The biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania is just a few days away and somehow there seems to be less buzz around the show than usual. Maybe it’s the tedious and uninspiring booking ahead of the top show on the WWE calendar, considering that Baron Corbin worked the main event segment on the “go home” edition of Raw this week. Aside from a few particular bouts on the show, I’m not really looking forward to this card and can’t choose a specific reason.
As I mentioned in an article a few months ago, the structure of the WWE business model promotes the brand ahead of any specific star, a strategy that has its positives and negatives. On one hand, building the WWE brand into a global entity gives the company leverage with licensing deals, TV contracts, and brand recognition. Let’s not forget, Wrestlemania became an event that cities bid on to host and is considered one of the most valuable events in sports in terms of the economic boost it brings to the venue. When the organization begins to collect $2.4 billion on its new television deal later this year, much of that was possible because networks want live sports content and WWE programming has a dedicated viewing audience. Even the name value of Wrestlemania itself sells most of the tickets months before a card is announced. Fans buy tickets based on the history of the show and the chance to attend the spectacle, not necessarily because of what performers are booked on the card. In much the same way, pay-per-view isn’t really sold based on the card, more so the value of the Wrestlemania name, because with just $10 a month for a network subscription, the event doesn’t have to justify the traditional $50 cost as it did in years past, but rather just the usual $10 for the network subscription. The downside of this is that WM, from a PPV revenue standpoint became just another pay-per-view instead of a premium show in the past.
Post-WCW, when the business wasn’t fueled by competition within the industry, Vince McMahon was able to present his empire as the example of professional wrestling in the United States. The letters WWE became the primary draw, not the stars on the show. The plus side for the publicly-traded company is that if someone get injured, their business doesn’t take a major dive. Another aspect is that if a performer threatens to leave, the company isn’t forced to meet their demands. The flip side of that is that when competitors basically become interchangeable, that’s possible because their level of star power usually plateaus with the popularity of the company. This might be a drastic example, but when Raw and Nitro set ratings records, it was based on the stars that the audience tuned in to watch, which was emphasized when viewers switched between channels to watch specific stars.
How many wrestlers currently on the WWE roster truly move the numbers? How many under contract right now are legitimate money-drawing stars? That’s not a jab at the current generation either. The argument could be made that there’s more in-ring talent with more potential under WWE deals now than any other time in history. However, the structure of the product with the 50/50 booking and some of the cringe worthy segments almost hinder the process of competitors that become major stars. The example I used previously, Seth Rollins is a bigger star than Mojo Rawley, but would it really make a difference if Finn Balor was booked to wrestle Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania instead? Don’t get me wrong, Rollins and Balor are two of the most talented athletes of their generation, but in terms of star power, would one sells more tickets than the other? Keep in mind, Rollins worked the same IC title picture for most of last year that Finn is booked for now. So, the question is, did Rollins vs. Lesnar sell WM or did the name itself sell the tickets? Again, when the organization is more of a draw than the performers, the popularity of individual stars will plateau under the glass ceiling. More often than not, competitors get lost in the shuffle until they are booked for a relatively short push then regulated to 50/50 mediocrity.
When you look at the main card with a dozen matches, it’s no coincidence that the few matches that stand out are the bouts that feature performers that haven’t been lost in the shuffle of the sports entertainment empire. Becky Lynch has maximized her minutes on TV and if it’s presented right, she could be one of the few to move the numbers in 2019. Kofi organically and spontaneously got over at the Elimination Chamber, and while the writing team has tried to shoehorn the narrative of a repeat of Daniel Bryan’s WM run from 2014, it’s a safe bet that when the bell ring, Bryan and Kofi could set the stage for a career-making moment to elevate Kofi as a main event star. Surprisingly, Batista/Triple H is probably the best booked feud ahead of the show with only a few weeks to build it. How the match with two part-time wrestlers near 50 will go remains to be seen, but this angle proves that it doesn’t take 38 writers with over-scripted promos to provide a compelling storyline. Batista is a tremendous heel and has heat based on the Ric Flair attack. Triple H is the babyface in this scenario that will try to get revenge for his friend. It’s a rather simple situation if the right elements are used. At the same time, this bout is somewhat diluted when you consider that Triple H seems to inconspicuously switch from baby face to heel depending on the show. The whole “career on the line” stipulation seems rather silly, considering that Shawn Michaels worked a match less than six months ago.
That leaves another nine matches on the card, and while nothing jumps out as a potential train wreck, it almost guarantees that a portion of the night gets lost in the shuffle and solid matches could be overlooked simply because the show is too long. I’ve said it several times before and I will say it again, a longer show doesn’t automatically translate to a better show. In this situation, a potential six-hour marathon could actually do more to takeaway than add to the event. Realistically, how are moments supposed to stand out during a six hour show? That lends to another key point, if nearly every wrestler on the roster is booked for the show, how exactly is a spot on the card prestigious?
Granted, much of this moot because the tickets are already sold and the previously mentioned TV deal is signed. Next year will bring record-setting revenue and profit for the company. Still, it’s somewhat disappointing that a major portion of the show seems skippable. Finn/Lashley was already on Raw several times, the tag matches seemed to shoehorn as many teams as possible just to get more wrestlers on the card, Kurt Angle looked to be physically worn down in recent weeks, and does anyone really care if Shane McMahon is a heel? Maybe I’m too jaded, but considering the talent under WWE contract, it just seems like there should be more hype for this event. More than anything, this might be an indication that the structure that generated several hours of programming might actually hinder the quality of the product.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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