bewildering why fans go to such great lengths to meet them. After all, they're just normal people who happen to be on television as part of their job. It still flatters and shocks Al Snow to see fans who desperately want to meet him on a daily basis.
"Sometimes I'm taken aback by it, because I ask myself 'Who am I?' But if by meeting me it makes someone's day then I'm glad to do it," he says.
Val's outlook is, "I think everyone has somebody they want to meet. For me, it's Al Pacino and Alan Keyes [syndicated radio host and presidential candidate]. When it comes to our fans, I just imagine what I'd feel like if I ever met those two. I always remember that when someone comes up to me and says, 'I've always wanted to meet you'—I can relate to that because someday if I get the opportunity to meet Pacino or Keyes, I will say the same thing."
Debra has a similar take on her relationship with the fans, based on her personal experiences meeting stars of both entertainment and sports—many of whom were cold and distant, according to the superstar. Formerly a huge fan of Morgan Fairchild, Debra finally had the chance to meet her idol during a flight and says the actress was a complete snob.
"You don't forget things like that," Debra suggests. "That totally turned me off as a fan of hers."
Whether in the movies, music or even sports-entertainment, it's crucial for the superstars to maintain a good rapport with the fans. If it's not out of respect, then for overall success of the industry. Even when a superstar is tired or hungry, putting on a smile and honoring a fan's request is important—not only for their careers, but as a reflection of the character of athletes employed by the Federation. According to Edge, all it takes is one fan who's refused an autograph going on the Internet and ruining a reputation or telling all his or her friends that a particular superstar was less than accommodating.
"If these people didn't want your autograph, that's when you have to worry," Edge says. "When the fans want to meet you, it's a good thing for business. No matter how tired or hungry we are, and even if you're in a bad mood, just put on a smile and say, 'Thanks.'"