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The irony was delicious with this one. The pitchforks had hardly been laid to rest following Seth Rollins’ remarks about long term storytelling and impatient fans. For they were almost instantly once again held aloft after literally one week of Raw Underground and the Retribution angle. Sure. A brand new aesthetic with many’s idea of hell in Shane McMahon at the forefront is going to be an attack on the senses. And, of course, a masked, riotous outfit who’d barely peak over roller coaster height limits is going to raise some eyebrows. Surely, though, the more vocal wrestling fans online have to have at least some self awareness to realise Rollins was partly justified in what he said?
When WWE simply refuses to read the room like this, it conjures up the now tired mantra that wrestling entities aren’t “listening to the fans”. In retort, can WWE even do that, with so many dissenting opinions vying for social media supremacy? It is a hard lesson to learn, when one is so relentlessly bombarded from every angle. Personally, the best option, although not the most popular, would be just to rise above it. Stick to one’s guns and, more importantly, do not wallow in that mud the online trolls call home. Sadly, for a company who wears such a badge of honour on its sleeve, listening to fans has done soiled AEW’s shoes more often than not.
It’s one thing for the face of your company to become embroiled in needless Twitter spats. Rollins and the ill advised path he took will always be there to rear its ugly head. It’s another, though, for not only in-ring faces of your company, but board members to reply to every Tom, Dick, or Harry who disagrees with them. Yet, as more cracks begin to appear in AEW’s self-professed universe changing veneer, so, too, do they in its EVPs. Even the man with access to the purse strings, Tony Khan.
Booking, presentation, and all that comes with the final product that is a PPV or episode of TV. The reception to these is wildly subjective. There is literally no pleasing everybody, as is evidenced by WWE’s struggles to do just that over the decades. Personally, the optics aren’t great when the people in charge at AEW are lowering themselves to “yeah but, no but” status almost every day in response.
This in itself presents another irony. One where those in question fail to reap what they sow. The anti-WWE stance is not a new idea among wrestling fandom. However, it certainly found a permanent home in the Being The Elite Youtube series, as well as the EVPs’ rallying of the troops seen in 2019’s first half. Whether they like to admit it or not, Cody, The Young Bucks, et al’s offhand remarks and parody videos were the launching pad for many to find voices that spout constantly negative feedback, or even practice outright bullying that has reached a worrying peak. So soon after Hana Kimura’s tragic suicide, no less.
For them to then be on the receiving end and either feed the trolls, get lost in a neverending back and forth, or even shut down their Twitter accounts? As small catalysts in what gives wrestling’s social media a horrible name, surely there has to be a burden of responsibility laid at their feet. To set an example. To show wrestlers how not to have a day at the office like Seth Rollins did almost a year ago now. Not to fuel the fire with which the also loud AEW critics arm their fingertips. Alas, the circus goes on. Such behaviour seems opposed to one of the “AEW Heels” edicts, where women should have a safe space in which to benefit from social media use. Even that turned into quite the PR nightmare, given the women’s division’s current mainstream presentation. Or lack thereof.
Speaking of bad PR, Jericho’s current shtick is another conundrum entirely. For years, he has gone above and beyond in merging the dastardly villain he portrays on TV with the walking, talking controversy he can be outside of the ring. Things are no different in AEW. What seems to be touching a nerve, however, is his repeated potshots at not only WWE or, more specifically, NXT, but the pandering to those who lap up the Nielsen ratings and their minutiae. Now, in the midst of an unsafe brace of Fozzy concerts, he somehow also moves the goalposts in his favour in relation to a glaringly botched pinfall loss to Orange Cassidy. Not forgetting, of course, his hypocritical damning of an “NXT reject” for apparently spoiling Dynamite’s taping results.
Yes, fans are supposed to hate the heels. And Jericho is doing a damn good job of eliciting that emotion. But is it having the desired effect when some AEW fans think he can do no wrong, while he alienates potential customers? Or maybe even drive existing ones away? It reminds me of comments made from Cody some months ago, where he said AEW will have hardcore wrestling fans’ best interests at heart, rather than those of the casuals. TNT may indeed be happy with AEW’s performance a year in to its television contract. But those oh so coveted ratings have never shown any sign of exponential growth. With new management at the broadcasting giant’s helm, one would imagine increasing an audience should be high on AEW’s agenda.
Realistically, I’m not worried about AEW’s long term future. To coin Cody, I think AEW “is fine”. You could be forgiven for thinking, though, that panic has begun to fester, if a certain Dave Meltzer is anything to go by. Whose favourable comparisons with today’s crop over WWF’s Attitude Era giants has went into overdrive of late. It smacks of desperation, if not delusion. Meltzer may not be an employed AEW PR consultant (though some may theorise otherwise; wink wink), but his spamming of baffling praise for the company is enough to have any level headed individual mock it, and those who bullheadedly support it.
Agenda driven or not, Meltzer is portraying AEW in a highly positive image. However, one thing a new decision maker in Anne Sarnoff won’t want to see in year end report cards is that company’s image brought into disrepute. Specifically in the wake of the Speaking Out scandal. Sammy Guevara and Darby Allin’s returns to AEW screens, so soon after their own respective indecencies were called out, or at the very least heavily alleged, is a hard one to just be okay with.
WWE’s quick disciplinary action with some offenders and silence on others is certainly murky. In particular, Velveteen Dream’s return to NXT last week did not sit well with me and thousands of others in the slightest. So serious are the claims against him. It’s definitely another incident to be added to WWE’s already long list of occasions where morality played second fiddle to “The Show Must Go On”. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t want AEW to follow suit with such similar, questionable practices. Just so as not to upset the apple cart as it pertains to its most popular acts and any creative plans for them going forward.
With this new-age playground game mentality coming to a head in recent weeks, it’s notable timing for me personally, as I am now finally and actively seeking Dynamite out. It was the hypocrisy and vat of false promises that put me off investing in the first place. Now? The product is certainly passable. Enough for me to stay invested in the fiction, at least. Having said that, the ability to separate art from reality is a tricky skill to attain in wrestling. If AEW gets its PR shaped ducks in a row, it would be a lot easier to maintain, too.
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
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