Posted in: Mr. Tito
MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - WWE should be like the NBA?, WWE's Financials & TV Deal, and More
By Mr. Tito
Jul 30, 2017 - 1:18:50 AM

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The man, the myth, the Tito is back exclusively here at / I laugh because I had one of the more positive WWE Battleground 2017 reviews... HOLD ON, don't get me wrong, I disliked the show... But my expectations were LOW for this show. The Jinder Mahal run has been awful and Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles hasn't been doing it for me... Great Khali showing up actually serves as a high point to remember for a really bad match even though we all get to suffer with Khali back and slowly destroying any wrestler in his path. However, that Tag Team match between Usos vs. New Day was OFF THE HOOK and keeps the show off the "worst ever" radar for me.

I don't want to talk about Smackdown or WWE Battleground 2017 this week. No thank you. Smackdown has been swirling the drain ever since Road Dogg Jesse James has seen an increased involvement with the show and ever since the "Superstar Shake-up". Being honest here, AJ Styles is keeping me as a viewer with Chris Jericho's return being helpful. RAW has been much better lately.

Let me start the column like this... Back when the WWE Brand Split happened last year, I made a simple suggestion that WWE should treat each Brand like a sports franchise. Contracts for wrestlers were known, each brand had a "Salary Cap", both RAW & Smackdown could make trades, and then each year, a Draft of NXT prospects or free agents occurs between the brands as an easy way to debut new wrestlers. You know, make this staged athletic competition resemble real sports. Many of you laughed at me, suggesting that resembling the business of sports had no place in "sports entertainment", etc.

Well, have you seen the NBA lately?

Following the NBA Finals until the start of the NFL season, sports has its own overall offseason with only Baseball to really watch. The second half of June, July, and early August are truly the "dog days of summer" but it's also a time period when top sportscasters take their vacations. The top ratings periods for sports & analysis shows are during the NBA playoffs and the NFL/College Football seasons. Most broadcasters are hopeful that during February-April and June-August that some oddball story pops up or that a hot Free Agent period occurs for the leagues. Otherwise, they have to talk about regular season Basketball, Hockey, or Baseball and that just doesn't draw numbers.

The NBA's offseason has been on fire for the Free Agent movement and the Trades that have shiften the dynamic of the NBA. Sure, the Golden State Warriors remain strong favorites, but big player transactions have suddenly made the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, and Minnesota Timberwolves "intersting" to say the least. Then, you have drama with the Cleveland Cavs as point guard Kyrie Irving reportedly asked management for a trade and that's reportedly upset superstar Lebron James. Then, you hear the news story that Lebron James asked management to trade Kyrie last year after the Cavs won the freakin' championship for Chris Paul.

The FACT is that NBA's offseason is driving ratings right now for sports shows everywhere during a time when sports talk is usually dull. Not a single NBA game has been played (besides summer leagues), yet the league is being heavily talked about and hyped based on trades and free agency. By the way, these are REAL trades and REAL transactions that are happening.

Are you watching this, WWE? Ever follow the NBA, Vince McMahon? Instead of just randomly appearing on RAW and suggesting that a "Superstar Shake-up" was needed and then moving wrestlers without any rhyme or reason... Why not structure the RAW and Smackdown rosters like legitimate sports franchises? Like I said, each brand has a Salary Cap (or at least a budget), they can make trades, contracts can run out and timeframes are known to the public, and then a draft of new prospects can properly link the WWE and NXT together. Have you seen how well the NFL and NCAA are linked through the NFL Draft? It's HUGE. And unlike the NBA or NFL, the WWE could script interesting drama to always happen. Right now, Kyrie Irving wants traded but it's not so easy in the NBA... However, in the WWE, it can happen... A "disgruntled" wrestler can get moved to another roster in a storyline that makes sense and can help draw money.

Funny thing about having RAW/Smackdown make sports-like transactions? It can create drama without having to burn through top level matches.

In case you haven't noticed lately, the WWE is delivering top level matches on both RAW and Smackdown right now. Last week on RAW, the WWE had Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns and this week on Smackdown, we saw Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens. In previous weeks, we've seen WWE burn right through other big matches that they are giving away for FREE instead of saving for WWE Network Pay Per View. Haven't you noticed that Pay Per Views have been kinda subpar lately? Well, it's because the WWE is giving you free sugar during RAW/Smackdown and it wears down the effect of Pay Per Views.

NOW - Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the increase in quality of RAW/Smackdown. Much of 2017 has featured awful shows from both brands... However, both brands appear desperate to pop ratings right now. What else explains why many big Pay Per View-like matches are happening right now? What explains a storyline like Kurt Angle revealing that he has a son on the WWE roster?

Well, I'll tell you... We're 2 years away from the WWE's television deal with Comcast/USA Networks expiring around the Fall of 2019. However, the WWE begins negotiations for a new deal about a year before that expiration. If you remember during late 2013 and early 2014, the WWE announced that they were researching deals and in negotiations with Cable providers. Then, by mid 2014, they announced their new deal with Comcast/USA Networks. Chances are that the WWE feels the need to be in "crunch time" to boost viewership between 2017 and 2018 to make numbers look good for 2019 negotiations. As I've discussed before, WWE reportedly makes around or above $175 million per year on the Comcast/USA Networks deal while making additional money from International deals. As I've computed in the past, revenues specifically from television account for around 35% of WWE's total revenues.

And I'd argue that television should be considered "part" of other revenues because it remains the BEST advertising mechanism for, Live Events, WWE Network, Pay Per Views, and Merchandise. After all, USA Networks still reaches between 90 to 95 million homes. You can give me the "cord cutter" argument all you want, but 90 million households is still a ton. That's higher than most of the 2000s and significantly higher than the 1990s when RAW used to draw 6-8 million viewers per show. On top of all of that, the study that the median age of WWE fans has increased significantly. Granted, I don't believe that it's THIS high, but a study found that the median age during the year 2000 was in the late 20s. Now? Early to mid 50s! If true, this suggest that loyal fans gained during the Attitude Era are loyal fans and are sticking with the product. Any youth watching wrestling would be THEIR kids. As studies show, the older the age, the less prone to cutting the cord and retaining Cable/Satellite services.

Consider this and things are looking bad for profitability on the Internet for the WWE:

(a) YouTube advertisement payouts are down. Something was brought to the attention of advertisers that their commercials were being aired on questionable videos with lewd acts or foul language deemed offensive to those companies. Thus, advertisers have been pulling ads! Making matters worse is how YouTube programmed their ad delivery system to avoid things like pro wrestling. There are many wrestling websites and YouTube affiliates hurting right now because of YouTube cutting their revenue streams.

(b) Net Neutrality could end. Net Neutrality is a policy enforced by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) that forces Internet Service Providers to treat everyone equally in terms of internet usage. In other words, companies who stream heavily and eat up many ISP's bandwidth like Netflix and WWE Network, are treated equally and charged the same fees by ISPs as companies with lower bandwidth. Because of that FCC policy, Internet Service Providers cannot charge the higher bandwidth users a higher price and instead just charges everyone the same equally high prices. As Michael Pachter (analyst for Wedbush Securities) put it, without Net Neutrality, ISPs could charge higher bandwidth users more while charging low bandwidth users much less.

Thus, the WWE is making less money online for their videos and without Net Neutrality, they face the real threat of their costs to maintain the WWE Network could get expensive. That's why I believe that the WWE will NEVER leave Comcast. Why? Well, Comcast's broadband internet offering is tops in the nation for internet services. If the WWE has a deal with Comcast after their current year expires during 2019, the effect of Net Neutrality will be less on the WWE because Comcast and WWE are working together.

Be careful, WWE... One of the fatal mistakes that WCW made during 1997, as Arn Anderson explained, was giving away too many big Pay Per View-like matches for FREE on television and quickly running out of unique match-ups. For all of the "free sugar" that the WWE is giving out on both RAW and Smackdown, the best performance we're seeing out of their shows is RAW being barely above 3.0 million on their best nights (most of the time, they are UNDER 3.0 million) and Smackdown barely getting 2.5 million viewers. What's going to happen AFTER SummerSlam 2017 when NFL Monday Night Football returns? Historically speaking since the Monday Night Wars, the 4th Quarter of the year has the most fan erosion. Sure, there are holidays involved, but shows like Survivor Series were a bigger deal and drew fans in. Ditto Starrcade. WWE gets some of it back for Royal Rumble/Wrestlemania, but after that, the fanbase is slightly less than the previous year since the Attitude Era with a few exceptions.

Another factor to consider by 2019... Vince McMahon will turn 74 years old. Sure, Vince has endless energy and proves that to this day. Is he willing to still do this at that age? Negotiating that 2019 deal could difficult and stressful, particularly if Comcast legitimately decides to go in the opposite direction for their network.

I would watch what happens during 2018-2019 because during 2014, there was interest by the AMC Network to actually buy the WWE. It wouldn't surprise me that the McMahons "cash out" during 2019 and ride off to the sunset. My only thinking against that is how Triple H seems highly motivated to keep operating the WWE. Maybe just owns the NXT brand while a bigger entity buys the majority of WWE's assets? It could happen...

Television ratings DO matter. Removing over $175 million per year of pure revenue from your Income Statement and NOT having a replacement is a major problem for the WWE. The Internet CANNOT replace what a big Corporation can pay due to the television advertisements revenue that is STILL in place. Folks, 90 million households still have the USA Networks... How can you replace that exposure? What is going to advertise the WWE Network? YouTube? WWE's absolute best segments from RAW might do just above 1 million views while the majority of videos there do under 500,000. Social Media?

That is why WWE is pushing Jinder Mahal down our throats and has now opted to bring back Great Khali. WWE believes that India is an untapped market and has gone "all in" to get that market. Until we see a stronger Television deal from that country along with more WWE Network subscriptions, the stronger revenue stream will always be in the United States of America. USA remains the #1 place for television viewers, WWE Network subscribers, and is the main place for WWE live events. To me, when the WWE attempts to appeal directly to other countries, they are just giving up on their biggest gravy train. Which is why, again, pushing the WRONG guys as your top Main Eventers has slowed growth of the WWE product in the United States. That, and neglecting the midcard... History shows that a legitimately drawing #1 babyface combined with a strong midcard (great tag teams, strong midcard title) grows the business. 1980s WWE with Hogan, Attitude Era with Austin, and NWO Era on WCW with a loaded roster.

Getting to my last point, WWE just needs to find the next #1 babyface. Yeah, that easy... Well, it's not... You can see the failures of Roman Reigns when the WWE tries to force that rather than listening to the pulse of fans as they did with Hogan, Austin, Rock, and Cena. You cannot force it... You need to abide by the simple formula of (a) starting in the midcard, (b) if fans like your early matches, start winning regularly in the midcard, (c) if that works, start chasing a midcard title and eventually win it... And if you actually see results of drawing as a midcard champion, that's when you get promoted to the Main Event scene and begin chasing the World Title. Roman Reigns FAILED because he didn't have that singles run and he was too inexperienced as a pro wrestler to handle that responsibility. After the Shield broke up, he immediately received WWE Title shots. Vince is a FOOL if he thinks that Roman defeating Brock Lesnar will put him over the top but what about the Reigns wins over Triple H, Undertaker, Randy Orton, and Daniel Bryan? Why isn't he over yet?

If the WWE finds that #1 babyface draw by 2018, they can have negotiating power with television networks for a stronger deal during 2019. Go back to the year 2000 when Viacom overpaid for WWE programming to be place on TNN/Spike TV. You can read all about it in my famous Winner's Curse column on 9/14/2005. Viacom was more than excited to overpay for the WWE with major stars attached to it such as the Rock, the returning Steve Austin, and the growing star of Triple H. Little did they know that they bought a product that already peaked, Steve Austin wasn't the same after his injury absence, and the Rock was already looking at offers from Hollywood. However, my point is that stars made Viacom believe that WWE's television product was worth the financial risk.

Who is that #1 babyface, aside from Roman Reigns whom Vince McMahon wants to push.

