This post will be reviewing the current state of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), in terms of where the WWE Network is, WWE superstars are in development, the WWE NXT program & much more. We will review Monday Night Raw, Friday Night Smackdown, & WWE’s future.
WWE Stock Problems Stemming From Bad TV Deal
The new TV deal that WWE signed last week was good for the company in the sense that it keeps Raw, Smackdown & the true hit of reality TV, Total Divas, all in the NBC Universal family of networks for a long time.
However, it hurt the company in the sense that it didn’t produce the results that were expected. WWE CEO Vince McMahon had been boasting to the stockholders that the company expected to double or possibly triple their earnings & rights fees from their last TV deal to the levels of NASCAR, MLS, NBA & others.
The company did bring in $200 million in the new rounds of negotiations – combined both domestically & internationally – but the investors expected far more. The investors had such big expectations that the stock dropped from just over $11.00 to $8.67 in the span of 24 hours after the deal had been announced.
WWE needed to account for what happened & a company is attempting to hold them responsible. Lemulson Capital, a private equity firm, announced that the company bought a substantial amount of shares in WWE & is reportedly demanding changes in the management team of WWE. The capital firm is upset about the off projections about the TV deal, but are also upset about the losses coming from launching the WWE Network, which are projected to be around $40-50 million this year, which is to be expected with a new network.
How To Make WWE Network Better
From a wrestling fan’s perspective, you can’t get much better than the WWE Network. When the Network was first announced, most assumed it would be a regular cable-based network, which turned out not to be the case. It was something far better than anyone could have imagined.
It was going to be a 24-hour, online streaming network which was also on-demand, similar to Netflix. At launch there would be every pay-per-view in the history of WWE, ECW & WCW, along with new, original programs such as Wrestlemania Rewind, WWE Legends House WWE Countown, Beyond The Ring, & would carry all of the live pay-per-view events each month, including at the time, the upcoming Wrestlemania 30 event. The network also brought classic shows that were repackaged for the network, such as WWE Old School, WWE Legends of Wrestling, ECW Hardcore TV, WCW Clash of the Champions, World Class Championship Wrestling & others. A review of all of these shows will come later on in this post.
The part that made fans like myself excited, but also had people scratching their heads a bit was the price point – $9.99 per month with a six-month commitment. An absolutely outstaning price for wrestling fans to get the classics, the present & all of the pay-per-view events, which was the real kicker considering the fact that most WWE pay-per-view events run about $60 in HD.
Not really asking questions about it, we get the system & so many people were upset about the problems in the first couple of weeks in running the network with the streaming issues, on-demand freezing up & other issues with the application not working properly. Many people were upset & gave up on the network immediately & were concerned that Wrestlemania 30 wouldn’t show up correctly. The network has been fixed for the most part, the streams have been working much better & the WWE Network is in a growth pattern right now.
From the entertainment standpoint for fans, its one of the best price points available, but from a financial standpoint, it will be hard for WWE to keep the price at $9.99 after this first six month commitment is over. While many fans do like the low prices & even some would say that $9.99 is a bit too much, many of those fans are always going to look to get something for free, no matter what. If the WWE was going to increase the price, a solid price point would be $19.99. That would cover a lot of costs initially & keeps the “always scary” internet wrestling community somewhat happy. In business, not everyone can be pleased, but there has to be a profit made no matter line of work you are in.
If you do the math based on just pay-per-view events alone, $20 x 12 months = $220. $60 x 12 months = $720. Still saving $560 a year on premium wrestling content.
As more content comes up on the network, more people will become subscribers & once the network is available worldwide, the number of 1.5 million subscribers shouldn’t be hard to accomplish with all of the positive vibes about the system from people on Facebook & Twitter.
An area where fans would like to see improvement from what I can see is that the fans want more content. What many fans don’t fully understand is that if the company put all of the content on immediately, with the way wrestling fans watch content through binges many times, there would be nothing else to look forward to. There has to be something to keep getting excited about each month for any network to be successful. If you give everything to everyone immediately, the WWE Network will be useless by the end of the year.
