Where Are The Stars?

The WWE brand is the draw for the global, publicly-traded company.

There are positives and negatives to that ideology, but make no mistake about it, the brand is the selling point for the organization. The concept of WWE sports entertainment as a whole is a bigger factor than Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, or any other individual performer on the roster. As I’ve said before, the upside to that is the organization has an intrinsic value to the initials that can used to ensure there’s a core group of fans that will follow the product regardless of the quality of specific angles or shows. Furthermore, brand identity is one of the keys for the valuable sponsorships the organization secures, as well as a something management can tout for stockholders. From a corporate standpoint, this also makes sure that the talent doesn’t have too much leverage or power over the organization. If someone wants to leave the promotion, the writing team can shift a few pieces of the puzzle and everything remains status quo. Keep in mind, during the 90s, one of the biggest problems of most of that decade was trying to keep the talent happy. The kliq calls a meeting at a random house show in 1995 and threatens to go on strike, Shawn doesn’t want to put Bret over so Bret refuses to put Shawn over, and Jeff Jarrett wants paid in cash before he will drop the IC title.

Promoters have grappled with talent over almost every aspect of the business, but the current WWE model more or less presents most of the roster as interchangeable parts so most don’t have enough power in the company to force the office to change plans. Could you imagine anyone currently on the WWE roster trying to go on strike like the Kliq threatened in 1995? Sure, Pac did it, but was forced to stay on the sidelines for almost a year, which is something the majority of wrestlers wouldn’t do. They couldn’t force Pac to show up to put over Enzo in clumsy matches, but they tried to keep away from the spotlight long enough to minimize any name value he would have after he left. So, from a company perspective, the brand as the selling point limits the impact on the promotion if a performer leaves or if an injury puts them on the shelf for an extended period of time. This approach isn’t totally negative because that brand recognition creates a safety net of sorts that a certain fan base will always follow the product. If a wrestler gets injured, it’s not a catastrophic scenario for the organization because the writing team just shuffles the deck and plugs in someone else in that spot. The brand first approach minimizes any risk of pushing a talent if they don’t get over or damage if an injury puts them on the shelf. For a comparison, when Stone Cold had neck surgery in late-1999 that put him on the shelf for a year, the organization had to boost other wrestlers to cover for the lack of star power on the show, and thus had to make new stars to maintain its lead against WCW.

The negative side of the brand as the top selling point is that it allows for a certain level of mediocrity or complacency within the company because very few performers are actually presented too far ahead of the rest of the roster. Granted, Mojo isn’t going to main event Wrestlemania so you can say that Seth Rollins is a bigger star than him, but does Seth truly move the needle? The example I used in the past was, when Seth was booked against Brock Lesnar at WM 35, would it really have made a difference in the number of tickets sold or WWE Network subscriptions if it was Finn Balor vs. Lesnar instead?

That’s not meant as a jab toward Seth or Finn, but the point is, with the revolving door of champions and the way the majority of the roster is presented to the audience with mostly 50/50 booking of the product, Seth and Finn, despite their talent, are more or less at the same level in terms of star power, which is the problem with the vast majority of the roster. The structure of the promotion is designed to get the brand over, not individual stars so there’s a ceiling on how much the brand itself is going to get over, especially when you consider the causal fans, The general public aren’t necessarily wrestling fans, but there were nearly 10 million viewers every week for wrestling during the boom period of the 90s because there were stars that made them want to watch the product. The stars were the draw, not the initials, which was proved by the weekly shift of the ratings war.

As mentioned the brand as the top selling point, which is designed to bring in more stockholders, allows for a core fan base, but the problem is, when the quality of the overall product declines, it erodes that fan base. There’s a reason that ratings have steadily declined over the past few years and there has been a noticeable slump recently because the lack of live crowds. When the corporate agenda dictates the same narrative on a regular basis, even the more diehard fans become discontent with the product. How many years was Reigns pushed as the top guy that didn’t get over? How many repetitive Lesnar matches were used in the exact same angle during the past several years? The WWE is reaching into the same playbook and often the programming doesn’t actually make much progress on TV.

The bottom line is, how many competitors on the WWE roster are legitimate money-drawing stars?

Don’t get me wrong, the in-ring talent is there and the argument could be made that as far as bell-to-bell quality, this might be the most stacked WWE roster in history, but that hasn’t translated to star power because of how those athletes are presented to the audience. The current WWE champion, Drew McIntyre is a perfect example of it. As talented as Drew is, before the office randomly decided to give him a push with the Royal Rumble win, he was involved in mediocre angles with Shane McMahon as a heel. His push was more or less because management had to pick someone to win the Rumble, not because the fans were rallying for him prior to the Royal Rumble. To be fair, the quick switch to baby face with no explanation really didn’t give the audience much of a chance to get behind him since the push was put into overdrive because it was close to the Rumble when they decided to start the push. More importantly, from literally the first segment after he won the championship, the company didn’t portray him as a fighting champion. The segment with Big Show where Drew said there was nothing Big Show could do to make him defend the title because he just defeated Brock for the belt immediately takes away his credibility as a fighting champion. The baby face should never hesitate to defend the championship. Could you picture Stone Cold or a baby face Bret Hart trying to avoid a title defense in a promo? The same narrative was used this past week on Raw when Drew hesitated about the tag match with R-Truth because the title was on the line. How does this put McIntyre over strong as the WWE champion? A baby face trying to avoid or talk their way out of a title defense is completely illogical because it’s a heel tactic. Again, what baby face champion in the past would hesitate to defend the championship? In my opinion, key mistakes like this for several performers during the past few years are the reason why the company hasn’t made any new stars that can really boost numbers. All things considered, John Cena is still the last legitimate money-drawing star the company made and he hasn’t been full-time for several years.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta