The Brand Extension #8: Is It Time For WWE To Dock Ship?

The Brand Extension #8: Is It Time For WWE To Dock Ship?

WWE Wrestlemania 36 Pirate Theme Logo

By former Lords of Pain 205 Live reviewer, “205 Clive”.
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The below column was written and completed on Wednesday morning BST, ready for the usual release time roughly 24 hours later. Obviously, within that time, far more current events have occured from within WWE land. I debated with myself over whether to amend this piece, or scrap it altogether. However, for the sake of “Wrestling Headlines”, and my own peace of mind, it shall remain untouched. The majority is still relevant and worthy of discussion. Hopefully you understand. Anyway, onto the column itself… 

“We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times…We are producing content on a closed set with only personnel in attendance, following appropriate guidelines, while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff. As a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society, WWE and its Superstars bring families together, and deliver a sense of hope, determination, and perseverance.”

These are the words given by WWE to ESPN in the wake of its intentions to continue operations using a “business as usual” approach. Or, as usual as current circumstances allow, at least. It’s a move that has seen WWE receive much scrutiny in social media circles. The decision to go ahead with Wrestlemania as WWE did divided opinion. The resultant decision to provide new content after the fact, however? This could have ramifications that some may rightfully consider wholly irresponsible.

With regards to the Showcase of the Immortals, and the padding out before and after, what was done has been done. Hours of content for all brands were taped ahead of schedule for future release. What made the final cut, as it were, has given us as fans several memories and takeaways from what has been a trying time for many.

On one hand, the risks involved with so many people in close contact with each other in a sweat soaked hotbed speak for themselves. On the other hand, in a worrying and probably depressing period for some, WWE made a commitment. One that saw active and non-active personnel alike come together and put on shows with the sole intention of putting smiles on faces. I’ll be honest – and selfish – in saying that I’m thankful to all involved for that run in. The global pandemic has struck close to home, and WWE has provided enough distraction for me to forget about the outside world, if only for a brief spell. 

A number of those distractions will personally stand the test of time. Countless promos whose lack of background noise allowed for all attention to be focused on their content and quality. That same attention given to matches that wanted to tell stories. Rollins Vs Owens and Edge Vs Orton immediately come to mind. Even the manic and larger than life characters, such as Asuka, Nikki Cross, and The Artist Collective benefitted from fan absence. Of course, the cinematic Boneyard and Firefly Funhouse matches. As divisive in opinion as they have been, they simply wouldn’t have happened if WWE’s hand wasn’t forced.

The other side of that coin, though, tells a different story. Matches and moments were sorely lacking without several thousand fans roaring in accompaniment. The North American Championship Triple Threat was as gargantuan a clash as you could imagine. It deserved the incredulous and appreciative din normally heard in the Takeover arena. To the backdrop instead of humming air vents, the bout seemed awkward and laboured. Otis Dozovic finally getting the girl, too. That almost foolproof formula in which bullies get their comeuppance was a moment deserving of celebration. Sadly, nobody else was there to make that a group event. Drew McIntyre’s coronation, as patriotically uplifting as it was for me, missed the emotional payoff that could have matched, if not toppled his Royal Rumble performance. Taking nothing away from McIntyre’s momentous victory, it felt wanting without cacophonous applause and fireworks alongside it.

Be that as it may, Wrestlemania’s 36th edition is now in the books. WWE worked hard on following through with Triple H’s mission statement on that first Smackdown that aired from behind closed doors. It soldiered on amid global uncertainty, so as to reach the most pivotal date in its calendar. In fact, and in retrospect, how fitting is it that a pirate themed ‘Mania managed to weather so many storms and still reach port? It is a testament to WWE that it was able to fare such choppy waters at all, never mind in the manner that it did.

Now, all is calm. At least as far as WWE’s fictional universe is concerned. Now should be time to take stock before sailing for its next destination…Okay, okay. I’ll try hard now to harbour any further desire to partake in nautical word play…

In my nowhere near important enough opinion, WWE should put on the brakes. If you don’t agree, ask yourself if you think things should continue in its current guise. In a time where the USA has surpassed all other countries in the world with frightening Coronavirus statistics? When lockdown guidelines from WHO and countries’ governments have been far from adhered to, and stricter measures may become mandatory? Where WWE staff themselves are testing positive for the virus, and who knows who they came in contact with and when? The questions begin to mount up with such a one sided argument, that only a select few answers are acceptable. 

