There are some great lines, aren’t there? Remnants from great men saying great things. Churchill’s “we will fight them on the beaches”. JFK’s “ich bin ein Berliner”. In wrestling terms, Stone Cold’s “Austin 3:16 says I just kicked your ass”.
We’ve all got friends who come out with equally good lines that never make it quite as big. For instance, one of my friends, let’s call him Mark, saying “I’m not watching WWE any more until they start using piledrivers again” might not initially count among the greatest lines of all time, but then things are quite often not of their time and come to be appreciated later. Right?
Now, I will say that my friend’s words got me thinking. They got me thinking about why my friend cares so much about that one move that it would prevent him watching wrestling. I wondered about what it was about the wrestling he grew up watching that appealed to him more.
Because I wondered those things, I decided to wonder no more and asked him what he preferred about older wrestling and what it would take to make him watch Raw regularly again. He texted me a reply.
“The old and much more spectacular moves e.g. suplex, leg drop, pile driver, top turnbuckle flying elbow etc, along with great heroes rather than all the ambiguous anti-hero stuff you get today.”
That got me thinking. If that’s what it would take to get my friend watching wrestling again, is the same true of more people? Is what my friend says the reason why WWE is haemorrhaging viewers faster than Cena’s nose loses blood?
Mark would say yes, but my instinct is to say no, both because I happen to crave yet more anti-heroes and would rather see innovation in the ring than old favourites and because I think one of the problems with WWE is just that there’s this great hero standing on top of the mountain swatting anyone else down who clambers near. Surely if some people agree with Mark then some people must agree with me too. So how do I decide who’s right? I could have a conversation with him. I could do some research. Or, I could imagine a fight of words between Mark, and I.
You know it’s a big match when there’s a stare down to start things off. The protagonists bandy a few words while they ramp up the tension before we lock up. Now I think that wrestling in WWE can be as good now as it’s ever been in terms of in-ring action and often leaves me thoroughly entertained. Mark would say that’s great, but it’s not as much of a spectacle any more.
Disappointingly for me, he makes quite a good argument, and having easily won the lock up, he starts to stomp a mud hole in me while reminding me I go on and on myself about how there aren’t as many great moments in WWE storytelling any more. Wrenching myself free, I’m backing away but not giving up. Battered and dazed, I decide to get a good low blow in early while he enjoys his early success, playing to the crowd. WWE is giving fans what they want. A darling ex-Indie is world champion, Daniel Bryan got his big Wrestlemania moment and NXT is providing the alternate product that SmackDown just isn’t.
The thing is, just as it looks like I have an advantage from the low blow, the rest of the Family Mark runs in and I’m beaten right back into my corner. They all say the same thing, that the booking is all wrong, there’s no midcard stars coming through and it’s always just the same old people at the top.
All this leaves me having to think on my feet, backed into the turnbuckle, throwing punches wildly out of the corner, counting myself lucky if they land. I’m the Lonely Wrestling Fan – the underdog about to go down. I know WWE is giving the viewers some great matches, but the stories lack so much there’s no moments. I know there’s too much focus on the great hero Cena, but then that’s also what boosts the ratings, not the ex-Indie midcard presence. Too many people kick out of finishers, ruining them and you can’t imagine anyone doing that to a certain wrestler’s leg drop or another’s flying elbow.
What I whisper to Mark as I dizzyingly have the horrible feeling he might be right, just before he hoists me onto the top rope, preparing to deliver his final piledriver argument is that no piledriver, leg drop or hero would have added anything to the **** matches I’ve seen over the past few years because whilst some of the matches might have lacked storytelling moments, they’re just better.
He hesitates. In that hesitation I see the chance to make my comeback. A surge of adrenaline drives me to push away from the top rope and drop the DDT of retorts.
We don’t even know for sure why the WWE is losing viewers. It always does at this time of year, just more so this time around. But then…all TV viewership is down, around 10% according to some sources. Mark can get his fix of great heroes and spectacular, older moves by buying WWE Network and watching them instead of watching the current product. More people than anyone admits watch streamed TV on sites where viewership is most definitely not recorded.
So is it the product, or the way we watch TV that’s having the real impact?
Either way, what does WWE do about it?
In my first article I introduced Mr Smiles, the intrepid car salesman. Never being one to shy away from character development, I’m pleased to announce that, having sold WWE that previously-owned red Cadillac at a premium price, Mr Smiles has been promoted by The Corporation to act as key WWE liaison. It’s now his job to provide management consultant sales advice on how to attract new viewers to the WWE product. Does that mean new viewers for Raw, or does that mean new subscribers to the WWE Network? Does it mean both? Where’s the money?
Does Mr Smiles care about the Mark Family? Are they money, or because they’re already watching, does he push for entry into other markets?
I’d suggest that what Mr Smiles cares about and makes the centre of his 15-minute opening promo to WWE management is attract, retain and resell. Get them in. Keep them in. Sell them more.
I think Mr Smiles would recommend just what WWE did with this Monday’s Raw – get them in with the tried and tested John Cena, retain them with the promise of a great main event match to try and build its stars and get them interested enough in MSG and Hell in a Cell to sell them a WWE Network subscription to watch those shows.
They screwed it up in the sense that they did everything right in their approach, but they forgot to build a good show around it all. Wyatt v Reigns was good and I was looking forward to it. Clearly, they will say, many others weren’t because they switched off in droves in the third hour. Or did they switch off because the middle hour was so shockingly dull that they couldn’t be bothered to wait for the last few minutes of the third?
We don’t know. Mr Smiles doesn’t know. The ratings people don’t know. I don’t know. But I’m going to stay the Lonely Wrestling Fan, because I think they’re on the right track – they’re just rolling down that track with three wheels and they’re starting to lose their load on the uneven ground. Get that fourth wheel of writing a good show first, not fitting it in around the marketing, and they’ll have a steady ship when that track turns into a road at the turn of the year.
Poor Mr Smiles is probably fired now, but it’s not Mr Smiles’s job to write the shows, just to come up with the marketing strategy.
Just as it’s not my job to verbally wrestle the Mark Family on what they want to see – because I get my ass kicked.