Here is a review of each individual show on the WWE Network –
WWE Legends House
Legends House has been a series that many wrestling fans had been looking forward to for a long time, especially when we knew it was being filmed in 2012. Many wrestling fans never thought it would actually hit the air, including myself, but knew that once the WWE Network was announced, it was going to need to be one of the main shows that the company had to get going strong to draw buzz.
Draw buzz, it did. Legends House is one of the top streamed shows on the network each week & while the show may not appeal fully to the non-wrestling fan, many people will recognize the names of the past because of the strong appeal of wrestling in the 70s & 80s when the WWE was starting to put a strangehold on other promotions around the country & were subsequently bought out by Vince McMahon.
The way that the show is presented is in a reality show style, however, the situations that the Legends are put in are set up in terms of challenges, but the rest of it is unscripted, which makes for more fun & some of the issues that were personal 20 years ago are still relevant in the show now. The cast – Howard Finkel, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hillbilly Jim, Pat Patterson, Mean Gene Okerlund, Jimmy Hart, & Tony Atlas make the show fun to watch due to each & every one of those guys having big, over the top real life personalities & styles.
The show has been a smash hit from the first night it debuted & should definitely come back for a second season, but maybe bring in some of the current legends of the ring, such as Shawn Michaels, Edge & other guys who have been strong since the year 2000, & mix in legends of the past such as Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Sting & others. A clash in eras could make for some amazing television. Yes, many of the performers from years ago have been banged up, so the talent pool is a bit on the thin side of who they can go to, but with so many great stars still in tremendous shape with the beating their bodies went through in years past, having them on the show would be outstanding.
WWE Legends of Wrestling
The Legends of Wrestling show was a holdover from the WWE 24/7 on demand channel that was only available on cable outlets from 2006-2014. The channel was very limited in reach & didn’t do well with subscribers, however, the Legends of Wrestling roundtable show has been hailed as one of the greatest wrestling shows & documentary series ever put together.
Similar to Legends House, the Legends of Wrestling show was one that many fans were hoping would be carried over to WWE Network, & was available on the first day. The fans have enjoyed seeing the episodes that they couldn’t see when it was on WWE 24/7, but it seems as though WWE has been looking to take it out of the original setup it was from the early days in 2006, to a more modern day studio.
This would be the worst idea for WWE. The way the show was set up for Wrestlemania, which was titled “Legends of Wrestlemania,” & the one for the death of the Ultimate Warrior, looked too scripted & didn’t capture the magic of the show & what it was meant to be – legends of the business kicking back talking about the great historic stories of the industry in a place that looks similar to a hall where you might play poker against your buddies on a Friday night.
The magic of the show is that there is a new panel every week but with constants in Michael Hayes, Pat Patterson & Gene Okerlund. Everyone else can be intertwined but keeping those guys there with a new guest or two new guests every week would be outstanding. Right now, each Friday night, WWE Network is premiering a new Legends of Wrestling episode, going through all of the older episodes that are in the archives.
My hope is that they have plans to film brand new episodes, especially with endless amounts of topics that can be discussed in the history of wrestling. Fans love watching historic wrestling content, always have. WWE is one of the few companies that can almost do better with classic wrestling content than current day stuff because so many wrestling fans grew up with the brand & many of the storylines, in one way or another, started out from those back then.
The Legends of Wrestling allows us to hear the great stories from the road that lead to what we have today before we had internet, social media & so much that tells what really goes on, before it even goes on.
The Legends of Wrestling is another show to build the Network around, even if they went longer than the usual 1 hour. Most wrestling fans could easily watch 2 hours of WWE, WCW, ECW & any other promotions legends talk about why the business was & is so great. But it HAS to stay in the original form, which is displayed in the embedded video.
WWE Countdown is the really fun show of the network. It is a countdown-based show that counts down the Top 10 various moments in history, whethers its blunders, finishing moves, matches, etc. The show is very similar to those VH1 countdown shows, but these are voted on by the fans.
