Donít Panic - WWE is Going to Be Fine
Posted by Wyatt Beougher on 06.21.2014
WWE began making several cuts last week in order to remove nearly $20 million from their budget! 411's Wyatt Beougher looks as why this shouldn't cause a panic among wrestling fans and why the company is going to thrive in the long-term!
Introduction: In light of everyone seemingly hitting the panic button over the weekend when it was announced that the WWE would be making budget cuts to the tune of nearly $20 million dollars, and even I myself disparaging the current product for failing to capitalize on the momentum and goodwill that they earned in the build to Wrestlemania and the results of that particular show, so I felt like maybe it was time to swing back to the positive side and reassure everyone that the WWE will be just fine.
First off, if you told me a decade or a decade and a half ago that I'd be writing this column, I'd have probably laughed in your face and called you something childish (I was an immature knob back then). For a little background, I grew up in a relatively rural area of western Pennsylvania (affectionately referred to as "Pennsyltucky"), and so I never really had high speed internet access until I went to college. Thus, the first pro wrestling message board that I frequented was at Mark Madden's personal site. I gained my first online handle ("Shooter") because I had a reputation for posting diatribes about wrestlers that I didn't like. The most popular (and vitriolic) of those was directed at Triple H.
I googled "HHH 1999" and this was one of the first images to come up. Where are Michaels' pants?!?
And now here I am, fifteen-plus years later, writing a column in defense of that same man. And while I can attest that a lot of it is because I've grown up significantly over that time and my views on the business have changed, I'd also like to think that the same holds true for one Paul Michael Levesque. But before I get into my effusive praise of the man, let's take a look at the biggest reason why the WWE's stock has plummeted and left them in the position that they're in today.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
Sure, sure, there wouldn't even be a WWE without Vince, you say. And you're absolutely right, but the simple fact is that Vince just isn't very good at anything other than wrestling. WBF? Failure. Cape Cod Buccaneers ACHL team? Failure. XFL? Failure. Even the WWE Network, which is the single largest collection of wrestling content available legally anywhere in the world (the collection, not the availability, obviously), he's done his best to screw up, by overestimating the number of subscribers. And while I don't think Vince is a bad businessman by any stretch of the imagination, he's just not very good at running a publically traded company - not only did he trust whoever projected the number of subscribers the WWE Network would have and announce them to the world, he also was very vocal about how much of an increase the WWE would receive for the rights to broadcast their weekly episodic shows going forward. The combination of that projection being so ridiculously off-base and the Network not attracting the subscribers that he said it would is what sent WWE stock into a freefall and cost Vince nearly $350 million. Compared with that, the twenty million that the WWE is currently trying to cut from the budget is basically a drop in the bucket. And that's the kind of thing that has more to do with the WWE's future success than Vince supposedly being behind the awful "spiked" coffee angle on this past week's RAW.
A crowning achievement for women's wrestling in the United States, to be sure. "Let's take this woman who will go on to be our most decorated women's wrestler and make her bark like a dog and strip on national television."
Of course, that doesn't absolve Vince of his hand in the WWE's current creative woes, as the man's been out seriously out of touch with what his fans want for years now. If drugging coffee and vomiting weren't enough for you, how about all of the times he humiliated Divas and Superstars throughout the Attitude Era and right up until a few years ago when he became a more sporadic television personality? Or the continued use of xenophobia for non-US talents? His obsession with bodybuilders and reluctance to push smaller wrestlers who are actually talented in the ring? The fact that African-American wrestlers either team up for feud with one another and are frequently subject to some casually racist undertones? Vince is either responsible for all of these things directly (mandating skits and having final say over characters) or indirectly (by leaving Stephanie in charge of writing team that largely doesn't understand the medium that they're being paid to write in).
I said it in a reply to a comment on last week's column, but while you'd never know it from the average internet commenter, the ever-increasing reach of the internet means that information can now be spread much more easily and efficiently, and as a result, our society has undergone a pretty significant paradigm shift. I've talked in a past column about how Vince desperately wants to go "mainstream" and leave the WWE's sideshow, carny connotation in the past, but in a society that's increasingly priding itself on being knowledgable, where "geek chic" has legitimately become a thing and superhero movies and zombie television shows are the most popular things in their respective fields of entertainment, Vince's increasingly outdated ideas of what makes a compelling wrestling program are only going to continue to hold the company back.
Yet strangely enough, it's Vince's son-in-law, the former bodybuilder with a reputation for being a self-serving bully, who better understands how to make the WWE more in line with what today's consumers want to see. Look no further than the show that Hunter runs, which is consistently the best hour of television the WWE produces each week, and, in my opinion, the best episodic weekly wrestling in the world today. Sure, you've got your Mojo Rawleys, guys with size and little else that Vince loves, but look at who's getting the biggest pushes in NXT right now - a trio of 200-pounders, two of whom were beloved on the independent scene before being signed to the WWE. One of them plays a male model (in a completely over-the-top manner, not like when Rick Martel tried to play it straight in Vince's heydey), they play up that another one listens to music that isn't crappy nu-metal from the early 2000's, and the third has all the charisma of a folding chair. But they're still treated as the most important characters on the show, on par (if not better than) the prototypical big guys that Vince has long been known to favor.
Admit it - your heart grew three sizes when you watched this.
Oh yeah, and then there's the small matter of women watching far more primetime television shows than men, and the fact that in NXT, the women are also treated as equals to their male counterparts. If WWE is looking to bring in an untapped market segment to replace all the actual wrestling fans who left after their purchase of WCW and near-continuous emphasis of entertainment, the easiest way to do that isn't with a scripted "reality" show like Total Divas. Sure, it might get some curious eyes onto your product, but then when they see something like Summer Rae getting cat litter and milk poured all over her and essentially failing to exist outside of her need for Fandango's affection? Or Brie Bella, arguably the most likable Diva on the show, instantly reduced to harebrained, helpless victim by the mere sight of a brightly-colored "demon"? I'd imagine they'll stick to the reality show. If those same eyes had seen the Paige/Emma/Bayley vs Summer/Charlotte/Sasha match on NXT, though? I think the WWE would have a lot better chance of getting them to stick around.
And while I have absolutely no idea how a guy who was legendary for being the self-absorbed prick that he portrayed on television in real life somehow managed to gain enough self-awareness to actually figure out how to give the fans what they want, I don't honestly care. He did, and hopefully someday soon he'll be given the authority to bring the rest of the WWE in line with his vision. And since I don't think there's any way Vince outlives his son-in-law, I'm content in the knowledge that that day is coming, and WWE will weather these smaller storms of financial turbulence with no lasting damage sustained.
Here's looking forward to the era of the King of Kings.
Wyatt Beougher is a lifelong fan of professional wrestling who has been writing for 411 for over three years and currently hosts MMA Fact or Fiction and reviews Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.