Vince McMahon is back! Are you not entertained?
His somewhat predictable return is possibly in efforts to sell the company. Because dammit, WWE simply cannot exist without Vinnie Mac; and if it does, it needs to be under an entirely different corporate umbrella, right?
Everyone is talking about who McMahon might sell WWE to. However, few seem to be discussing whether or not selling WWE is even a good idea.
A large non-wrestling conglomerate could do wonders for the product. The days of “independent contractors” could come to an end under new ownership. The exposure from a sale to a company like NBC or Disney would be enormous, even compared to current WWE standards.
More money, more exposure, more celebrities, and a safer product. What’s not to like?
Plenty; if you’re a wrestling fan. Here are a five reasons the sale of WWE would be bad for the product.
A Shift Away From Scripted Content
Scripted television is slowly getting the boot. It’s not just WarnerMedia/Discovery that are in the process of cutting ties with a chunk of their scripted content. Since 2020, Paramount and NBC (who owns USA Network) have all cut back a little on scripted content.
And it’s simple: It costs money to create high quality scripted shows. Networks are being more choosy than ever now what scripted content to invest in.
If we compare brands, All Elite Wrestling is seen by WarnerMedia/Discovery generally as “sports” and not scripted content. As they regularly rank right under the NBA or NHL for ratings; their spot is very safe. AEW presents as a sports-based product with an in-ring focus on the wrestling itself.
However, when it comes to WWE — they are very much not a sports-based product. We all know WWE has a team of writers, and the focus is usually what happens outside of the ring, sometimes more so, than what happens inside. In this context, WWE would be considered scripted content.
The bigger question is this: Will there be a day where a company like Comcast, Disney, Netflix, or even Fox, decide that WWE is among the more costly scripted content shows and scale back on WWE’s resources?
To some extent, this may be far fetched given WWE’s size and reach; but how many of us predicted McMahon would come back at all, much less to sell his own company?
Nevertheless, this is something to keep an eye on.
The Safest Wrestling Product In the World
The WWE product is already a bit sanitized, as we all know. Since they are publicly traded, there is a tendency to please their shareholders and investors first; and their fans second. It’s just business, man.
However, this would possibly increase ten-fold under new ownership.
A family-friendly corporation like Disney or Comcast would likely take little to no risks when it comes to its content. Anything remotely racy, “extreme”, or disturbing, would likely be nixed from the product.
Like football, professional wrestling is historically violent in nature. It’s a brutal dance set on a grand stage in front of thousands. Ever since going TV-PG, the WWE product has long been formulaic and meticulous in its safe approach to the craft. But under new corporate ownership, there’s a chance the product simply turns into a kids’ program.
This remains to be seen depending on the new ownership, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Corporate Creative Control
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a musical genius. I am happy he is amongst wrestling fans, as musical theater and professional wrestling actually share a lot in common. However, if a company like Disney would buy out WWE, how long before celebrities such as Miranda start to make regular appearances on the show?
How long before the company that bought WWE become just as much of a focal point as the WWE itself?
Furthermore, we know any buyer would insert some level of creative control. Whose to say that potential pushes are stopped, creative plans scrapped, and talent is misused because say Fox or Amazon wants their “chosen” talent on top?
Instead of Kevin Owens or Finn Balor in deserving spots, they are replaced with Bad Bunny, Logan Paul, and those well-known long-time ratings pops from WWE’s past (Cena, Lesnar, Goldberg, etc.).
How soon before Fox, NBC, Netflix, or Disney continually insert their own branded celebrities in larger spots on the show simply because they can? Or furthermore, deciding that notable talents aren’t worthy of top spots simply due to one’s perceived analytics or TV ratings?
It’s hard for me to believe that a non-wrestling corporation can come in and not have say in the creative process, much less do it with the true hearts of wresting fans in mind. Ultimately, this could lead to a watered-down product that reflects more of who bought it, than what it historically has been.