The show is fun, but there are a few changes that could be made to it to make it more interesting. For one, interview certain fans & celebrities. We hear from the WWE Superstars so much that its not as fun hearing the stars involved. If you are going to bring in the stars, interview some of the legends of the business, bring in faces that we don’t see very often.
Another thing is if the WWE superstars are going to be involved in the show, please be out of character. The fans are not stupid & thinking as if this is the 1980s & early 1990s where most of us thought the characters were somewhat real. We know its an act & just give it to us absolutely straight, but with some fun intertwined.
An example of this bad setup is when the producers interview Santino Marella & he stays in character the entire time. We know that he doesn’t truly act that way, it won’t kill his gimmick at all & if I want to see his gimmick, ill watch him on Raw or Smackdown or the Pay Per View events.
You knew that the WWE would have a show that is focused around the biggest event in the company all year, & Wrestlemania Rewind fits that mode. It goes back & shows the classic matches in the history of Wrestlemania with interviews with those that were involved in the show or were fans of the genre at the time or were inspired by the participants in the match.
The pacing of the shows are strong – it starts with a quick review of the performers in the match & a bit of the story behind each match. The main ones have been covered already – Hogan/Andre from Wrestlemania III, Austin/HBK from Wrestlemania 14, the first Wrestlemania main event. For many wrestling fans, those matches have been talked about to death, but WWE gave each match a bit of a fresh feel to it with the interviews.
An addition to the specials that could give it a great touch is having the roundtable segments that were similar to the ones held for the Legends of Wrestlemania setup at Wrestlemania 30. After each match is over, have another 15 or 20 minute roundtable talking about the particular match featured in the episode & bring in legends & current day WWE superstars who can all give great inside perspectives of what was going on before, during & after the match. It will bring all of the information given out full circle & make the entire episode give an entire encompassing feeling.
WWE NXT represents the true future of the WWE. NXT – in the form that Triple H has put together down at Full Sail University in Orlando – has produced some of the top acts in the company today including the Wyatt Family, The Shield, Adam Rose, Paige, Emma, Alexander Rusev, & others. NXT is the modern-day version of working in territories & how those were popular all through the history of wrestling until WWE bought out the territories.
Wrestlers became strong there & were able to work their way through their gimmicks before they made TV. Now, the young superstars are able to have the TV experience on the WWE Network, but are able to work on their craft. The WWE Network allows the audience to grow with a character & performer so by the time they are on Raw, Smackdown or pay-per-view events, the people, in theory, know who they are & for the talent, its not a massive leap & full reintroduction.
The way that NXT is presented – with weekly episode premieres on Thursdays at 9:00 p.m., after the new episode of Legends House, gives it the feel of a big wrestling night & gives the audience fresh wrestling every week to see on the WWE Network. The presentation is amazing, the matches are normally outstanding & the storylines are coming together nicely, which means that the talent will have time to build their skills in front of passionate, intimate audiences before they are thrown in front of 30,000 people on Raw or Smackdown.
WWE has invested much money & time into NXT & the new Performance Center, which are both located in Orlando. The talent can live in the area, be used to performing each week in front of great crowds, & train when they are not performing in live events. The WWE Network, as long as it is utilized like this,
WWE Network Overall
The WWE Network is going as good as was expected for right now. The content is strong with all of the events, the original content is coming along & the classic material is already strong & speaks for itself in terms of quality. While the price may need to go up in order to lessen the blow in terms of not being able to hit the quota in terms of breaking even, for anywhere between $12.95 to $19.95, the content & the deal is worth it in the long run for wrestling fans.
The flagship shows – Monday Night Raw & Friday Night Smackdown – will still be on regular cable, accessible for a wide audience to see, so WWE is still strong from that standpoint in terms of bring in revenue.
Many people have forgotten that the WWE Network has not been released overseas yet & internationally, WWE has shown to be a very dominant brand in many international markets in Europe, Asia, Australia & Africa.
