Complaining is not conversation.
This is the phrase WWE has moved to have copyrighted in July of 2021 and this speaks volumes to the company’s perception of it’s audience today. We are entering a new era for product engagement here and the reason for it boils down to two simple words, damage control. Damage control from a company that is too successful to accept its problems. Damage control from a company that is too big to fail. Damage control from a company that generates so much money it believes it’s actions should not be questioned.
Whatever campaign stems from this will likely be as short lived as WWE’s “BE A STAR” campaign or their “Stand up for WWE” campaign in recent years. In their defence, there is something in their latest catchphrase. Complaining is not a conversation if you just voice negativity or don’t drill into your points. Saying “this sucks” is absolutely not a conversation if you’re not being specific, so in the spirit of this message let’s try to have a conversation.
Rather than simply complain about the declining quality of Monday nights I think it’s better to have the conversation about bigger issues in the company right now. Starting with a topic still close to many people’s hearts, how about we dive into company firings of talent during a global pandemic? WWE is the biggest wrestling/sports entertainment company on the globe, this is an absolute undeniable fact. They are also the only major company to cut talent during the pandemic for no clear reason (violations, abuse or contracts concluding is another story). WWE fired over 50 wrestlers (not counting backstage people) during a global crisis for “budgetary” reasons. This was done over 3 house cleaning sessions during the single most profitable period in the company’s near 70 year history. WWE tells its staff they are a family. They present themselves internally and externally as a place where everyone can be close to each other, the CEO has an open door to discuss things and everyone is treated equally, like a family. Maybe it’s because I’m from outside the US but this sales pitch just stinks of somebody trying to trick you into thinking having a union or employee rights is a bad idea. WWE is none of those things, it functions as a business primarily among all else.
Companies that struggled significantly more than WWE during the COVID era, companies like ROH, didn’t drop people from their contracts. IMPACT and AEW actually went above and beyond and brought in new talent during this time with AEW utilising Dark as some way to keep young talent developing. NJPW, a company whose country is struggling immensely with COVID still, continued to pay the salary of it’s wrestlers while they couldn’t run shows for months. Over 50 people were not let go because the budget was tight during WWE’s record breaking period but they have successfully made these people think this wasn’t just an excuse on their end. Rather than complain, let’s have the conversation and drill into why this really happened? An opportunity to trim the fat? Cutting what you can to look like your cash flow is better to investors? Or simply moving to sell the company? Any insight on that would be fantastic and the talent themselves deserve to know the real reason WWE put them out of work (especially when in some cases when they could have furloughed them) and left them unable to provide for their families.
I suppose when you’re in a situation where you face no repercussions, you feel as though you’re untouchable. Sticking with money, let’s have a conversation about one of their biggest cash injections. How’s that Saudi money treating WWE? WWE have been trying to push narratives of them giving women a spotlight but are beyond happy to accept 20 – 40 million dollars twice a year for the next 10 years to betray the women they claim to elevate. When WWE had a shot of Carmella during a spotlight promo at one of these events, the audience jeered and booed her for being shown in a stadium, a place where women are not allowed. This showed just how little the people paying WWE really care for a vital part of the roster and no amount of propaganda films made by WWE showing how “progressive” Saudi Arabia is can change that. Showing a woman driving a car and saying Saudi Arabia is coming a long way has no place on a WWE show and quite frankly, is something to be embarrassed for promoting. “Progress” to that degree at this point in society is far from something worth celebrating. After some backlash, the Saudi’s agreed to a brief women’s match (where the women had to completely alter their appearance and gear) in an attempt to win some PR back home. WWE can tell you this is the first time women have ever wrestled in this region of the world all they like (and they did) but TNA had Angelina Love & Velvet Sky take on Madison Rayne & Sarita in Abu Dhabi 9 years earlier in 2010. You can’t claim to be the first to do something when it’s already been done by your competitor but I guess when it comes to the Saudi deal it’s easier to ignore the details. Just like how easy it is to ignore that half the talent aren’t welcome there, how running a show in cooperation with a government who just killed somebody working with one of your country’s most prolific publications might be a significant conflict, how the live feed to the show can be cut if you do something they don’t like or how many of the talent have vocally said they feared for their lives after being held up on a plane despite the story WWE so heavily pushes. Again, none of this is just a complaint, but people want to have conversations about this. So let’s talk no?
Much like the belief that “complaining is not conversation”, how about we examine a phrase coined by the CBO of the company, Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie said in 2015 that “Philanthropy is the future of marketing” and that this is the way brands will “win”. Some philiathopic activities that fans aren’t allowed to complain about are the annual Warrior Award, the exploitation of Connor Michalek to create a charity or the alignment with Susan G Komen despite their many many controversies. People complain that WWE promotes the memory of The Ultimate Warrior by attaching his name to an award for people who were passionate, hard working and underappreciated. To many, the memory of a deeply vocal homophobic (allegedly closetted) man is not the kind of person you should be associating with people who’s work you want to recognize as worthy of praise. Pick almost anyone else. Literally almost anyone else would be fine. Similarly, the choice to give this inaugural award to Connor Michalek and establish a charity through the company in his name is something that doesn’t sit right with a lot of people. Any child’s death is something that is going to cause pain to people but for him to be propped up posthumously so WWE can create their own charity around him, dedicating resources and paying people to run it instead of donating directly to existing services annually, is a very very surreal move. It is, however, philanthropic marketing at its absolute best. If children get help, resources and potentially can be saved from cancer as a result of this work it’s fantastic, but maybe we could talk about just how much more money might be able to be given annually if the WWE just partnered with existing charities instead of founding their own. So long as it’s a reputable charity, I don’t think anyone would mind. WWE’s type of preference for charities though isn’t about doing good work, it’s about getting the most brand awareness out there so they seem like they’re more than just a wrestling company.
The partnership with Susan G Komen has always been a red flag. While it draws eyes to breast cancer awareness, Susan G Komen are well known for being accused of
“pinkwashing” – existing more to function as a PR company than a charity. To go into this would be another column in itself but there’s plenty of information out there publicly about this. The easiest way to make you think about it is WWE’s preferred type of charity is one that has a CEO making over $600,000 annually. All of these things are the types of issues people have complained about but the company refuses to address.
That leads me to the final topic here. It is certainly the least important of the issues but it’s the one thing WWE doesn’t want you to complain about more than anything. The thing they are most ashamed of and are desperate to sweep under the rug. No, it’s not the exploitation of women in the 90s. No, it’s not about allegations of sexual misconduct over the decades. It’s not about Saudi Arabia deals or lying to talent that are being fired, it’s much much more shameful than that. The thing WWE fear being talked about more than anything right now, and in my eyes the reason why they’re copyrighting this phrase, is the horrific and terrifying idea that they invested time and money into NXT for it to not succeed weekly in a head to head viewership battle.
From Dec 2014 – Dec 2019 NXT was the pride and joy of WWE’s programming. Not only did they operate as a successful feeder center for talent, run stories independently and get to be more wrestling focused but they were a commercial success too. In so many ways, this was the wrestling fans’ show and you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect successor to FCW’s developmental program. However, the success of NXT was also the downfall of it, especially when WWE failed to sign The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega. Obviously, nobody knows if they would have gone to NXT (and you’d have to imagine they wouldn’t) but this one failure set wheels in motion that couldn’t be stopped.
When AEW was announced, NXT was forced to become more than it was ever intended to be and in the process, its spirit was killed. NXT used to be the benchmark product to those long serving die-hard fans. However, what happened in September 2019 marked the beginning of a radical change of programming. NXT was announced to be moving off the WWE network to the USA Network in September of 2019. “Surprisingly”, the NXT weekly show would run at the same time as AEW’s Dynamite, starting 2 weeks before AEW launched. WWE at the time (and to this day) claim this was not an effort to counter program AEW despite them literally launching a t-shirt that said “follow that MF”. It was a rather pathetic and transparent approach at trying to big-league fans into becoming invested in NXT and not looking in at AEW. We know how the head to heads played out over the next 2 years but WWE, because they were consistently losing, kept insisting they didn’t see anything as competition, refused to acknowledge they were head to head and went so far as to say that they were in that time slot first and if anyone should move it should be AEW. Rather than be open and admit they may have made a mistake or accept some error on their part they instead just simply tried to pretend nothing they had said or done had ever happened. They don’t want anything that happened in NXT to be thought about, examined, critiqued or complained about but instead would rather you either shut up and watch what it is now or stop watching altogether.
After a year of hot-shotting angles, titles and throwing bigger names on the show, mercificully NXT is now running unopposed on tv and slowly getting back to what it was best at. This decision being made by the USA Network to move them off Wednesday nights might in fact have saved NXT from WWE themselves but at the very least, the program is back in a
recovery position. The frustrations and distancing from higher ups WWE in regards to all of this has been nothing short of surreal and is still ongoing today. The moment where the cracks really showed though was when we got HHH’s reaction to a simple question about what happens to NXT talent. Video/audio of this still exists from the June 2021 on a Media call for NXT Takeover in your House (20 minutes in if you’re looking for it anywhere on Youtube) where he erupts at fans wanting storytelling and a consistent program. HHH went as far as to say “It’s funny to me that everyone is so worried about where everyone is going to go or land or how it’ll play out long-term. How about watch it? Do you like it or not like it? Watch it or don’t and stop trying to figure out where everything goes.” and that it is fans who ruin the show for themselves by wanting to be engaged in what happens next.It is not the company’s presentation or storytelling that is at fault. Essentially, the message was “complaining is not a conversation, watch what we give you, like what we give you or tune out”. I guess he’s not overly concerned that almost 300,000 people on average have tuned out each year for the past 5 years.
Complaining is not a conversation to WWE because they do not want it. They simply do not care. They will force whatever their audience of one sees as “the right decision” down your throat and expect you to be thankful for it. If you dare to critique anything they push out or anything they do, they simply do not want your eyes on their product. International deals, shady business practices or simply running a product into the ground – your opinion does not matter to them. The question you deserve to ask yourself is simply this, do you want to invest your time and money into a company that treats you this way? Do you want to invest your time and money into a product that will still enhance or fabricate your reaction to things if you’re there in the stadium? Do you want to invest your time and money into a company that works in entertainment and outright does not want the people it’s meant to entertain to voice their opinions?
As we move into a wrestling world where crowds are finally returning, my honest and humble opinion is simply this. It is the best time in a decade to be a wrestling fan right now and there are so many viable alternative products out there. Try watching a different company this month. Just one show from any company because I can tell you, they actually give a shit about what the people watching think. They actually care about whether or not you are entertained, engaged and most of all, if they’re doing things right or wrong. AEW airs on Wednesday nights, Impact on Thursdays, ROH have something on every weekend and both NWA and NJPW have some major events coming up in the coming weeks. Invest your time, money and energy this week on a product that cares about your opinion. WWE may believe that complaining is not conversation but burying your head in the sand when you hear something you don’t like isn’t how anyone should operate either. If they don’t want viewers to be vocal about what they are invested in with their business, people should take HHH’s own advice and simply stop watching it until they realise they are the ones causing the problems.
Thanks for reading and if you want to share your thoughts, get into a discussion or hear about future content from me first, follow me on twitter @IEZephyr.