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WWE Is There To Make Money..., July 26, 2003
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Oct 6 2003, 07:46 PM
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Dan Christie wins the "Draw Austin's hands" contest, with this better-than-I-anticipated-from-anyone entry:

(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/robvanhands.jpg)

Column

It's been a while since my last column, and you can put it down pretty much to "not caring about WWE". I bothered to watch Raw this week, and the Randy Orton vs. Val Venis match showed pretty much why I don't care. It was obvious from the start, based on WWE's pecking order and Orton's obvious push, that Venis had no chance. Even on PPV, where it is 99% certain who will win a main event, there's still that chance that you'll be surprised. Orton vs. Venis though... dull match with an obvious finish. Doesn't appeal to the wrestling fans; doesn't appeal to the entertainment fans.

Which led me to think – what are WWE's priorities? What are they aiming for?

A really, really quick and obvious introduction:

WWE is a business. The main priority of every business in the world is survival, and survival comes through having enough money to continue to operate. Therefore, a business has one key aim: Make money.

Wrestling in North America has never been especially successful. Pre-1998, wrestling always had vaguely respectable ratings, but was stigmatised by the public's perception, and in particular two things:

Steroids, and in particular the way that Vince McMahon in particular favoured bigger wrestlers. I'm not talking about guys like Yokozuna or Andre, but the beefed up wrestlers like The Ultimate Warrior, or Hulk Hogan, who were obviously using chemical enhancement: Steroids. Having Hogan come out and publicly say that he'd lied to everyone and that he had used steroids was hardly a shock to those with only a casual interest in wrestling; typical views were "well... he's a wrestler, of course he's on steroids."

Secondly, and again this was a point of view held by people that didn't watch wrestling, is that wrestling is two guys rolling around in their underwear pretending to fight. "They stomp when they punch!" "What's that idiot doing?" [My dad talking about Hogan Hulking-up. 15 years later, I agree with him.] "You know it's all fake, right?" "Like that would REALLY work!"

We've all heard people decrying wrestling as something stupid and fake, and they are half right. 80s WWF wrestling was ludicrously over the top, and lets face it they did stomp when they punched. Sure, it is fake in the way that both guys are pretending to fight, but there's a hell of a lot more to it than that, as I'm sure you all know.

Vince realised in about 1994 that "wrestling", with two beefed up guys facing each other in a match was not enough. Gimmicks, which had once been used to give each wrestler a motivation or a character were now in overdrive. A wrestling garbage man, race car driver and a half man, half bull all appeared. These gimmicks were as bad as the 80s steroid freaks, in the way that a typical casual fan would take one look at it and find it utterly retarded. This was reflected as the ratings were regularly around 2.5, and PPV buyrates hit all time lows of 0.3.

Then 1997 came along. Wrestling was changing, and it mostly came down to one person accidentally getting a face reaction.

***image3:center***

Stone Cold Steve Austin's badass persona was supposed to be a heel gimmick. He was rude, nasty and foul mouthed – how could people like such a guy? But, as you should all know, they did. He was pushed to the moon, and has never looked back. And the wrestling world has never quite been the same.

Out went the ridiculous gimmicks of yesteryear. There was no more Papa Shango (who used voodoo to make black gunk come out of his opponent's head), and in came newer, edgier characters: Welcome to WWF Attitude.

Another big change went on in this period too: Storylines. The focus of the shows moved away from wrestling onto the storylines. Actually, it is probably more accurate to say that the change started during this period. It starts to become most noticeable in 1997, with the Gang Wars, DX's antics and Stone Cold Steve Austin.

While some people still saw wrestling as childish play fighting, people started to tune in. A lot of people. People that hadn't watched wrestling before. The ratings started to shoot up. The episode of Raw that aired January 13th 1997 got a 2.30 rating. A year later, 3.40, and in 1999, an incredible 5.74. 2000 saw another increase, with a 6.5.

For every person that was watching in 1995, there were two more in 2000. What caused this dramatic increase in viewers? Well, a combination of the two things I talked about earlier: Different characters, and different storylines.

