WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere
There is something wrong with the WWE.
Ratings are down or flat for Monday Night Raw, WWE Network subscriber growth has slowed, the 205 Live program draws fewer viewers than Attitude Era programming on the WWE Network (and very sparse crowds watching the product live), and fan interest in the product as a whole is waning. Almost more troubling, recent attempts to create new stars from talent developed via the WWE’s NXT initiative have been more miss than hit. This has lead to repackaged feuds between older or already established superstars, and these recycled storylines have been met with large amounts of indifference and even displeasure from the WWE Universe. Reports from fans in attendance at live events also seem to indicate that negative crowd reactions to performers or story beats are being turned down by the production truck so that viewers perceive a reaction closer to what WWE creative desires for the product (Note: WWE has long turned down boos and turned up cheers for their anointed stars, but lately it seems they are piping in reactions for reaction’s sake).
Recent polling indicates that the median WWE viewer’s age has risen from 28 years old in 2000 to age 54 in 2017 which seems to show that young fans are aging out of the product and not coming back. If this holds, WWE will find itself unable to sell ad space targeting the extremely lucrative 18-54 ratings demographic to major companies during their primetime broadcasts as easily as they do now, which would really hurt the company’s profitability and growth, as their TV contracts are a huge revenue stream for the company.
For a company which prides itself on finding out what’s best for business by taking the pulse of the crowd and proceeding based off what they appear to want, something is quite off. Whether it is product over saturation due to having 5 hours of network TV to fill each week and not enough good ideas to fill it, inner turmoil between the old guard and the new in regards to how talent and storylines are booked, or talent injury and/or lazy storytelling curbing audience enthusiasm, it’s becoming clear that something radical may need to be done, and quickly, to right the ship.
While the WWE has long found itself subject to peaks and valleys. The astronomical successes of the 1980’s brought along by the meteoric rise of superstars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage faded into the cacophonic mess that was the early to mid 1990’s. This period was marred by terrible characters (see: The Goon, Mantaur, Bastion Booger, etc) and abysmal writing and the WWE was extremely close to going out of business completely as a result. Were it not for the WWE taking a chance by allowing their talent the freedom to take more risks in the ring and on the microphone and following the fan’s reaction to non-traditional superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and The Rock, the WWE might currently be in the mess of failed Scrabble-tile-like wrestling federation monikers along with the NWA, AWA, and UWF.
While the McMahon’s get the bulk of the credit for the company’s successful periods, like any other sports or entertainment endeavors, largely these successes are built on the back of the collaboration between the performers and creative staff to produce engaging stories. Simply put, it is easier for a writer to write and take chances when they know that their ideas are in good hands. Likewise, skilled performers take ideas and add their character’s perspective and feeling, giving depth, breadth, and action to the words. When these pieces come together and are presented in a way that the audience can feel and become invested into, magic happens (see: Hogan/Savage Wrestlemania V; Rock/Austin Wrestlemania X7; Cena/Punk; Bryan/Authority).
From all indications, while the McMahon’s are amazing proprietors and marketers of professional wrestling, they appear to struggle with creating an engaging product that captures fan’s attention. Vince McMahon has long preferred the spectacle of a performer, which has led to numerous plodding matches featuring large, slow, technically lacking stars while other performers are pushed because of their look. There are so many stories from past WWE staff members regarding Vince’s initial negative reaction to performers based on how they looked (Mick Foley) or their overall size (Eddie Guerrero), only to be proven wrong by the fan’s reaction to them, that this assumption has to be a valid one.
Stephanie McMahon leads the creative team, but her TV persona lacks the depth with which her real-life self seems to burst. Nearly every interaction between Stephanie and a babyface male superstar ends up feeling somewhat generic in that the interaction culminates in “Stephanie’s Two S’s”: the Sneer and the Slap. As the modern day WWE operates with a kid and family friendly intent, the slap only neuters the male victim, as they can have no comeuppance. The ability to strike back against an evil oppressor in a manner greater than or equal to what was doled out is an elementary key to resolving any physically escalated conflict within a story, and the reliance on this lazy, overused trope makes me wonder if Stephanie is best placed as head of creative or if she would be better suited in another company impacting role which would still highlight her incredible charisma, knowledge, and passion.
These hinderances which are rooted in the McMahon’s are not likely to be resolved as long as the family is in control of the company and it’s inner workings unless they are willing to hire some people willing to speak up with new ideas and work to convince the McMahon’s to take chances on large scale changes which could reinvigorate the fan base. There are several things that the McMahon’s and the WWE could do to facilitate this change and starting tomorrow we will take a look at some of them in depth.
Thanks for reading!