Recently, with the WWE issuing an edict to its wrestlers for not only forbidding them to use monetizable social media platforms like Cameo and Twitch, but overtaking them and getting a cut, the situation has made me think about what the WWE truly is: a marketing company. It is this format where over the years, my overall interest in the company has declined to the point where I barely keep up with news compared to my earlier years where I was obsessed.
The reason for writing this post is to sort through and analyze this transformation as well as my own distaste for what the WWE has become (as well as the general atmosphere of pro-wrestling).
Recently, I had this realization that companies like Taco Bell were not really in the business of food. Taco Bell itself at this point really more is a marketing company. While it makes its money through selling “food”, the reality is that the company sells people ads. The “food” that Taco Bell produces really shouldn’t legally be called food any longer. It’s just various permutations of ingredients that people in a boardroom can assemble, sell cheaply and easily at these chains.
From this epiphany came the connection to what the WWE has been since the late 90s: a marketing company. Wrestling has long been lost as the focus as the selling piece for the company. Instead, it sells the presentation of things, where wrestling itself is just a subset of the products from its umbrella.
The reason I pinpoint the late 90s as the key turning point in the overall acceptance as its pivot in becoming a marketing company is that more than ever it had truly embraced promos with catch phrases as a way to sell more merchandise.
Sure, the WWE had been a place where even before, it was always about presentation. If anything, Vince McMahon, I believe, hated the traditional view of pro-wrestling and did not see the regional promotions as his competition but Disney and possibly Hollywood. His vision always has been of the Vaudeville nature with loudness, bright lights, extravagant costumes, fireworks, etc. to sell the experience to fans, even when talent really had no talent at all.
But I feel it was a more subconscious effort for a while until WCW started to knock them off the ladder and threatened them internally from a financial point of view (i.e. Turner’s big bucks) whereas the WWE of the future would fully embrace doing anything to effectively brainwash people into continuing to believe their product was superior.
What the WWE had done was put far more effort into production and carefully centered things to elevate their key players into super heroes even more with characters like the Rock, Steve Austin, HHH, Mankind and the Undertaker. Their matches, while good, still were not at the level of athleticism of many up-and-comers like the cruiserweights nor Japan (which was beginning to receive a lot more international recognition with the explosion of the internet). Nonetheless, we are still led to believe that certain matches are the best of all time by ignoring everything else and again highlighting only the history the WWE cares about.
And while I’ve come to appreciate those wrestlers (especially guys like The Rock, whom I did not care for originally), I felt an implicit disgust at what the WWE was throwing at me, much in the same way radio airplay with the top 40s would constantly pelt me with Madonna every 15 minutes. In short, I felt something disingenuous about what I was seeing and I knew it was the attempt at manipulating me.
As time passed, that manipulation has grown worse to the point where it’s become impossible to tolerate anymore. The interviews are far too verbose, bland and meandering. The so-called characters aren’t characters but actors trying to play a generic form that the marketing people think the audience will buy and the wrestling itself lacks the emotional impact compared to stuff I’d watch in the 80s or mid 90s. And I cannot truly fault the wrestlers at the heart of this situation.
I know some people point out that it’s the Hollywood writers that is the problem. Not really in my estimation. There’s a job and they have a role to fill. The real problem is the thesis of what the WWE actually has become.
The thing with COVID-19 wiping out arenas is that its made me realize how bad the WWE is without the live audience. At this point, outside of their video packages, they are not much better than AEW when it comes to the events. I made a few attempts at watching their current stuff and it was utterly painful, even with people I normally enjoy.
After that I found that a few of the wrestlers had joined Twitch. Since I’ve been a huge Twitch supporter for a while (despite a bunch of idiotic decisions they have made in recent years most likely due to them selling out to Amazon), seeing the pro-wrestlers show up on Twitch and interacting with fans I find very cool.
Then of course, the WWE policy makers rear their ugly head and say we’re taking over like some bad parody of the NWO in WCW. I think once McMahon learned how much a few of these people were making through these social media platforms, he needed to get his desperate, cheap hands in the pot.
It’s pretty sad because it just makes me think that McMahon is a leech. He might’ve given stuff back but how much he sucks from an industry that made him into a billionaire is pretty disgusting. I know recently Animal died and I kept thinking about the steroid scandals that somehow McMahon has been able to wash his hands away.
The whole situation is very disturbing to me because I witnessed people like Paige, Zelina, Asuka, etc. build up their presence on their own. Sure, part of their success is because of their fame from the WWE. But it’s a symbiotic relationship where one still depends on the other. And with Paige and Zelina in particular, they have been really giving to the Twitch community. If anything they make for incredibly positive ambassadors for the WWE and act as a great crossover into the gaming community.
What I fear about the situation is how these performers not only will get ripped off from their earnings (that the WWE really shouldn’t be entitled to) but that we’ll get more bad storylines. Like the one with Zelina’s home invasion. While I get that it was meant to help the storyline along, I really just want to see the wrestlers be themselves when I watch them on Twitch.
Again, this just boils back to the fact that WWE is a marketing company. They are only about the image and nothing else. It’s stupid too because they broke their own kayfabe a long time ago but have this perpetual existential crisis since the moment Bret Hart knocked Vince out.
Then you have AEW. Now, they aren’t complete saints neither and don’t boast the best stories, etc. But the foundation here and there looks good. More importantly, it gives both the fans and wrestlers a separate choice. Like watching Miro play Among Us, he must know things were right in leaving the WWE because now he can be free to do his own thing.
The thing is that like Microsoft, the real asset that the WWE has at the moment is their war chest (meaning deep coffers, despite McMahon reportedly being a cheap ass). Given the way talent is treated and the cuts they’ve made with the COVID-19 thing, it makes you wonder just how deep that war chest is.
More importantly, despite everyone having this huge amount of confidence in the WWE and Vince, the truth is that they’ve made a LOT of bad plays in recent years, especially the XFL which was pretty costly (and ironically not really Vince’s fault). But being able to respond to the current times might not be what they are good at.
I think Vince just knows what Vince knows as being reliable in his business philosophy. But he doesn’t seem to be flexible and has surrounded himself with pandering sycophants. His ultimate strength (stubbornness) is also his ultimate weakness (unwilling to admit defeat). Because of this and the way business is going, will we see the WWE continue? There’s been a lot of falling giants recently and being able to rapidly adapt to these challenges is what will allow for survivors.
Personally, I think the old school Machiavellian style management of the WWE will eventually devour itself. I feel that those with the mindset of a Trump-like business demeanor will ultimately face a fate of criticism by all but the staunchest of supporters. But as we’ve seen with our so-called president, even he has fallen because of an inability to admit failure.