Free Advice for the WWE and WWE Network

Sorry guys, it looks like I have the pro-wrestling bug again, so you’re going to see some wrestling related content coming from me for at least a week or two. I promise it’s not going to become a pro-wrestling blog, but… the heart wants what the heart wants.

I recently took the plunge on the WWE Network. There are multiple reasons why I am interested in this new endeavour. The first being the technilogical and business ends that I addressed previously. The second… I love pro-wrestling.

I’m not ashamed and I will say it again. I love pro-wrestling, and have loved it almost my entire life. Yes, I know the winners are pre-determined. Yes, I know that Isaac Yankem wasn’t a real dentist. I know that Ted Dibiase wasn’t really a millionaire. Here’s a spoiler for you… Robert Downey Jr isn’t really Tony Stark. Entertainment is entertainment, fictional or otherwise.

I grew up sneaking in the Million Dollar Man and Rowdy Roddy Piper. My family told me not to watch wrestling, so of course that was the first thing I sought out every time I got a moment of unsupervised television watching. The people were larger than life. It was usually good against evil. People betraying each other or uniting to fight adversity. Basic human drama that as a kid, totally blew my mind. I remember having to stifle my reaction to Shawn Michaels betraying Marty Jannetty, because even though I was almost ten years old, I still knew I would get in trouble if I was caught watching wrestling.

Time moved forwards, and like many fans, I tired of Hulkamania and the Saturday morning cartoons as I got older and I stopped watching. Then came The Monday Night Wars and the Attitude era! I was hooked again! I was a teenager and there was nothing like this before! The internet was barely a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. I was titillated by the violence, the sex, the glamor! Oh, and special were the nights when I could catch a glimpse of ECW at some god awful hour on a regional sports network. This was a heady time of hormones and headlocks. Life was good.

But soon, WCW lost to WWE, and ECW just collapsed under its own ambition… and my attention was lost again as I concentrated my efforts into not completely my college degree. Sure, I would tune in for the Hardy Boyz, or The Rock and Sock connection… but by 2004, I was completely out of the wrestling habit again.

From time to time, I check back in on WWE or TNA… but it just never clicked. My passion for the sport continued though. I would watch documentaries via Netflix or DVDs I borrowed from friends. Watching so many of the matches I missed because they were ECW or because I never got to watch the Pay Per Views. Though I loved watching old tapes of Chris Jericho in WCW or Al Snow during his ECW Job Squad days, modern wrestling just didn’t have that charm.

I think John Cena seems like a great guy, and I’m sure he’s a wonderful person, but his skillset and gimmick combine to produce one of the most unlikable wrestler for me. Most mature themes have been stripped from the WWE brand, a move they openly admit to and one I can’t attack. They’ve found that filling arenas with kids that buy toys and Cena spinner belts is more profitable than trying to win me over.

BUT… to the point of this post.

You have now launched the WWE Network and have an entire 24/7 network’s worth of programing to fill. You’re off to a good start with the live pre-shows, syndicated shows, PPVs, NXT, and original programing. But it’s time for you to use this as a way to bring back your older fans while preparing for the inevitability that your current fanbase will grow up and out of your product. Last night you put on NXT Arrival, which from all the buzz I was able to take in, was very popular. So popular in fact, that it kind of destroyed your streaming service. Technical issues aside, it was a good show.

photo via wwe.com

photo via wwe.com

Now this is the point where you ask yourself, why was it successful? First off, we have to concede that part of the attraction was the fact that it was the first real live event for the WWE Network. You did a good job promoting it, and people wanted to see how the service held up. That being said, that’s not why people kept watching the show. NXT Arrival was exactly what a lot of older fans like. The “arena” wrestling that has taken over the WWE is stripped away. NXT takes place in a smaller venue, the production is scaled down without losing much of the quality. Almost every single one of the major matches were spurred on by the idea of respect. Zayn vs Cesaro put up a match of the year candidate, again. The crowd ate it up and it was much different than a lot of the matches you see on Raw or Smackdown. There was a psychology to it. A deliberate pace. It was a very mature match from two “young” wrestlers. In truth, neither is young, but rather just new to the WWE. But neither one of these guys had an over the top gimmick, yet the audience was hooked. They didn’t need pyro, a catchy theme song, or a funny hand gesture that all the kids could do on the playground. They simply put on a good match that was built up by cutting some pretty basic promos.

So why not dedicate a weekly show to just this sort of wrestling match? Smaller venues with wrestlers that don’t quite make the arena cut. Everyone knows who I’m talking about. The CM Punks, the Daniel Bryans (though Bryan is completely over right now, defying the odds), or all the other countless wrestlers who are amazingly talented but never got a shot because they weren’t big enough. Weren’t flashy enough. Didn’t have a gimmick that sold toys. There is a market for these guys, but it’s a market that you currently don’t sell too. Basically, I’m telling you to sell to me.

Now I’m not going to pay $100 for ringside tickets. I’m not going to buy a lot of toys. I may buy a couple T-shirts and a video game every couple years. I’m not the big ticket whale of a customer, but I’m a customer. I’m the guy that’s willing to pay $10 a month just to watch ECW Barely Legal, Wrestlemania III, and Royal Rumble 1997. I’m the guy willing to pay $25 to get into a small venue to watch a wrestling show that doesn’t require a big screen for me to see the action.

What I’m suggesting is a smaller show, with a smaller budget and smarter execution. Cut out the unnecessary production stuff like the Titantron, pyrotechnic displays, and such. Keep production cost down, but keep the quality of wrestling high. Perhaps skew the content a little more towards the mature. Nothing too far over the top, but enough to clearly show that you’re not marketing to kids. You already have Smackdown, Raw, Main Event, and Superstars to market to kids. No, this brand is like dark chocolate: not as sweet, but richer. And whatever you do… don’t call it ECW. MY GOD IN HEAVEN… don’t ever, ever, ever, try to openly reproduce ECW. Because you’ll never be able to reproduce ECW. Anyways, ECW didn’t work out in the end.

Perhaps call it the AWA. Some people might think it’s the “minor league” of the WWE, but we’ll know better. We’ll know it’s a streamline promotion that is targeted to a more refined wrestling fan. Give the little Cena fans somewhere to go when they outgrow Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect, while giving me a weekly show I can look forward to.

So what do you say WWE? Can you give me a show I want to watch? A show my friends want to watch? The show we deserve? The ball’s in your court. I know you can do it!

Say something... I dare you.