WWE Monday Night Raw
If you are any type of a wrestling fan, you know that everything starts & stops with Monday Night Raw, the flagship show of the WWE. Raw has had its ups & downs over the last few years, but it still brings in strong ratings & viewers each & every Monday night. It does well in social media, as everytime I tune into Raw, I will occasionally go on Twitter to see what the fans are saying & most times, whatever is going on in the show at that point, it begins to trend worldwide almost immediately.
Over the last few years, Raw has had some rough patches, with many of those patches happening in 2009, when the company made a major initiative to become more family friendly for the audience & cater more towards children. While that was happening, the product began to get watered down & instead of getting the edgy programming, we got storylines & situations that were more comforting for advertisers to associate their products with.
From the business standpoint, it is understandable that that had to happen. Its the evolution of the industry, especially with how people are bringing in their content today through DVR, on-demand, & a variety of features that makes programming convenient for everyone.
There is constant demand for Raw to be exciting and great, but not always from the USA Network & NBC Universal, who knows that the show will do strong ratings each week. The pressure is coming from within. Vince McMahon & Triple H run the show from week to week in terms of creative (booking how the storylines & matches will be put together & to evolve the various superstar characters).
The problem is that Triple H is more connected to what is going on with the WWE from a creative direction than Vince. Vince is changing his mind on a constant basis & its obvious that there are times in the storylines where you realize that Triple H either had a great hand in something happening or Vince McMahon was behind it & it doesn’t always flow.
This is not to say that McMahon is past his prime, because he isn’t. He is the father of modern-day sports entertainment, but at this point, its more important for McMahon to oversee more of the business matters & let Triple H & Stephanie McMahon & the rest of the creative team handle things.
McMahon always says that he knows what the fans want, but right now, the fans are far smarter than he realizes. This is a 24/7 internet generation where fans are always trying to read the dirt sheets & the internet wrestling community always believe that they know what’s best for the WWE & they know what’s going on on the inside & behind the scenes. McMahon is not only a strong figure creatively, but he is stronger in business, which is where he is best suited. Right now, Triple H has strong ideas for putting together shows & has the trust of the WWE superstars because many nights, he is one.
If there are two people on the show that are complicating things – especially two men such as McMahon & Triple H who both have strong egos, the product overall will suffer.
Aside from the creative, the overall product, from a wrestling standpoint, is probably the best its ever been, & has been this way since 2009 when this new boom began. The company has always done a good job with developing new stars from within such as John Cena, Batista, Brock Lesnar & others. The company has put a great emphasis on athleticism & telling amazing stories in the ring, which they have to continue to do, especially to fill a 3-hour time slot.
Let’s go away from the matches, however, and look at the outside entertainment, the storylines. The WWE went away from the “Attitude Era” in 2002 when the company became WWE from WWF. The company lost their edge a bit. They went away from the over-the-top insanity, half-naked women, all of the complete craziness that made the company profitable in 1996 through 2001 & public as a stock in 1999.
I’m not going to be like everyone else & say that that kind of entertainment needs to come back all the time, but there is nothing wrong with being a bit more edgy & back to the way that the company was right before the new initiative came in to change to family friendly programming. The company was still getting advertisers, the crowds were electric & the fans made Monday Night Raw must-watch, cancel everything you were doing programming every Monday, regardless of a DVR or not.
After a certain time of night, in theory, children should be in bed, ready to sleep. If the parents aren’t doing their jobs to get the children to sleep when questionable entertainment comes on, its not the WWE or Vince McMahon or Triple H’s fault.
USA & NBC will still be pleased because you will still have the entertainment that will be children friendly & will attract advertisers, but the buyers in the home are the parents & the advertisers end game is to have viewers see their products in order to be compelled to buy. Bottom line. Bring more content that the people can identify with, that is contemporary & the people will love it.
WWE Friday Night Smackdown
As Raw has been a staple on the USA Network, Smackdown has been a staple anywhere the WWE could get a deal to air it. It started as a regular channel show, being on UPN on Thursdays, then went to Fridays on MyNetworkTV, then over to SyFy, where it has been for several years now, & draws major ratings for the network – many weeks, its the #1 show on the entire channel.