Last year in one of my Question & Answers columns, I gave 3 names as potential "top guys" for the future if everything went well: (1) Braun Strowman, (2) Jason Jordan, and (3) Apollo Crews. I've also said many, many times that Shinsuke Nakamura could become "the guy" if pushed well. However, Nakamura is struggling in the WWE spotlight so far with his matches and was compared to Michael Jackson in a promo...

Jury is still out on Apollo Crews and Jason Jordan. Crews is an amazing athletic talent and from what I saw personally at a Smackdown Houseshow, the kids LOVE him. However, he's too reliant on spots and just doesn't have a personality that is ripe for television. But I maintain that the upside is still there. I liked what I saw from Jordan from those hot tags and he has the size that the McMahons seek. Jordan has the same issues as Crews by needing a personality that connects with fans on television. Will this "son" storyline with Kurt Angle pan out? I hope so but if it fails, I don't believe he'll record.

Braun Strowman IS that guy, in my opinion. A win over Brock Lesnar would magnify his career ten fold whereas if Roman Reigns defeats Lesnar at Wrestlemania 34, it's just more "booking welfare" given to Roman. Just another win. IN MY OPINION, I see huge money in Braun Strowman winning the Rumble Match at Royal Rumble 2018 and then DEFEATING Brock Lesnar 100% clean at Wrestlemania 34. Then, I'd push Braun as an unstoppable babyface with lengthy WWE Universal Title reign. Push him as a "larger than life" superstar that you can ONLY see in the WWE. Plus, he's the guy who BEAT Brock Lesnar and that can be one of the biggest bullet points for his career. WWE could then show Comcast or other Television Networks that this "larger than life" HOSS is the guy who will retain or grow the WWE audience for the next 5 years as a main eventer.

But another thing...

WWE needs to re-evaluate NXT. I was PLEASED to hear that several NXT call-ups to the WWE main roster might be returning to NXT. GOOD! I have zero problems with that and I wouldn't consider that a downgrade. What made me EAT MY WORDS on the WWE Network was, in fact, the NXT developmental brand. I was amazed by NXT Takeover Brooklyn 2015 and loved most of the Takeover shows since. However, WWE raided the NXT roster heavily during 2016-2017 in order to subsidize the RAW/Smackdown brand extension. Since then, the show has gone on but the NXT roster has to get really creative to put on interesting shows.

If you look at attendance numbers for those NXT Takeover, they are incredible... Furthermore, NXT packs their house for television tapings consistently and is able to have actual houseshows with reasonable numbers. Had NXT kept all of its talent that joined the WWE from 2015-2017, HOLY COW @ that roster. Then, you had a case like Bayley whose merchandise outsold all of the other divas merchandise by margins. Additionally, there were many Takeover shows before the big WWE shows that received better reviews than Wrestlemania or SummerSlam events! Think about that for a second.

WWE didn't need a brand extension during 2016... They already had an emerging brand called "NXT".

But instead, splitting the WWE roster into 2 halves (or 2/3 for RAW, 1/3 for Smackdown) and needing NXT wrestlers to subsidize that split.

WWE needs to study what kind of fans that NXT draws. It has more of an Indy feel to it while pushing workrate a lot stronger than the WWE main roster. By keeping Vince McMahon away, NXT establishes its own identity and doesn't appear like a full blown WWE brand. The WWE Corporation can use the NXT product to fend off any rising promotions like Global Force Wrestling (formerly TNA), Ring of Honor, and even New Japan from competing. Furthermore, WWE can raid those promotions and place them in NXT. Problem with RAW and Smackdown is that they are TOO SIMILAR. The production, the booking, and the style just feels the same on both brands. That's unlike the early 2000s brand split where they had 2 different bookers writing the shows as Paul Heyman made the Smackdown brand different from RAW. However, Heyman was removed during early 2004 and the brand quickly became the same after that.

NXT was your brand extension... Should have let them keep some of their talent instead of letting them struggle to be known on the main WWE Roster.