Almost all other promotions worldwide have had to pull down their shutters, if only temporarily. AEW has reportedly filmed enough content to keep its episodes going for the next few weeks, at least. Unfortunately, though, smaller independent companies don’t have that luxury. Or, if they do, they will run out of fresh content sooner rather than later. Some promotions are making the most of it by bolstering streaming services until normality resumes. Ireland’s Over The Top has taken to doing watchalongs that Twitter users can join in on and keep OTT’s name strong. Insane Championship Wrestling has added previously unseen or rare shows from when the likes of Zack Sabre Jr and Mark Andrews must have been smuggled past nightclub security, so bum fluffed were their faces. This is something I personally have had an absolute ball discovering. 

Fresh content may not be coming any time soon, but the chance to look back on OTT, ICW, and many others’ successes is something WWE should have considered. Raw, Smackdown, and PPV Best Ofs. Rare footage or documentaries showcasing yesterday’s and tomorrow’s stars. Promos done over video from remote locations that help further along new or existing storylines. Even if just by a little bit. Instead, we are getting what we’ve had for roughly a month now. Personally, the novelty is in danger of wearing thin.

While other companies’ trips down memory lane are whetting the whistles of fans in preparation for a triumphant and long awaited return to regularly scheduled wrestling, WWE runs the risk of its current format becoming stale. Quickly. With a depleted roster and lack of other on-screen personalities for who knows how much longer, the feel good Springtime factor that comes with fresh faces as champions may never reach full bloom. This might only be an aesthetic problem for the company, but the business side that isn’t presented to Joe Public comes with its own issues also. 

The problem with a conglomerate such as WWE is that its modus operandi is simply to make money. In these uncertain times, financial stability is scratched and clawed over. Revenue will obviously have taken a hit without any money from live gates on the house show circuit. Yet, in the face of this, WWE has shown some form of social conscience by providing a completely free Network tier. One has to wonder how the company can stave off any further value depreciation if such freebies continue. With that in mind, unfounded reports have surfaced detailing requirements of WWE by both NBC Universal and FOX TV Networks. Apparently, an allowance exists in that only a select number of taped episodes are allowed per year. Normally, these would be reserved for the Christmas and New Year period. The overwhelming majority of episodes, however, are to be live broadcasts. 

Is WWE close to using up its already allotted amount of taped episodes, and that is why live Raws, NXTs, and Smackdowns are occurring so early in this pandemic’s shelf life? Are WWE’s contracts with said networks resultantly jeopardised if it doesn’t comply? If so, who is the real enemy here? WWE? Or those that keep the lights on? 

If we are looking purely in house, then WWE still has to hold itself accountable. By continuing to broadcast live, WWE is continuing to risk not only talent’s health, but its standing with local authorities. To the point where Jerry Lawler is unnecessarily flown in for announcing duties. Or staff are to present police with an “essential media” pass if caught flaunting lockdown guidelines. But, really, how essential are these wrestlers? Regardless of the aforementioned safety measures put in place, why are staff even asked to put theirs and their families’ health at risk? What if the worst case scenario for WWE plays out, and is hit with its own microcosm pandemic? 

Multi person ladder matches are on the horizon with Money In The Bank fast approaching. Surely all these people in the ring at the same time is a sign that WWE think little of social distancing’s necessity. Furthermore, will the MITB card even go ahead as planned, with the possibility of wrestlers not lasting till when they are required for the big show, and replacements are brought in? The list of potential problems goes on and on. There are just too many variables outwith Vince McMahon’s control to be able to wholly and successfully keep a lid on things. Creatively, financially, or from an employer’s health and safety perspective. For me, there isn’t really a positive way to spin this. It reeks of carelessness, greed, and lack of compassion for your workforce.

It is hard to tell what the world will look like in even one month’s time. However, it may still end up looking as it does now. If that is to be the case, WWE’s reputation could take a considerable hit. If it does indeed consider itself as woven into the fabric of society, as its statement for the press advises, then setting an example for others to uphold should be its main objective, rather than the one it is currently setting. For, if one domino falls and others quickly follow, it would be a public relations nightmare on the same scale as some of WWE’s worst in its history.

Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.

Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.

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