These are not good times for the WWE.
On Monday night, WWE Raw attracted its smallest audience of 2014. This is especially troubling because we are only a month past WrestleMania – things should not be this bad.
The WWE stock is hovering around $18. From a high of around $30, that means that the WWE has shed 40 percent of its value in a little over a month.
The WWE Network has proved to be much ado about nothing as it is currently sits more than 300,000 subscribers away from even breaking even.
My last piece took a look at why the Network is failing and how it fix it. It could be summed up in one thought – “They need to get people to care about the matches that haven’t happened yet.” That is not happening. There is little to no incentive to watch the WWE on a regular basis anymore.
That is an almost insane statement to write because the very foundation of pro wrestling is present something that will get people to come back for more. It should be very, very easy to book a pro wrestling show. In fact, the WWE has done so successfully, almost continuously, for 30 years.
How the heck did they forget how? In short, it’s because they went Hollywood. They have tried to turn pro wrestling into a television show. It’s not working. It hasn’t been working. And the news that Daniel Bryan – aka the guy who was single-handedly keeping Raw afloat for 9 months – is out with a neck injury could be the bottom falling out.
So let’s see why the WWE is broken...
There are never any payoffs
This month, the Extreme Rules pay-per-view/special featured these three matches on top: Kane vs. Daniel Bryan, Evolution vs. Shield and John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt.
Next month, the Payback pay-per-view/special was to feature these three matches on top: Kane vs. Daniel Bryan, Evolution vs. Shield and John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt. Only Bryan’s injury prevented that from happening.
So I ask you – what was the point of watching Extreme Rules? This has been a pattern for years but it has escalated to the point that WWE is essentially running the same show twice in a month and expecting you to pay for it with the WWE Network. Why would you?
Pro wrestling is built upon a really simple formula – a feud begins, a feud happens and a feud ends. It’s called a blowoff. The first two happen all the time on WWE television. The last one never happens.
Even when it does happen, it feels like you were cheated. The Daniel Bryan saga dominated the WWE from last summer through this year’s Royal Rumble to headlining WrestleMania. So after Bryan finally – and I mean, finally – wins the WWE Title, what happens? He is immediately shunted off to feud with Kane while the Triple H-led Evolution faction grabs the Main Event spotlight against the Shield.
Huh? If you’ve been rooting for Daniel Bryan for the past year and you finally get to see his moment – don’t you think you should be rewarded with more than a feud with Kane? It shouldn’t be that hard to build to big matches and have there be consequences from the results of said matches.
The announcers are terrible
When it comes to sports, the announcers are largely immaterial. Even if you, say, really, really hate Dick Vitale but you’re a big UConn basketball fan, you’re going to watch them play regardless. You may not like it but such is life. Then you can go on Twitter and complain.
That doesn’t apply in pro wrestling. The announcers need to be good. No one has ever watched pro wrestling because of announcer but they have certainly changed the channel because of one.
What the WWE has now on Raw is arguably the worst announce team in pro wrestling history – the very least, in the past 20 years. Jerry Lawler is a billion years old and adds nothing. JBL is a nominally a heel but shouts in hyperbole about everything and respects the faces way too much. And Michael Cole is simply a shill, who spouts off cliché phrases and expounds on the virtues of the WWE Universe.
The worst aspect is that the announcers liking something is essentially giving it the kiss of death. Adam Rose’s debut has been instantly killed by Cole “dancing” in appreciation of it. It’s tough to be cool if your weird Uncle likes it, ya know?
Everything looks the same
This isn’t all the WWE’s fault. The buildings have changed. There was a time that arenas all looked different and unique so the WWE could show up with the same set and you could tell they had changed towns. That’s not the case anymore. Nearly every arena the WWE currently runs has been built in the past 10-20 years and look exactly the same.
So when you combine arenas that look the same with the same set for every show and it adds to the feeling that the WWE is on a treadmill to nowhere. It speaks volume that Raw’s Old School shows have been so well-received in part because they look different. It helps explain why WrestleMania remains the signature event while former stalwarts like the Royal Rumble and SummerSlam recede into the background.
Maybe the WWE leaves the TitanTron at home once a month?
Michael Jordan attended a Bobcats/Heat playoff game. It became note-worthy when LeBron threw down a monster dunk and glared at Jordan. If this were the WWE, Jordan would have shown up in uniform and allowed LeBron to dunk over him three times despite Jordan being 51 years old.
Think that’s absurd? Well that is exactly what happened Monday night when 60-year old Hacksaw Jim Duggan came to get his ass kicked by newcomer Rusev. Way to put over the new guy, right? Having him beat up an AARP member.
It could be worse. The New Age Outlaws – average age, 47 – showed up out of nowhere and became Tag Team Champions of the World.
There is no midcard
One of the reasons I think the WWE never wanted to push Daniel Bryan to the main event is that he was the entirety of their mid-card. With Raw clocking in a bloated three hours every week, the WWE could send out Bryan to eat up 30 minutes by being the best wrestler in the world.
With Bryan gone – and the team of Cody Rhodes and Goldust, another minutes-eater, inexplicably breaking up – the midcard does not exist. The WWE is so focused on the main eventers that the midcard, and this is a trend that has developed for years, has become nothing more than a bathroom break.
It’s a huge problem because it’s impossible to create new stars and leads to our next two issues…
Titles mean nothing
In 2002, the WWE consciously did away with its midcard titles because they wanted to make the matches about more than titles. That plan lasted about six months before the stupidity and short-sightedness of that was revealed.
Since then, the WWE has rarely taken the opportunity to build up the value of these titles and give midcarders – who are predominantly younger stars and presumably the future – something meaningful to feud over.
Young talent does not look strong
Bray Wyatt, leader of the Wyatt Family, has had two high-profile matches with John Cena. He’s looked weak in both, losing at WrestleMania and needing a child actor to scare Cena into losing.
The previous two problems manifest here when young talent gets a big debut but has nowhere to go. Wyatt can feud with Cena but isn’t on a level to beat him. Big E Langston can get the Intercontinental Title but it means nothing.
The WWE has done a great job with NXT, making it a true minor league system where talent can experience working in front of a live audience and tape television before being brought up to the big leagues. Yet these debuts have mostly failed, or not lived up to potential, because they get stuck in the vacuum of the WWE midcard.
Look at Emma – she was a star in NXT but was paired immediately with midcard comedy act Santino Marella and her heat is gone.
Look at Adam Rose – his big entrance gets the seal of approval from Michael Cole, which essentially kills it on arrival.
Look at Rusev – the big Russian monster gets to beat up a senior citizen. Now imagine if he beat up John Cena instead?
The old guard never goes away
In 2004, John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, Triple H, Kane and Stephanie McMahon played huge roles on television.
In 2014, John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, Triple H, Kane and Stephanie McMahon play huge roles on television.
Think about the Austin/Rock era – how many prominent stars of the WWF in 1998 were also prominent WWF stars from 1988? WrestleMania 14 featured a grand total of zero wrestlers from WrestleMania 4.
The WWE needs an injection of life. And it’ll start when there is air at the top for the next generation of stars to breathe from.
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