First and foremost, I've have performed this specific rant before... What I said in the past is that I wish other industries would be criticized for their Deaths like pro wrestling. Last I checked, for example, the WWE didn't have a "27 Club" and haven't had high profile deaths due to drugs or even suicide as the entertainment industry has. As I argued in the past, wrestling has a stigma because Steroids has worse reputation in the public than recreational drugs. It's thought that anyone taking steroids will have their hearts explode whereas performers like Michael Jackson and Prince can have large amounts of pharmaceuticals just handed to them and nobody questions their industries. WWE has a legitimate Wellness Policy in place that not only polices its current wrestlers but proves rehab for past wrestlers.

It's that Chris Benoit incident again...

While the 2000s were bad for premature wrestler deaths before the age of 45, much of that was from wrestlers abusing medication outside of the WWE or when they weren't working for the WWE. You have guys like Eddie Guerrero who joined the WWE late in his career. Sure, he bulked up but he didn't have a tragic ending like Chris Benoit. Further more, it was Eddie's death that gave the WWE their wake-up call. By early 2006, the WWE put a tougher testing program in place and unfortunately, it took the tragedy of Chris Benoit to put more teeth into that. But if you remove Chris Benoit's incident and just look at deaths following Eddie, the numbers decline drastically. Hell, many "at risk" wrestlers have been saved by WWE's rehab program or even side ventures like DDP Yoga.

However, what I really want you to consider is Pro Wrestling versus Pro Football. Recently, a study on donated brains by ex-National Football League (NFL) players found that the majority of them had some form of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain caused by repeated blows to the head. Many players are beginning to retire early due to repeat head trauma and there are reports of fewer kids being allowed to go out for football due to the threat of head injuries. In recent years, there have been several key NFL players actually committing suicide due to the memory loss issues suffered after football.

Aside from someone like Mick Foley and Tommy Dreamer who have both expressed memory loss issues and of course Chris Benoit, do you hear much about long-term head injuries with wrestlers? In fact, I'd argue that Foley, Dreamer, and Benoit placed themselves in harm's way with their styles. Just watch Royal Rumble 1999 and King of the Ring 1998 for Foley, let alone his Japanese Death Matches. Tommy Dreamer was chained up to cages and took chairshots without any protection. He worked in ECW forever and kept the "extreme" style after that show. With Benoit, that diving headbutt was dangerous and the guy bumped like no other. Plus, with Benoit, he'll work hurt before letting management know that he was hurt. Like many wrestlers, they feared losing their spot for any time off.

I watch and listen to a ton of shoot interviews daily via YouTube on my Smartphone device. I love it... Just awesome to hear the insights of your favorite wrestlers. What AMAZES me is how much memory retention that most of those wrestlers have about the past. Many of them could tell you hold-for-hold what happened in particular matches or details about any show that occurred. Additionally, there are many wrestlers in their 40s and 50s who still work across the nation without issue. One would think that if you had head trauma, those veterans couldn't perform.

Well, it's because wrestling is safe... If you wrestle that "extreme" style where you'll take repeat headshots, then yes, you'll have long-term problems. But if you wrestle regular matches, you can last for a long time in the business. In fact, it's not until 45 where wrestlers end their PRIME years for the most part. Wrestlers are trained to bump properly with their chins tucked in and knowing how to fall. Guys who get hurt are the ones working the "extreme" style or doing high risk stuff... But consider this... How can Jeff Hardy still do it? He has taken the most insane bumps of all time and yet he can still compete. Sure, he's very sore and I can imagine his limbs and back have pain... But he can still comprehend and perform well. How is that?

Just listen to shoot interviews by wrestlers or better yet, READ a wrestling book! I have inhaled many wrestling books in my day (used to review them) and they are great reads. Wrestlers, despite years of taking bumps almost nightly, can still articulate their times in the business.

It's the stigma about Steroids and the Chris Benoit incident that gives pro wrestling a bad name while often ignoring the early deaths of NFL, music, or film stars. Benoit is unique because he's associated with steroids. That was 10 years ago... Things are way better now.

Meanwhile in the NFL, Music, or Film... I don't know... WWE might need to invest in better public relations.


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