Monday, August 14, 2006

Simple Solutions to Simple (But Glaring) Problems

Over the past five years, World Wrestling Entertainment has gone through serious business travails. A company that was at that point clicking on all cylinders has seen its pay-per-view buys, TV ratings and house show business collapse. This has not been an accident, nor has it been a cyclical decline. Rather, it has been the result of poor booking, creative direction and decision-making. WWE is not yet at a point of no return, but there may come a time when financial rearranging can no longer compensate for consistently declining revenue streams. Thus it is imperative that WWE sooner rather than later address the structural problems in the creative branch of the promotion. Here are some simple keys to an improved product.

1. Rather than a team of writers with a head, there needs to be a head booker with a number of assistants. In the former system, which is what the WWE does presently, there is a large group of people throwing in ideas. The product that comes in is not the product of one primary vision, but rather a blend. One person is responsible for approving the ultimate decisions, but that is not the same. What WWE needs instead is one person who tells everyone else the direction of the promotion, and the assistants are responsible for seeing this direction through, and for coming up with ideas to advance that direction. That way there is one person guiding the ship.

2. There needs to be long-term booking. Week to week booking has been the norm for WWE in recent years, and it makes it harder to accomplish goals. Rather than booking week to week, there needs to be a basic long-term vision. It isn’t coincidental that WrestleMania in recent years has produced some of the best promotion of the year. It’s because that is typically the point with the most long term planning. Batista was one of the last wrestlers to get over in WWE, and it was a result of a long-term story. Obviously, injuries will happen. There doesn’t need to be a really specific week-by-week plan. There just needs to be a blueprint. Decide who will be tentatively headlining over the next year. Future headliners need to be protected going into title programs. That way the title programs seem like a culmination designed to determine the best wrestler in the promotion rather than just a match thrown together to sell a pay-per-view.

3. Young wrestlers with talent need to be protected. WWE has had a major problem creating stars in recent years, and a lot of this has to do with the way they have handled young wrestlers with talent. The first key is not to call them up until they are ready. It’s befuddling why WWE wouldn’t listen to someone with as much experience and wisdom as Jim Cornette when he says who is ready and who isn’t ready for WWE. The old cliche rings true: there is no second chance to make a first impression. Fans will view wrestlers brought up before they are ready negatively, and it will make it much harder for them to get over. The other key is that the wrestlers with potential need to be protected coming up through the card. WWE understands this concept, because Vince McMahon has done it for a long time. This is a point where long-term booking can help. When a new wrestler comes in who they know they want to push to the top, they should have a few feuds planned where the new wrestler will consistently win and move up the card. If the push isn’t taking, then you reevaluate. But going week to week and having the wrestler accrue a bunch of losses cuts off their development.

4. Main event talent needs to be protected. It seems the trend on Smackdown this year has been that the champion loses constantly, and anyone being groomed to be champion likewise loses constantly. This makes it exceedingly hard to sell pay-per-views, because fans have already seen the main eventers lose. Part of the reason the PPV with Great Khali vs. Undertaker did surprisingly strong numbers was because viewers couldn’t imagine either man losing. Thus they wanted to see where things were going to go. It isn’t that hard to enact that model for most PPV main events. You just protect the guys who are in the main event, or the people who are going to be in the next couple main events. If both main event wrestlers have won eight straight television matches, viewers will be compelled to order the PPV to see who is going to emerge victorious. If they are both 5-3 over that period, the intrigue is gone.

5. Physiques and size need to be de-emphasized. WWE continually grew in popularity during the 1997-2001 period when they pushed smaller and smaller performers. With serious competition gone after that, WWE stopped taking seriously rising young talent that doesn’t have size. Instead, WWE has been bringing in lots of big guys with physiques who have little charisma, talking ability or wrestling ability. Physique can help a wrestler, but in 2006 it is a distant fourth in significance to the other three. It would be one thing if WWE needed wrestlers to have three of the four, or if physique and size made a difference with close cases. However, size appears to be a cutoff point for the most part as far as talent that will be brought in with any real push. The result is a talent roster that in no way resembles the best collection of talent in the United States. There is no excuse for that given the WWE’s resources.

6. Scripted promos have to go. The Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair program has been a refreshing switch from most WWE programming, and has produced a much more compelling program than one would expect from a pair of aging stars who have seen better days. Almost all of that has to do with the interviews, which have been sharp, strong and real. Too many promos these days feature wrestlers saying things that you just don’t buy that they would say. Delivery suffers, and wrestlers don’t improve on the mic. Vince McMahon and Jim Ross realized in the nineties that the best wrestlers are extensions of their real personalities. Wrestlers need to be allowed to show their real personalities, and that will come from giving them a set of points to hit rather than a set of lines to deliver. It also helps that wrestlers for the most part understand how to sell a program, while a lot of the writers putting together promos are not long-term fans and don’t have a feel for how to talk people into the seats.

7. Results need to matter. The majority of WWE matches don’t establish that one wrestler is better than the other. It’s very hard to get people to pay to see wrestling matches if the results feel unimportant. Yet WWE undermines the significance of results every show many times. It’s fine to have contested finishes, run-ins, flukes and screw-jobs. However, these have to be the exception, not the rule. If a wrestler will be in the same position after a match regardless of whether they win or lose, why should fans care about the result? The general rule for PPV matches should be that wrestler A says he will beat wrestler B, and wrestler B says he will beat wrestler A. One of them proves he is right by winning the match, and that win allows him to keep his title or sets him up for a future match against a bigger star or champion. There is a world of variation that can be had in that most basic of outlines, but the bottom line is there need to be stakes involved.