Wrestling, for the first time ever was cool. People were proud to wear an Austin 3:16 shirt and wrestling became a part of pop-culture. Hell – the Austin vs. McMahon feud was featured on MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch.

I'd like to make one small correction to the previous paragraph: It wasn't "wrestling" that was cool. It was "sports entertainment". Sports Entertainment is Vince McMahon's attempt at getting away from the stigma of the word "wrestling". WWE is an "entertainment" show, featuring WWE "superstars", according to McMahon, as opposed to a "wrestling" show, featuring WWE "wrestlers".

And, well, it isn't wrestling that gets people interested. The Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat matches from 1989, which are seen as three of the best matches ever in North America, didn't set the world on in terms of buyrates. None of them caused a spike in buyrates for their respective PPVs. All of WCW's 1989 PPVs drew between 1.30 and 1.70.

While there are wrestling fans out there – don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that nobody wants to watch wrestling – there are far more entertainment fans. That should go without saying; movies, TV, magazines all fall under "entertainment", and these industries are far more profitable than wrestling.

Going back to one of the first points that I made:

WWE is a business. The main priority of every business in the world is survival, and survival comes through having enough money to continue to operate. Therefore, a business has one key aim: Make money.


I'd like to make one thing clear at this point: I'm not suggesting that every company gives up on whatever product they are making and moves into the most profitable market. If there's too many companies in one market, then most of them will die. However, sports entertainment is a totally new market, which, if people want sports entertainment, then they will pay for it. But we'll get back to that in a moment.

Wrestling makes less money than entertainment.
Vince McMahon wants to make as much money as possible.

Given those two sentences, it is only logical that Vince McMahon should make entertainment television, rather than wrestling television.

Gone were the string of largely meaningless matches from Raw. In their place came three minute segments, featuring backstage talking, interviews, storylines that seemed more in place in a soap opera, and much shorter matches. While the actual wrestling was awful, people dug it. They didn't have to sit through 20 minute matches, instead there was a 5 minute match and then something different.

There was a philosophy some years back about wrestling being a three ring circus. In a circus, if you don't like the clowns, then you'll like the lions. If you don’t like the lions, you'll like the acrobats, and so on. This philosophy was applied to wrestling: If you don't like the power men, you'll like the brawlers, and if you don't like the brawlers, you'll like the high-fliers.

There was one flaw with this philosophy though – each of those styles listed were a type of WRESTLING. What about the people that don't really like wrestling? Are you going to alienate a large percentage of your potential viewers?

To make an analogy: I hate cooking shows. I don't believe that many people make the food that is shown on them, and so the whole "take two eggs and crack them in a bowl..." thing is just pointless.

***image1:center***

There's a show called Ready Steady Cook, which features cooking, but it takes a backseat to the contestants talking and having a laugh. I will tolerate the cooking, because I like the way they interact and have a good time. That interests me far more than the main part of the show (which is cooking) and is the sole reason that I watch.

I'll come back to this in a moment, but I feel there needs to be one more piece of background.

Television stations are (pretty much) free to watch. You pay a subscription to whichever cable or satellite provider you have, and also the cost of the TV in the first place, but you don't pay a subscription to watch Friends, or pay a certain amount every time you watch E.R. Some of the money that funds TV programs comes from advertising.

There's always a balance with advertisers – if a company doesn't like the product that you are putting out on your show, then they won't advertise within it. Look at the PTC fiasco, in which they spent a LOT of time convincing advertisers that WWF was evil and that they shouldn't sponsor the show. Although the PTC later admitted they were wrong, they still showed the power that advertisers hold: Piss them off, and they won't sponsor your show. Piss off enough of them, and you're stuck. Obviously, WWE was nowhere near that point, but it wound them up enough to change things slightly. Oh, and they brought in the Right To Censor, to make fun of them.

The point I'm making here is that Vince McMahon's product is not wrestling. His product is people. These people buy WWE merchandise, and watch television advertising. The idea is to get as many people to do this as possible, which means booking for casual fans, rather than hardcore ones. Simply because there are more of them, so there's more potential to make money.