There is No Safety Net
Simply put: There is nothing stopping a would-be buyer from scrapping the WWE entirely if operations become too expensive. It’s not as if people weren’t watching WCW Nitro towards its end. Ratings in 2001 had greatly dipped, but still decent for its time.
However, those in charge at AOL/Time Warner simply decided that WCW was no longer worth the hassle, especially with a shrinking profit margin. With Ted Turner out, swift action was made to cancel Nitro and put the company up for sale. Non-wrestling heads were in charge of a wrestling company that they cared little about.
While unlikely, as the WWE brand is massive and well-known globally, a buyout would still come without any safety nets in place.
Without a true experienced wrestling mind, or even a diehard wresting fan at the head of the company, a corporation may eventually decide on what is best for business, and not necessarily what is best for wrestling.
Remember, WarnerMedia does not own AEW. Say what you want about Tony Khan, but he is a passionate wrestling fan, who has experienced help, and no reliance on a corporation above him other than inking a TV deal. Leaving WWE in the hands of corporate heads with little to no passion for the wrestling business leaves the future in a vulnerable place.
Can They Grow The Fan Base?
-So many fans left the WWE since 2002 that enough existed to help create and support AEW’s continued existence.
-The median age for a WWE fan is 55.
-Ratings and attendance have been on a steady decline, or have plateaued, since 2002.
-AEW’s attendance and average TV rating increased in 2022.
My point is that WWE really isn’t growing any new, dedicated fans. You can scoff at the “wrestling neckbeards” all you want — but the diehard wrestling fans are the glue to what keeps this sport together.
This passionate fan base has been on the pulse of the evolution of pro wresting for decades now, dating all the way back to 1990s ECW.
Creating hardcore fans is how wrestling survives. Will a large corporation know to appeal to these fans? Sure, Comcast could throw WWE Raw on the schedule for the 13 Ulica Network in Poland (under NBC Universal’s umbrella), gain a new audience by default, and they say “grew fans”. WWE has been expanding globally for sometime now.
But what does that do for the home base?
Wrestling minds have an idea of how to appeal to, and attempt to grow, a wrestling fan base. Will the CEOs of potential buyers know how to do so, or just assume that all wrestling fans are WWE fans that never go away?
BONUS: Vince McMahon Will Be Put Back in Creative Control
This is the one that may hurt the most.
We all know that McMahon has been out of touch with the wrestling industry for years, if not longer. However, this is all Vince knows. His entire life has been wrapped in everything WWE, as well as NDA’s to cover up his awful history of sexual harassment.
Now that the former is out in plain view, what does he have left? Of course he’s going to find a way to put himself back into creative. It wouldn’t surprise me as part of the terms for any sale, McMahon must be put at the head of creative, or in some level of importance.
Vince popping back into the creative picture will continue the downward trend WWE has experienced for well over a decade now. It will also potentially keep away current fans from waiting to see how the product currently plays out with Papa H in charge.
Like his good friend Donald Trump, his ego supersedes literally everything else (including the many hard truths about his own shortcomings). He simply will not let go; and this is bad news if you’re a WWE fan that is excited about the current product.
Does This Feel Right?
There exists a certain stigma about professional wrestling. It’s not something that can be wrapped up in a neat corporate package. It’s an ever-changing artform for a unique fan base; and like many fandoms, you either “get it” or you don’t.
I’m hard-pressed to believe that many of these potential buyers will “get it” in the same way as many of these fans do.
Are we ready for the company to be sold to a conglomerate that likely cares more for how much profit can be made off of the sport than the memories made from a superb wrestling show? This potential sale sets a precedence that wrestling is nothing more than a commodity, rather than a historic pastime.
When Bushiroad bought New Japan in 2012, they lucked out. Busihroad President Takaaki Kidani is a legitimate wrestling fan. Can we be so confident that the same would happen stateside? I simply don’t feel confident that this would be the case for a company like Fox, Comcast, or Disney. And if WWE is in future trouble of any kind, it hurts the sport overall, whether you’re a WWE fan or not.
Of course, this is a “wait and see” scenario, but it’s one that I am a little cynical towards as it plays out.
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