It’s easy to see that the NFL and WWE draw comparisons to one another among sports fans. Both have a very similar style in their approach these days as they seem to be more concerned about entertainment rather than the product on the field or in the ring. The two organizations have both been criticized for their lack of attention and care of the athletes after their professional careers are over. Yet despite these and other similarities, both positive and negative, there is still a major difference in the presentation of their products. If WWE wishes to be held on the same pedestal as the NFL, which quite frankly who wouldn’t, then here are a few tips moving forward to keep the fan base you have and maybe draw the attention of new fans as well.
The current WWE/NXT talent pool is quite possibly the strongest it has ever been. When the company would have done almost anything to keep the likes of Wade Barrett, Ryback and Jack Swagger in the past, the threat of losing talent like this now is barely a blip in their radar screen. All it does is open up well deserved doors to the main roster for the likes of Finn Balor, Austin Aries, Shinsuke Nakamura and the plethora of talent in the women and tag team division in NXT. The WWE is now in the position, like the NFL, where on any given Sunday one team can beat another, on any given night one of 15-20 guys can have the legit chance to be world champion. With that said, as far as the talent roster is concerned, that is not the problem anymore. How though can the WWE capitalize on this influx of talent to boost ratings that actually stay the third hour of RAW or that don’t drop off at one of the non big 4 pay per views?
Let’s start with programming. Does the NFL ever show us a taped game to be aired on Sundays, or on ESPN on Monday nights? Nope! They give us fresh live programming each week during the season. This is something that definitely needs to be addressed when it comes to Smackdown on Thursday nights. What kind of numbers would the NFL pull in if they taped the game played in England and showed it later that day in place of the Sunday night game? Outside of family and friends, nobody. In this day and age of modern technology, the entire Smackdown show, including results, is known to the public, driving down both fan interest and ratings. The excuse of costs to run a live show is an old one. There is across the board cost cutting that could be made if necessary, (i.e.: closing down WWE studios). But any costs they would accrue by providing a live Smackdown would be offset by bigger advertising dollars for live programming.
Continuing on the programming end of things, one of the things that the NFL has made sure of is that their major events (playoffs and Super Bowl) are shown at times that will allow younger fans to watch, while allowing mom and dad to still get a decent night’s sleep. It has been well documented that baseball has lost at least one generation of fans due to ridiculously late start times to their postseason and World Series games. The WWE, who is a PG product, need to keep in mind that their younger fan base is rarely awake to see the main events of most of their weekly live programming and pay per views. I know I’m struggling to stay awake myself come the final match of the evening. Granted we live in a DVR and network subscription world, but there’s something to be said when a fan sees David Tyree’s helmet catch, or Joe Montana’s winning drive live, rather than on replay. I, like many, thought this year’s Mania ran way too long. Sunday nights are dead programming wise, especially when it comes to late March/early April. The original Mania’s started in the afternoon. You don’t necessarily have to start that early, but rather than giving us a useless preshow, and 4 hour plus main show, just give a soling 3 – 3 ½ hour show that starts between 6 and 7pm.
The Super Bowl is the most watched television event each year. Between the hype, pageantry, game itself, etc. it is must see TV. One of the traditional parts of the Super Bowl is bringing back former legends (Super Bowl MVP’s, coaches, etc.) to take part in the pregame coin toss. Let me ask you this; in Super Bowl 50 did Joe Namath or Tom Brady throw one pass in the game? Did Lynn Swann or Jerry Rice make any amazing catches? Did Richard Dent or Randy White come up with a huge sack? Why no, they are there for nostalgic reasons only. John Elway didn’t get to take a snap from center for the Broncos during the game in an attempt to drive up ratings. The Super Bowl sells itself, just like WrestleMania. It is the showcase for the players who have worked hard all year to put on the biggest performances of their lives. For several years now, WWE has continued to allow retired and part time wrestlers take part in matches, which is quite frankly taking time away from the day in and day out stars.
Whether you like CM Punk or not, you cannot deny his point that it hurts the current rosters credibility with the fan base when guys like the Rock, Undertaker, Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar come and go as they please and beat guys who are there 52 weeks a year. It just makes no sense. I get that we love these guys and the memories they gave us, but be like the NFL and build up and utilize your future stars! The reason we love these legends are because of the moments they gave us. Mania moments that were against the guys they fought toe to toe against during the other 51 weeks of the year. WWE wants us to believe their “superstars” are special. Well, how special is a guy who trains and fights all year, when he loses to a guy who wrestles once over 365 days? WWE, please by all means honor your past at WrestleMania, that is what the Hall of Fame portion of the weekend should be. But, please let today’s guys and gals make their own Mania moments.
The NFL, while priding itself in being the best football product out there, is also not afraid or ashamed to realize that they don’t know everything and that maybe other football leagues can show them different ways of doing things to peak fan interest. One example would be the 2 point conversion. It was extremely popular in the USFL, so the NFL adopted it. Another case would be the camera that we see that dangles above the field to give us different views from above. Guess where they got that idea from? Believe it or not Vince McMahon’s XFL. Yep, that’s right Vince, they saw you had a good idea and weren’t afraid to adopt to it. Now how about the WWE doing the same.
We get that the WWE won the Monday Night Wars. When the NFL merged with the AFL it was a victory of sorts for not only the NFL, but the fans as well. The NFL didn’t embarrass the AFL or its history, it embraced it. It was good for business. WWE has gone out of its way to try and bury any memory of WCW. I get that people would argue that they still have the United States Championship. Big deal, it’s not the titles they brought over. Those should have been retired when WCW was purchased. No I’d like to see them use some of the matches that WCW used to utilize, namely War Games. We are seeing that WWE is becoming more and more stable centric. We have the Wyatt’s (when healthy), League of Nations, The New Day, and we also seeing the early stages of the Balor Club coming together while hearing of a possible Shield reunion. There were no greater stable matches in the history of wrestling than the War Games. It was one of Dusty Rhodes’ greatest ideas. The fans loved it, and I am hoping that the recent War Games collection on the WWE Network is a sign that the powers that be in Stamford are thinking about bringing it back.
While I cannot stand Roger Goodell, I love the NFL just as much as I love professional wrestling. Both sports have offered us so many legendary names and moments. One of the main reasons that the NFL has stayed relevant and passed baseball as America’s game is because they make their fan bases happiness, priority number one. Let’s hope the WWE can learn from the NFL, and take a similar approach in order to keep the fan base happy, while appealing to a new generation of fans.