So Vince McMahon books Raw to appeal to this "casual" fan – the one that doesn't care about Ric Flair or the NWA or any of the history of wrestling. The ones that don't care about two men in their underwear rolling around for an hour. The ones that don't care about psychology. The ones that DO care about Steve Austin stunnering Vince McMahon. The ones that DO care about DX doing crotch chops and telling everyone to "suck it".

Welcome to Dumbing Down.

The concept of dumbing down is fairly simple. The idea behind it is to sacrifice some of the quality of the show, so as to appeal to a wider audience.
Science programs sometimes simplify things so that they are more accessible – this is what dumbing down is.

When Vince Russo was running "shoot" angles in WCW, this appealed to a VERY small amount of people. Imagine all the people that could watch a show. Then get rid of everyone who isn't a wrestling fan. Then get rid of everyone who doesn't have internet access. Then get rid of everyone who doesn't check all the backstage news & rumours. How many people do you have left? Not a lot. This is completely the opposite of what should be done in a business. WCW should have tried to appeal to a wide range of people, instead of a small subset.

This is pretty basic stuff, obviously, but the WWF were getting it right, even if WCW couldn't.

WWF's angles were pretty silly, but people watched and paid for the PPVs. And if it makes money, then it has achieved its aim. While, sure, things may not be perfect, and everyone has a right to criticise, the aim is to make money, and not to put on good wrestling. And as long as WWE is making money, then whatever crap they put on TV is working.

While WWE aren't making as much money as they were in 1999-2000, it would be easy to say that they are failing, but it should be taken into account that the WWF made more money in that period than ever in their history.

I'd like to make it clear that I do want to see good wrestling – I'd love to see Eddie Guerrero go out and do his thing for 20 minutes... But it isn't happening, and I don't see it happening until Vince McMahon realises that the wrestling world has moved on.

From 60 minute draws being commonplace (well – a hell of a lot more common than they are now) to big roided up men, to smaller men, to sports entertainment, wrestling moves in cycles. Sadly though, Vince McMahon seems to get hung up on one "era", and be unwilling to move onto the next, leaving the fans wanting something new while he offers the same old shit.

Usually it takes him a while to realise what the fans want; Hulk Hogan was receiving a backlash from the fans for half of 1994 before Vince offloaded him to WCW; Shawn Michaels was obviously getting WAY over as a babyface, yet it took Vince months to finally give him the WWF title.

This is happening again now: Sports entertainment is not what the fans want to see any more, but it is still being shoved down their throats. So they are turning the channel.

Now, the fans are seeming to turn off to everything that WWE puts out. Three minute matches are no longer working (mainly because they are not at all conducive to getting people over) and the storylines are really, REALLY sucking. And if there's one big rule of business, it is that the customer is king.

If I'm going to spend my money on your product, then you had better cater to me. Simple. Obviously they cannot cater to every single person, which is why they should aim for majorities – Hulk Hogan was the king of over in the 1980s, despite being a pretty awful wrestler. WWE should always aim to please as many people as possible. Pretty basic stuff, but it's something they seem to have forgotten. Self-congratulatory ego stroking has taken the place of pushing who the fans want to see, and by pissing the fans off, WWE have shot themselves in the foot.

For example: Zach Gowen. http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/publish/ar...038.shtml" target="_blank">Matt Ditaliano has summed up pretty well why he's a bad idea, but he's still getting ridiculous amounts of airtime and a feud with Vince McMahon. SmackDown! has become the McMahon show, whereas Raw is a circle jerk with absolutely nothing happening other than the "can't decide where we're going from one week to the next" Kane angle.

And THAT is why WWE are failing. Sure, they are making money, so they aren't complete failures, but they are alienating the fans by not giving them what they want. And until this changes, they have no chances of being as big as they were, and the only way is down.

Outro

This week's caption contest:

***image4:center***

I'll be back after Vengeance with a "Good / Bad", if I can bring myself to order the thing.

Nik
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