With restrictions on capacity and public gatherings being lifted in more places around the United States, as vaccine rates improve, the WWE, a genre once built on the live touring business in its heyday of the 80s, looks to go back on the road with a series of tapings next month. As we saw last week at All Elite Wrestling’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view, a full house can make a drastic difference in the overall presentation of an event.
Granted, there are only certain states that have access to full venues so the WWE will have to pick and choose its live event spots until the total vaccination rate in the country reaches a suggested level of safety. Since there are specific shows that will be opened to a full crowd, that makes the importance of the perception of the WWE brand that much more important, especially at a time when the company looks to pad its stock price with budget cuts, despite the fact of guaranteed record-setting revenue from its lucrative rights fee contracts.
Essentially, when WWE opts to have the availability of a sell out, they need a card that will sell that number of tickets in the biggest venue realistically possible to maintain the image of a contemporary brand, especially because the current ratings trend suggest otherwise.
But, how exactly will Vince McMahon generate a big house for his next major event?
With more restrictions lifted next month, that puts Summer Slam on track to be the next “big PPV” to be on the calendar that has the option of a full capacity crowd in attendance. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, the WWE had the chance to cash in on the dynamics of the television business and the demand for live content that would limited the amount of DVR viewing, not necessarily because there was a major demand for more sports entertainment content. That’s why it’s so ironic that at a time when Raw, often considered the flagship show, draws record-low ratings, the company touts record-setting profits through its television contracts.
One of the only benefits for the WWE product throughout the pandemic is that the thunder dome set up allows management to manipulate the narrative with the piped-in crowd noise of their choice. Will the live crowd follow the script? Sure, there will be an initial time frame where fans are just happy to be back in the building for a live show, but as that novelty wears off, the office will get a true gauge of the current product. What exactly is the designed reaction supposed to be for Alexa Bliss acting like a little kid and the Papa Shango effects? Furthermore, what would the response have been to the absolutely ridiculous zombie lumber jack match if a crowd was there?
The bottom line is, the return of live fans, as jaded as some of them might be, could be a harsh reality check for management. What can Vince McMahon bring to the table that will have the least risk of rejection?
The way that baby faces are booked and presented within the WWE system has yielded very little, and to discuss the numerous reasons why would be too repetitive for this article. Drew McIntyre works as hard as anyone on the show, but is he truly an over baby face? In fact, who are the main event baby faces in WWE? The rather dismal Raw broadcasts the past few weeks don’t exactly spark a lot of buzz around the brand. Sure, Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman have done tremendous work on Smackdown, but again, where are the top baby faces on the blue brand? Big E. is still one of the most over stars on the roster, but he was just beat down by Aleister Black, who got released earlier this week so obviously, the writing team doesn’t have Big E’s potential push as a priority because there’s no payoff to the feud that was dropped.
So, what card can Vince play, specifically for what you could assume will be a major event at Summer Slam?
While I’m sure Hulk Hogan would be willing to pitch a match where he pins the biggest stars in the company, the nostalgia acts have generally been completely underused at this point since every time the company needed a ratings boost for a particular week, the stars of the past would be announced for the show. After the Brock Lesnar reference on Raw, there’s online speculation that the former UFC heavyweight champion could make his return to the organization for the Summer Slam pay-per-view. Brock, who dropped the WWE title to McIntyre at Wrestlemania last year, has been away from the company long enough to theoretically get the return pop, but is he still over enough to sell out a stadium show?
On the surface, the answer would be yes because of how strong less was pushed over the past several years, but another way to look at the situation is that Lesnar was pushed almost too much in an effort to get Roman Reigns over as a baby face that Brock has more or less done everything he can do in the WWE. The quality of Raw suffered during most of his “limited schedule” as champion a few years ago because it was difficult to built to pay-per-views without the champion on the show, and ultimately, the same formula was used for most of his recent tenure in the WWE. At this point, Lesnar back on the scene to reclaim the championship is a recycled concept.
Yes, I understand the demand for the Lesnar/Bobby Lashley match because of the aspect of two monsters with an MMA background, but you have to ask, what’s the true payoff there? Will Bobby Lashley really be a bigger star than he is now if he beats Lesnar? A victory against Lesnar didn’t get Roman Reigns over as a baby face, and it didn’t exactly propel Drew to the next level either. Instead, Reigns is doing the best work of his career when he was allowed to naturally evolve his persona as a heel and with Paul Heyman there to cut the best money promos in the business. McIntyre was put in a tough spot with getting the win amid the pandemic, but then the booking of his title runs did more to hinder than help his potential to be a major star. If anything, Drew’s impressive work ethic on a weekly basis is what got him over to a different level than he was before the pandemic.
Let’s assume that Lesnar vs. Lashley in some form or fashion is scheduled for Summer Slam, where does that put Drew? If McIntyre is made to look secondary, which he already was when he was booked to drop the title twice ahead of Wrestlemania 37, how exactly does he get presented as a major star if he’s not booked in the scenario? At the same time, Drew/Lesnar and Drew/Lashley already happened so regardless of how it’s put together, any involvement with McIntyre will be a somewhat recycled concept.
Speaking of recycled concepts, that’s basically what Brock automatically booked for the title picture is again. In many ways, because of how dominate he was booked, even though it didn’t make anyone else a star in the process, a lot of the angles for Brock Lesnar in the WWE have a “been there done that” atmosphere to it. More importantly, Brock is 43, and Bobby Lashley is 44 so how exactly does that PPV match do anything to establish something for the future? Don’t get me wrong, it can draw a house for one night, which is fine, but the problem on a more general level is that was the WWE philosophy the past several years across the board. Using nostalgia to have something as a draw for Wrestlemania the past several years or have a match on the card that will draw for Summer Slam or any major show, there’s a one-off aspect to it. How many major shows in the past five years were built on a young star getting the championship win to cement themselves on the next level? I wrote about this before, but I have to say it again, the WWE roster might have the best in-ring talent in the history of the company, but has less legitimate money-drawing stars than any other time in history because of the presentation of the product.
The best example of this is Adam Cole, a performer that could be this generation’s Shawn Micheals, but he’s used on the third-tier brand during the prime of his career.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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