Right now, Smackdown is in a good situation. It has great leverage & power on the SyFy channel & the matches are actually good on there. But, very similar to Raw, Smackdown needs to have one voice – Triple H. He has to be the guy who is calling the shots there & it looks as though some of the younger talent who is looking to make that rise up to the main roster is getting their start on Smackdown, such as the latest NXT call-up, Bo Dallas.
During the latest TV negotiations, WWE offered to make Smackdown a live show in order to get a higher rate for programming. While that would greatly help Smackdown in the sense that the internet wrestling community won’t have the ability to go online & read the spoilers, the stress of doing two live shows the magnitude of Raw & Smackdown on back-to-back nights would be absolutely insane & would run many of the backstage & behind-the-scenes workers into the ground.
Even with the spoilers available online, WWE Smackdown still does strong ratings for being a taped show. The advertisers are still there & the people still want to watch the top stars no matter what.
The big thing that Smackdown will need to have happen at some point is that the brand needs an identity. In 2002-2008, Smackdown had a distinct feel to it. It was known as the pure wrestling brand while Raw had wrestling along with the crazy storylines. Smackdown pushed some of the storylines & kept people in place to watch on Mondays. Right now, Smackdown & Raw feel very much the same & that has to have a different feel in order for people to be compelled to follow both of the shows, especially a taped show on a Friday night.
The Future of WWE
WWE is on a strong path right now, though many investors may not see it. Investors don’t fully understand how the wacky world of wrestling works, even as a business model. The live events are still doing well, the company is still as popular as ever, especially with kids with the John Cena era, & adults with the Hulk Hogan & Stone Cold Steve Austin & Ric Flair eras.
The WWE Network was going to be a financial blow the first year – but even Netflix took 6 years before the company turned a profit – it was founded in 1997 & turned a profit in 2003. WWE has a product that has withstood the test of time & has gone through change through time. People said when Wrestlemania first went on pay-per-view that it was a gamble & that it would fail. Now, Wrestlemania is one of the biggest entertainment events of the entire year. The people in Wall Street are not wrestling people, which was one of the downfalls of WCW in its last years.
WWE has to keep with what they know best – wrestling entertainment. The last thing that can happen is internal strife between McMahon & Triple H. There has to be set division between the two men. When McMahon left Wrestlemania to go to the hospital to be with the Undertaker after his physical match with Brock Lesnar, Triple H & Stephanie ran the show, very successfully, by the way.
In terms of the stock, WWE may be the type of company that is not meant to be a public firm because again, the stock market doesn’t know wrestling well. If WWE decides to buy back the stock at some point, it may be the best business decision for the company & just figure out a business plan that would involve private partnerships in terms of owning the business. If the company stays public, WWE will constantly have to prove themselves to the other firms in ways that they may not be comfortable with. They will have to pull back the curtains, & allow outsiders into the business.
We all know, that won’t work, especially with the McMahon family being involved. The capital firm who bought stock in WWE wants major management changes. On the business side, yes, there may need to be changes made. There will be heads that roll, but at the end of the day, the WWE is one of the most unique businesses in the world that people absolutely love & will not like to see have many changes that the wrestling fans aren’t used to. Too many changes & WWE will cease to exist.
When its all said & done, I do believe that the WWE will come out of this with simply a scare. This business is too strong & has too much of a base to go away, but changes have to be made, & if the company wants to have some of this stress taken away, they can’t be afraid to be a bit on the edgy side. No matter what, WWE has great public relations with all kinds of companies & we all know that its sports entertainment. There is a script. There are storylines that should be taken into consideration.
My goodness, we see bikinis, guns, fires & all kinds of crazed violence in only reality shows. This is an athletic competition that is made to cater to all groups, with sponsors seemingly happy across the board, & wrestling is a genre that moves in cycles, & soon, it will be on the positive part of the cycle. If the federal government couldn’t take down Vince McMahon, Wall Street won’t.