8. Less is more. This is the most important point of all. As WWE PPV buys and TV ratings have declined, the WWE has needed to take steps to compensate. The best route would be to address the creative problems that have led to that decline. Instead, WWE has increased its output. WWE has taken on more television, and runs more PPVs. This provides a short term boost while doing long term damage. It is the equivalent of a developing nation getting rid of its debt by simply printing more currency. WWE has way too much television right now, and it will be exceedingly hard to increase interest in the product with resources spread so thin and individual hours of television feeling so insignificant. It is much more likely that there will be a burnout effect. PPV buys are in an even more precarious situation. There are too many WWE PPVs, and they don’t feel special. UFC went in less than a year from consistently losing to WWE on US PPV to consistently beating them. WCW saw its PPV buys collapse from the beginning of 1998 to the beginning of 1999. If fans decide WWE PPVs are no longer worse buying, it will be very hard to change their opinions on this. Short term, cutting back on PPVs and TV will hurt the bottom line. But WWE is driving towards a brick wall, and pushing down harder on the gas pedal is not the solution.

Nothing here is revolutionary. It’s just common sense, and most of these philosophies have been followed by successful wrestling promotions. Most of these points shouldn’t even need to be made because they are so obvious, but WWE isn’t following simple maxims such as the importance of matches and protecting stars these days. With these corrections would not necessarily come PPV, TV and house show improvement. WWE still needs to present compelling characters in compelling storylines. However, these are important and common sense changes that have needed to be made for a long time. It’s hard to get the little things right when you have lost sight of the big things.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Dan said...

The biggest problem with WWE is that it's become lame, especially DX. The Vince loves cock stuff is just plain retarded. Has there ever been a worse feud than DX vs. the McMahons?


I think they need to scrap the duplicate titles and just have 1 World, 1 Intercontential, and 1 Tag Title for the three shows to fight over. Who really cares about Big Show's "ECW" title? Swapping the titles between rosters would also pump up the value of the I-C belt and help guys like Carlito and Shelton.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous tyson said...

Nothing here is revolutionary. It’s just common sense, and most of these philosophies have been followed by successful wrestling promotions.

In the history of professional wrestling is there a more successful wrestling promotion than WWE? As far as WWE aquiring every piece of talent in the United States, that would mean todays wrestler would have no originality as they would all be wrestling WWE's style. There would be no Ring of Honor, no 'high impact' moves on TNA. Wrestling would be the same punch-kick good guy over bad WWE style. I'm not sure why one would want this. Unless they want to see people they currently consider to be 'stars' to get maximum exposure to WWE's audience. But since the WWE's audience is declining so much according to your study, that doesnt seem like a good thing to do but to rather give other promotions a chance at least to succeed. WWE scooped up an entire generation of professional wrestling. The Nitro/ECW/Monday Night War era all is under the WWE's belt, it's like Microsoft purchasing IBM and Apple. Now if you eliminate your competition should you not be allowed to do whatever it is that you desire?
In todays day and age long term booking is impossible. TNA continues to bury their own product by shooting 3-4 weeks in advance. Theyre being cos efficient but it's a wasted product. Does every football team have a general blueprint of how they could make it to the superbowl? Of course they do. Same way WWE has 2-3 matches gear'd to headline mania. But its the week to week and game to game planning that is necessary to achieve that ultimate goal. If you believe WWE has no plans on what they want to do check back a few months and if I'm not mistaken it was Booker and Batista who had that altercation at the summerslam photo shoot. You must be a small man because your problem with size is bizarre. How bout they get some of these guys off steroids and drugs. Praise '97 all you want with 'smaller guys' and what not but those guys were juiced up and all ended up with serious medical problems at one point or another. Everything said in teh FOley and FLair stuff has been scripted or pre planned for months. Seems like a total contradiction to bash teh scripted promo but then praise foley and flair because they can actually deliver their line. Its not their first time in front of 34 million people on a live mic. WWE was never about wins and losses, pro wrestling was, but never WWE. And WWE repackages better than anyone, so I wouldn't be worried about protecting everyone. I mean Mordacai was a terrible gimmick with no plot or reasoning behind it, much like Kevin Thorn in fact. And lastly, UFC got national network television exposure for the first time in its history. The past 5-8 years there has been an overwhelming demand for reality television. UFC gives you what professional wrestling cannot, nor ever will. In fact I'm not seeing how you could compare audiences as the people who are interested and pay for MMA fights are not always the same people who watch and pay for pro wrestling. Take the celebs for example, you see them at a wrestling event they are their to see 'the show' and treat the action more like a movie. You check out a UFC or MMA event and the fans are there to see a fight. How would you even ever compare the two? Because theyre both 3 letter companies and there has been crossover stars? WWE's boom period was when you would watch and say 'was that real?'...that doesnt need to happen when you own the business. DX is a joke, no one watches TV in the summer on the east coast.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

3-4 million* not 34 obviously.

8:32 AM  

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