You’re not likely to see Vincent Kennedy McMahon red-faced at the checkout of his local supermarket being told his card has declined any time soon, but there’s no doubt there will be some tightening of the purse strings. Despite fourth quarter results that were better than expected the bottom line is WWE is losing money. It is not time to panic yet though as the one major factor going in WWE’s favour is….Vincent Kennedy McMahon. It isn't just his on-screen “Mr McMahon” persona that has considerable “testicular fortitude”, the decision to take a profitable multi-million dollar business model and turn it on its head was a decision many would not have dared to do. But this is the sort of non-conventional thinking we have come to expect from the businessman who didn't just beat his competition but like a prehistoric hunter clubbed it to death and carried it home on his shoulders. But some things do need to change.
For WWE Network to surpass it’s one million subscribers and hit the sort of numbers Vince would like to see on his balance sheet, strong decisions will need to be made creatively to attract the more casual fans. We tolerate what is, at times, utter nonsense on Raw, Smackdown and PPV events, and pay £9.99 a month for the privilege because we are hardcore fans, and like an old fashioned marriage we stick with it through thick and thin no matter how much a divorce seems appealing at times. But if Mr McMahon wants to entice a new breed of subscribers, the kind of person that doesn't know when The Bezerker’s birthday is or what brand of coffee IRS drinks and just watches Raw and the occasional PPV, then WWE needs to up its game with a consistently good and more varied product. I've no doubt Mr McMahon intends to shake things up and here are my thoughts as to how he can improve the product.
Firstly a decision needs to be made on which belts are going to be in-play, define who competes for each belt and then implement a long term strategy as to how those belts are competed for. In the last 6 months the Intercontinental, US and Tag Team titles (many would also include in that list the WWE and Divas titles) have all been mistreated or badly utilised. Sometimes it just seems like decisions are being made spur of the moment with no long term plan in place and as a result the belts have been devalued to the point where they are forgotten (hardly anyone noticed there was no Intercontinental title match at Royal Rumble – one of the biggest PPV events of the year).
I am hopeful that with Dean Ambrose’s passionate pursuit of the Intercontinental title it is almost back on the right path after the critical article I wrote a couple of weeks ago (although I agree with this piece in that the ladder match at WrestleMania isn't the way to go). As “The Lunatic Fringe” has recently said, before the title lost prestige it used to be the title adorned by the “best wrestler” and if we have the likes of Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Bad News Barrett and Daniel Bryan competing for it and wanting that honour of “best wrestler” (not just have the title changes be a side attraction of a ridiculous storyline) it could even be competed for in the main event of a PPV once again. Title matches need to be 30 mins and contain a good mixture of technical skills and high impact fast moves and not rely on gimmick matches. Think Chris Benoit vs Kurt Angle, Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels or Eddie Guerrero vs Christ Jericho (not so much The Great Khali).
I think there is also room for the United States title, especially as it may not always be appropriate to have a WWE title match at a PPV. Again I think WWE needs to look to the past to enhance the prestige of the title and for inspiration as to who should be competing for it. The title has been held by some of the toughest competitors in wrestling history, Harley Race, Terry Funk, Roddy Piper and many more right up to modern day warriors like Sheamus and Rusev. Whereas the Intercontinental title would be more about showcasing the best technical wrestlers, the US championship should be re-launched as the belt held by the “toughest S.O.B.” in the company and the matches should be more about intense physical competition and strength where only the strong survive. Power bombs, power slams and clotheslines that take your head off.
Having clear definitions for these belts would increase their value, make it much easier for the writers to build coherent story-lines and feuds and we can actually have the belts at the centre of the story-lines rather than as an afterthought. People would pursue different belts for different reasons and therefore an ex-WWE champion challenging for the US or IC belt wouldn't have to appear as a drop to the mid-card. Although the WWE title will remain the pinnacle, matches for the three belts would now sit at the top of the card, each with their own meaning and reason for being there.
As I mentioned here if we remove The Authority and their excessive airtime and instead invest some time in the tag team division and developing their characters, give the Diva’s more airtime to develop more complex story lines and matches and we will have one hell of a show!
Which takes me nicely onto the shows, specifically the PPV events. Things need freshening up a bit and the gimmick match themed PPV events need to be scrapped as it has rendered the matches meaningless. A “no holds barred” match should happen at the height of a feud when two superstars want to brutalise each other more than ever before in ways that should be illegal, not just because the PPV is called Extreme Rules and they have to. Nobody wants to see the same gimmick matches one after the other in the same show. Themes of the old “In Your House” events should not be set in stone year after year but instead gimmick matches should happen organically with wrestlers and writers having the creative freedom to decide if “Hell In A Cell”, "TLC" or “I Quit” is the more appropriate match at any given time.
Royal Rumble is the first event of the year and should feature every title being defended and the Rumble itself, nothing more needed. The main event for WrestleMania is now decided so for the February PPV lets do something different. How about play-offs to decide who gets all the other title shots at WrestleMania (qualifiers could take place on Raw/Smackdown). Continuing with the tournament theme King of the Ring needs to return early in the summer and the tournament should take up the entire PPV, not just a few rushed matches before the main events. The prize being made number one contender for the WWE title with a match at the next PPV. I would also like to see Survivor Series return to the old format of pure 8-man tag elimination matches with no title matches. A stipulation could be made such as every survivor who doesn't have a belt already will be involved in a title match at the December PPV. So there would be 9 events per year with every title defended and 3 tournament-type events to mix it up a bit. Ok it isn't a detailed plan yet but still it is more interesting proposition than another year of going through the motions in Hell In a Cell in October and TLC in December which is exactly what we have to look forward to again in 2015.
In part two I'm going to look at what Mr McMahon can add to the WWE Network content to attract more viewers, amongst a few other things.