From the desk of The Corporation
Okay, so maybe you live in a cave – or you only care about real things, like Baseball, Beer and Barbecue – but for the sake of argument, I’ll admit you may not follow our strange hybrid industry know as “Sports Entertainment”. For example, you’ve got the North American Twerking Association, the Professional Comedy Rodeo circuit, and the Big Kahuna: WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. Sure, WWE is the best known. They’ve been around since 1952, and they’re currently valued at just over a billion dollars; you’d think they’d know a little bit about business. Funny thing is, what most people think about their business is wrong; see, it isn’t wrestling (or wrasslin’, for the yokels); the core business, the real business, is promotion. They put together drama, comedy, and the occasional in-ring action to create the product, what the ham and eggers watch; but what sells is the hype. It’s all about the backstage machinations, the feuds, the promos. Without all the storylines, it’s NCAA wrestling, and who watches that? Nobody. With professional wrestling, it’s more about the sizzle than the steak. Hell, it’s all sizzle.
And that brings us to Wrestlemania XXXI. Wrestlemania is the biggest show by far for the WWE, and has been ever since the event launched the company into the big time in Madison Square Garden in 1985. Muhammad Ali was the guest referee for the main event. This was an Event, let me tell you. It deserved the capital letter of Event. Ever since, Wrestlemania has led the company’s pay-per-view buy rates, often double the buy for the next closest show. This is THE cash cow, so WWE expends a lot of effort in promoting the show. Some storylines take months to play out, all to build the dramatic tension for these matches. All to bump up that buy.
Now, one of the biggest stories has been the status of current heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar. Again, for those of you just crawling out of your cave, Lesnar was previously with the WWE, and left to put his ham-sized fists to work in mixed martial arts with the UFC. He did great, won the heavyweight title and defended twice. Then he had some medical problems. Bouts with diverticulitis (oh yeah, and knockouts by Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem) pushed Lesnar to retire from the world of actual fighting, and return to WWE. Great news, because now Vince McMahon could legitimately promote they had the baddest man on the planet – conveniently ignoring the fact he folded like a cheap chair twice in the Octagon, and ran like a punk. But that’s another issue.
Lesnar signed a one year contract on his return, a contract set to expire on March 30th, which just happens to be the day after Wrestlemania. Man, did they sell this. Over the past few months the company played up the suspense of Lesnar’s future, and did a great job of it. Lesnar squashed his in-ring competition, as his “manager” (read that as the guy who can actually speak effectively, or as they say, cut a promo) Paul Heyman relentlessly promoted Lesnar’s UFC credentials, and the very real possibility that the reigning WWE Heavyweight Champion might walk away after defending the title at the company’s biggest show. Now that’s a storyline; even better, it’s based in reality. Who wouldn’t want to watch The Beast Incarnate (yeah, it sucks, but that’s his nickname) keep the belt, then toss it away like so much trash and announce he’s going back to the UFC? Or lose the belt, then rant WWE is all fixed, and he’s going back to where you have to earn your victories? There are any number of ways this could have played out. All great drama, all something everyone would pay to see.
And they pissed it all away. Now it’s just another wrasslin’ match. Sure, it’s a title match; so what? They’re a dime a dozen. There have been cases before of a champ leaving one organization for another, but the WWE has never had this situation before, a guy who was a legitimate fighter in a legit sport going back to the real world. Or staying, because the WWE is where the “real” competition is. They could sell it any way they want. And now they got nothing. Just another title match. Pardon me while I yawn.
Now the only match with any sizzle is the 56 year old Steve Borden fighting the 46 year old company Executive V.P. Paul Levesque. That would be Sting vs. Triple H for the marks, a match that’s been building since November of 2014. That’s how you build a story.
The problem isn’t Lesnar renewing his contract before the pay per view; the problem is announcing it before the show. Whether WWE approved this for the publicity, or Brock just wanted the extra limelight by appearing on ESPN, it’s a stupid decision. If you want to announce on ESPN, how about this, genius: have ESPN at Wrestlemania, and interview Lesnar right after the match. It could be The Decision 2.0, only with less backlash. The self-described Worldwide Leader in Sports covering the future of the biggest star in Sports Entertainment, live from the ring! It’s a natural, and it’s another reason to buy this thing.
Nah, who needs that?
If this was just a blip, if WWE had shown they knew what the hell they were doing, that’d be one thing. But they’ve made so many bad decisions the past couple of years, this is a major issue. C.M. Punk led the company in merchandise sales, so they buried him in mid-card stories until he got fed up and quit. Daniel Bryan gets a huge pop every time out, and they make him the afterthought in what’s now a seven man ladder match for the Intercontinental Title. On the business end, WWE was devalued last year to the tune of a cool $500 mil due to mismanagement, mainly exaggerated revenue projections. Must be nice to see your stock price drop from $29.12 to $19.96 in one day, am I right, Vince?
Listen, if you can’t even keep to scripts that keep your customers happy, how can you run a multi-million dollar company?
Sure, I’ll watch the show, and DVR Rick Grimes kill half of Alexandria. In the Corporation’s view, the main event could have been something special, presented as an event with real consequences. Way to blow it, WWE.
Oh, and for the gentlemen of the Happy Hour Network – the Corporate Takeover is coming.