Vince McMahon and WWE were all over the news this week. It was not because of the debut of the XFL or an amazing wrestling card. Thankfully, it also was not due to some horrific tragedy that seem to hit the sport every few years. News of the company being investigated for fraud seemed interesting, but it seems like it was the equivalent of ambulance chasing. The world’s biggest professional wrestling company made news this week due to an earnings report.
It is very telling that the biggest story coming out of WWE in years has nothing to actually do with wrestling. Even during the best of times, the sport is never treated seriously by mainstream media, but the occasional newsworthy appearance would happen. In recent years, however, this has not been the case. Sure, new companies start, billion dollar television rights are sold, and NFL players reference wrestlers, but wrestling just does not receive the same coverage it used to.
Until this past week. The first takeaway is how catastrophic the news has to be for news outlets to consider wrestling to be considered worthy of reporting on. Of course, news of pro graps being in a down period is not new. Ironically, even though WWE arguably has its most talented roster ever and there is seemingly more great wrestling to choose from than ever, interest in the sport is at an all time low.
A great indicator is the lack of interest in the Ruthless Aggression docu-series. A good rule of thumb about wrestling is the era a fan started watching is their favorite. Not only does that not seem to the case here, but many are saying it is when the sport started its downward spiral. This is not to say there was nothing good during the period, but not too many are clamoring to hear WWE Superstars talk about what an honor it was to job to HHH.
It is important to remember that Vince’s company did report record-setting profits. The anti-WWE side has been saying for years that the company is on its last legs. This is ridiculous and the product of some mean-spirited wishful thinking. One could say this is the worst period the promotion has every gone through, but WWE also makes plenty of money — it will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Once the TV contracts run their course, however…
(The same people who have been ringing the death knell for WWE are also the same ones who have been saying the company should get rid of house shows since the house show model is irrelevant in today’s age. When the company announced earlier this month they were running fewer house show dates to allow the roster to recoup from injuries, the same people railed against the company for not saying it was for poor attendance. In other words, people who hate everything Vince does are just as willfully ignorant as the ones who staunchly defend the product.)
It isn’t the profits that became the subject of various websites, however. Vince made comments about WWE Network that drew attention from everyone. Promising to “transform” the Network and suggesting selling the rights to stream PPVs to a third party have put the promotion in a situation that many have speculated about. Will the McMahons soon be selling the company they built?
Despite the statement that a deal would be completed soon (possibly within the next month), there are so many questions. WWE took a bold step by placing every major event on the Network for no extra cost. Counting on streaming to be the way everyone will be watching all the shows they want wasn’t a bad idea; devaluing every single PPV to $9.99, however, was a horrible misstep. If fans have already been programmed to believe even the promotion’s biggest shows are $10, how easy will it be for them to pay $60 for any one show?
There is the chance that some company will just want the Big Four separated from the Network, but at what cost will it be to those fans who are willing to buy in? As it is, the four major shows of the year have lost their luster (Survivor Series has been more of a B+ show the past few years). This would leave the Network with the B shows and their SaudiMania events.
Of course, this begs the question: would companies be willing to pay Vince for just four shows, or would they demand monthly content? It would be silly to think these large corporations have not noticed how WWE swerved Fox. Why would they trust the company to put out engaging regular content now? Would there even be a market for shows that the promotion pays less attention to than the 2006 December to Dismember that saw two matches announced ahead of time and led to Paul Heyman’s dismissal?
Another question is what becomes of the company’s impressive library. Vince has never catered to wrestling fans and in recent years has succeed in chasing off many of them. The Network has been a haven for those fans. Filled with classic content from differing eras, hardcores have been able to see everything from the childhood favorites to some great Hidden Gems. Will WWE or someone else be willing to keep up the Network if its target was so niche?
This has been one of WWE’s most newsworthy weeks. Between rumors of streaming rights being sold to NBC and Disney, fan interest in the company is at its highest in quite a while. NBC seems like a natural fit and those who say professional wrestling is too lowbrow for Disney are forgetting Iron Man was a C list alcoholic womanizer before he became a national hero. The Amazon rumors are particularly interesting since they come with the caveat that the entire WWE may be purchased down the road. (Dave Meltzer says there is no truth to these rumors, for what it’s worth.)
The next few weeks may be the most groundbreaking in wrestling history. The biggest question of all is it is a good thing or bad thing?
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