2018 closed on an ominous note, both Raw and Smackdown have the worst ratings of all time. What is in store for 2019? No one knows. What would I do to improve the WWE product? Read on to find out what a person with no real experience in the industry but a lot of business experience and a bit of my own world building from trying my hands at independent comics in the 90s might do…
The Booking - the number one issue with WWE today, so I’ll address it first.
When I read articles or hear interviews with former WWE creative staff members, it is clearly apparent that Vince McMahon is THE one man decision maker. This narrative is carried through every interview I’ve consumed (read, watched, and heard). Vince seems to be following the path of Al Davis, former owner of the Raiders. Davis ran the team with great success until the game passed him by. Davis died in 2011 and the Raiders only went to the playoffs 5 times in his last 20 years of leading the team (1991 to 2011), compared to 16 from 1967 to 1990 (including 3 Super Bowl titles). In the WWE’s world, the ratings dive could be analogous to the Raiders downturn in results as well. I am not naïve and I realize that McMahon is unlikely to change his decision making structure, so I am just throwing out ideas that make sense to me. Nothing will change unless VKM decides to do things differently or he cedes control to Triple H.
VKM needs to step back from the day-to-day creative work. In business, a key to profitability is to push work down to the lowest compensated employee who can still do the work well. Is there a need for a billionaire who gets paid millions a year to constantly interject himself into the weekly work of writing and editing Raw and SmackDown. He pays folks far less to do it well, let them. Vince should focus on big picture decisions and let the front line work on the front line.
Creative should meet with each wrestler individually –
understand and develop character motivations/desires (ex. – how far they’ll go to win) and create a character bio/Bible for future reference. This will also help with continuity that will make the wrestlers behavior more believable over time.
determine what each wrestler brings to the table in reference to their character and their own skills and abilities both inside and outside of the ring. Build your character to hide the wrestler’s weaknesses and emphasize their strengths.
reach alignment between both wrestlers and creative on the characters and the path they are on.
Creative should outline for each character the entire year’s journey - the from WrestleMania to the next WrestleMania. The annual journey should be mapped so that the wrestlers should on a journey with each pay per view being a milestone along the way. Some stories can be set up months in advance as creative will know where the story is going.
Obviously, plans can change based on injury or crowd reaction. But a well-planned story is easier to adjust and make changes to please the fans that make sense within the world that WWE characters inhabit.
Challenge the Status Quo
The business models are changing. TV is consumed differently than in the past as viewers “cut the cable” and change their habits. So knowing that viewers have changed what can be changed to update the formats of RAW and SmackDown?
Make the broadcast a bit more “sports realistic” when being presented.
Winners should interviewed in the ring. Make it a big deal to get the in-ring interview. Questions need to be designed to try to make it more like a post-game interview in other sports. Ask the wrestlers how did they pull off the win? Was it the game plan or an adjustment that allowed the win? How do they feel about the win? Proud? Lucky? Embarrassed? What’s next on their agenda?
Losers can be interviewed back in the back, instead of the big spotlights in the dark bowels of the arena. What happened? What is next? Emotions around the loss?
Graphics upgrade needed. Make it look like a “Tale of the Tape” on boxing broadcasts. Integrate these graphics with the websites of USA and Fox to have stats of each stars available there. Feature information such as head-to-head competitive results, key victories, title reigns, even references to past matches on the WWE Network that may provide context to their current match and feed network subscriptions.
Other Non-Sporting Suggestions
Introduce an “alternate feed” broadcast of both Raw and SmackDown featuring wrestler commentary touting pairings of current and retired wrestlers paired with a rotating set of face/heel announcers for both Raw and SmackDown. This could be a place for injured wrestlers to work and gain heat or maintain awareness of the public while healing. It could be a show on the WWE Network broadcast on Thursday and Friday nights. This would provide another reason to subscribe. If successful, you could do the same with NxT.
Evaluate the need for weekly house shows. In today’s world the cost of moving the “circus” from town to town and the profits from doing so may now be dwarfed by the TV rights. The benefit of reducing the cost of injuries alone may make this worth looking at. Could you get away with just one house show on a weekend? This might provide travel cost reductions as well, if true.
Give each wrestler two months off a year. This should help to reduce the number of injuries. This would also offer a way to “force” leadership into not overexposing their best wrestlers. The “vacation plan” can be incorporated into the WrestleMania to WrestleMania plot outlines.
Offer health care and stock options (to help with post-wrestling retirement) to all wrestlers. This can be done with the new contract revenue and with the agreement in wrestler contracts that maintaining the new increased USA and Fox dollars would be required to continue these benefits past the life of those two new TV deals. If everything falls apart and the TV deals aren’t renewed or are renewed at much lower levels, the wrestlers would be negatively affected (just like the McMahons). This also makes wrestlers invested in the success of the company like never before.
The Roster and Titles
Merge the two rosters together. Neither USA nor Fox wants to sit and watch a superstar kill it on the other show. Fox doesn’t want to watch Roman Reigns return to dominate the heavyweight division nor does USA want to watch Becky Lynch become the next big thing and neither side gets to have the other on their show.
Merge the titles as follows:
2 – WWE Universal Champion – 1 male & 1 female
4 – WWE Universal Tag Team Champions – 2 male & 2 female
2 – WWE Raw Champion – 1 male & 1 female (or just use InterContinental title)
2 – WWE SmackDown Champion – 1 male & 1 female (or just use US title)
A benefit of merging the titles together, is that only the Raw and SmackDown Champions (4 wrestlers) are limited to one show and it allows the majority of the other wrestlers to be flexible to be used on either show. This would be important to consider in planning for each wrestler’s two months off in the WrestleMania to WrestleMania story outline. It would spread more time for different wrestlers to be on television and provide realistic coverage for injured wrestlers.
Create Additional Roster Positions
Introduce more managers to help get wrestlers not good on the microphone over while still working with them to develop the microphone skills that they are needing to perfect in order to get to the next level alone.
Introduce factions to help provide a wrestling unique angle to sports competition. The old Four Horsemen, who would sacrifice themselves individually to retain a world title or a tag team title would work well. This could be another way to develop wrestlers who need skill improvement (generally microphone work) in ways of not pressuring them to perform from day one. Additionally, faction “leadership” could be another part of a wrestler’s journey from beginning to Hall of Famer.
Announcers have to be a more genuine. They tend to vacillate too much between the heel and face sympathies making it fairly confusing as to who wants what to happen. The announcers should have a heel-sympathetic announcer, a face-sympathetic announcer, and a straight play-by-play person. If you decide to go to a two person team, then you need a heel announcer and a face play-by-play person, though experimenting with a heel play-by-play announcer may be a good idea to introduce variety into the shows.
You also have to figure out quickly if your announcers have the ability to think quick enough to react well to situations that go sideways on the air or adjust to moving circumstances. If someone isn’t quick enough, you need to find someone else. Regardless of who they are.
So that’s what I have put together. Outside of the offering of health care and stock options a lot of this are just common sense ideas. I hope the WWE can get their act together. In today’s polarized political environment, it would be nice to turn on the TV to watch the WWE at Attitude Era levels of entertainment.