The past few months for the entire world have been unstable and unsettling, as the health concerns of the public are debated against economic concerns. Many people are stuck on the sidelines while they wait to resume their jobs and a general uncertainty hangs over society like a cautious rain cloud. The orange villain refused to wear a mask and rambles on so incoherently about disinfectant that Vince Russo booking almost seems logical by comparison. Sadly, there’s just not much to look forward to currently, especially because the majority of sports leagues are still trying to find an answer to if or when it would be safe to run scaled-down events. The lack of live sports has led me to looking forward to tuning into the Korean Baseball League around 5 AM before switching over to Golic and Wingo on ESPN to listen to a discussion about the sports that aren’t happening. For those wondering, the KC Dinos are officially the team I’m cheering for in the Korean league, simply because there were the team playing when ESPN started to air the games a few weeks ago. Huzzah.
Although not nearly as important as the debate about the health concerns of the public, the genre of sports entertainment has continued to run during the pandemic under specific limitations, yielding mixed results. Since all of this was uncharted territory, it took a few weeks for each national TV group to find a formula that attempted to make the best of the situation. An empty arena match went from being a rarely used gimmick match to the current standard for television. One of the biggest criticisms I had about Wrestlemania and really the WWE product in general with its current presentation is the lack of any reaction in the building is such a flat atmosphere that you just can’t build a match. As I’ve written before, the stripped down version of the product has put a spotlight on some of the flaws of the programming. Without the smoke and mirrors of the state-of-the-art production of the sports entertainment empire, it exposes the lack of quality in the details of the publicly-traded company. This is another example of something that I’ve discussed several times before, when the WWE became the undisputed leader of sports entertainment and landed major money for its TV deals, including the current contract that will see them get paid nearly $2.5 billion during a five-year span, there was a level of complacency and mediocrity that developed within the product. The corporate agenda, not fan demand determined the direction of programming since WWE remains the most easily accessible pro wrestling product in the United States. However, that generic paint-by-numbers approach is geared toward churning out as many hours of content as possible so there’s a priority of quantity over quality. In truth, much of the discontent with WWE is moot because they have guaranteed money that will already see them generate record-setting profits this year, which will boost the stock price. From a business perspective, the WWE is very successful, but are they trading the short-end money now at the expense to build for the future? The point here is, the corporate machine has been running the same playbook for years that it can’t adapt to any other scenario. Without the slick production to add some glamour to the show, Raw is reduced to the fact that there just aren’t as many compelling characters now and the scripted promos show through even more than usually because of the flat deliver.
From an in-ring perspective, the argument could be made that the WWE roster has more talent now than any other point in history, but the presentation of the talent appears to hinder, not help their ability to get over as legitimate money-drawing stars, which is the result of the brand being promoted as the draw while the individual wrestlers are mostly used as interchangeable parts.
As mentioned earlier, the empty arena environment has yielded mixed results, including the rather lackluster MITB pay-per-view earlier this month. Maybe the $10 price tag associated for the WWE Network subscription takes away the iniative for the writing team to have to book a compelling card because much of the selling point of the Network is the vast library of classic footage, not just an individual show.
On the flip side, All Elite Wrestling’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view, originally scheduled for a return to the MGM, will be held at Daily’s place at the Jaguar complex. I’ve discussed it before that the $10 for a WWE Network subscription makes it that much more difficult to sell a pay-per-view for $50, but so far, AEW has done relatively well on PPV. That being said, trying to build and deliver on a show like that is a completely new challenge. I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference it makes to have some members of the roster in the crowd because their reaction creates a much better atmosphere for the show. It also utilizes a traditional aspect of the industry because in years past, baby faces have generally cheered for other baby faces or made the save during a heel attack so it makes sense that there would be some cheering during matches.
However, has AEW really sold the fans on the Double or Nothing pay-per-view?
Generally, yes, the card is intriguing despite the limited roster and the limited options with the booking the past few months. I don’t want to over analysis the event with an in-depth look at each match on the card, but rather make a few broad points about why those specific aspects seemed to work under the circumstances. There were a slew of debuts since the pandemic started, including Matt Hardy, Lance Archer, and Brodie Lee. Granted, their initial appearances would’ve been much better with a crowd reaction, but all things considered, the presentation has given them momentum under the AEW banner. Lance Archer was paired with Jake Roberts, which almost immediately puts a spotlight on him, and he has the intensity to portray the character, as well as being able to go in the ring. The segment with Brandi put a personal spin on the feud to give it a grudge match vibe. The segment this past week on Dynamite added another layer because even at his age, Arn Anderson can cut a money promo. The addition of Mike Tyson worked out well with the recent headlines that he made with a possible return to boxing, and while it’s doubtful it will have the same impact it did twenty years ago, his appearance is undoubtedly good publicity for the company. The dynamic of a TNT championship is something unique too because it’s obviously a spin on the concept of the TV title because the network name is a cool detail to make it stand out.
The casino ladder match is going to be a spot fest and in small doses, really risky matches like this can be used to propel a competitor to the next level. This should be a memorable match with some crazy bumps, but hopefully it’s used for more than that and will ultimately be an angle that can be used to make someone a bigger star.
The Stadium Stampede is basically using the fact that there can’t be an audience to their advantage and taking the empty arena concept a step further. This is the first-ever empty stadium match and that alone is an intriguing aspect to the card. The only downside of a 10-man match is that a lot of talent is booked for one segment instead of throughout the card. Despite the segment this past week on Dynamite, the Jon Moxley/Brodie Lee match seems to lack the hype of a usual title match. Perhaps, it’s because Brodie is being rushed to a title match and this just doesn’t have the build up of the prior AEW titles matches on pay-per-view. That being said, if the match delivers in the ring then it’s mission accomplished. Most of the under card is fine and all things considered AEW probably did the best they could to sell the show with all the restrictions, but it will be very interesting to see if the event draws a solid buy rate for the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail email@example.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta