That's My Story and I'm Sticking To It - Looking at the WWE expansion

In theory, a 24/7 wrestling channel should be a major fan's dream and during the peak of the pro wrestling boom in 1998, a similar concept would've generated millions because of the supply/demand ratio at the time.

Nearly two decades later, World Wrestling Entertainment is the undisputed champion of the industry and after years of meticulous negotiating, they own the video library of nearly every major wrestling promotion that existed in the United States. As a result, more footage is available to more fans than any other time in history, but is that too much of a good thing?

After the brand extension, more pay-per-views were added to the schedule and as of now, there's usually a PPV event every 2-3 weeks, which has already watered down the concept of those shows being perceived as "special events." Since Smackdown was moved to Tuesday to air live, a key if the perception of the show is going to be considered near the level of Raw, if there's a pay-per-view that week then it translates to 8-9 hours of wrestling in the span of just a few days. At some point, it's too much for the viewer to digest and angles begin to blend together or at least don't stand out as much as they could've. Between pay-per-views, Raw, and Smackdown, is there really a demand for that much live wrestling content?

Let's be honest here, while the WWE makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, pro wrestling isn't as relevant in pop culture as it once was, something that the ratings reflect. Sports entertainment isn't trendy the way it was a decade and a half ago. Don't get me wrong, the WWE is a successful company, in part because they usually maximize the potential revenue from the core audience, but there isn't an overwhelming demand for more content. Along with several hours of live programming each week, the WWE network streams a 24 hour schedule, including special events such as the Stone Cold podcast. At some point, the average viewer has enough wrestling for the week and tunes into something else.

Essentially, it seems like WWE brass could be in danger of unintentionally over saturating their own product because with the amount of content available, viewers might simply pick and chose what they want to watch before they channel surface to another genre. Sure, there are those diehard fans within the wrestling bubble, but the general public, which makes up the bulk of the WWE's business doesn't necessarily demand endless hours of sports entertainment. A network subscription might sell with the affordable price for the pay-per-view, but is that same consumer watching weekly? Depending on the competition on a particular night, pro wrestling ratings are sometimes sluggish and with more entertainment options than any other time in history, it becomes even more critical for the effectiveness of angles to be maximized to maintain viewership, but again, is that realistically possible with several hours of live programming each week?

As simplistic as it sounds, pro wrestling is up against very formidable competition for ratings right now and with a revolving door of various rematches often booked, it's difficult to create the "must see" atmosphere for a particular contest. The MLB postseason provided compelling drama for the better part of a month and the world series garnered major ratings. The NFL season, despite being down slightly compared to previous years, still poses opposition to PPVs or Raw depending on the teams scheduled. The TV dramas such as The Walking Dead also compete with pay-per-views in terms of live viewers. Obviously, the network has the on-demand feature to allow fans to watch at their convenience, but the point is the product is still not being perceived as "must see" in that scenario, which could transition to the TV broadcast.

I don't have the answer for how to make the current product more of a weekly draw, and as mentioned, I don't know if it's possible with several hours of live programming each week. Some have suggested that Raw be scaled back to the traditional two-hour format, a logical point because it would package the show better without some of the potential flat points during the production, but the expansion to three hours a few years ago didn't have much to do with the actual content of the show. The USA network requested that Raw add another hour, as it generates more ad revenue and it also provides an additional hour of steady ratings for them. Basically, the additional hour was strictly a business move, not an attempt to add more substance to the product.

Essentially, more wrestling doesn't automatically mean better wrestling. If the causal viewer decides to limit the amount of sports entertaining programming they watch, it can lead to stagnant numbers that will reflect a stagnant product. Again, if a well booked angle gets lost in the shuffle of the expansion of WWE shows, how effective is it? Keep in mind, there's NXT weekly, and a cruiser weight show to be added soon, both of which are in some ways used to introduce or further talent on the main roster. Is the casual viewer going to watch all those shows?

Another aspect of the WWE being a corporation is the stock price, a number that can determine the estimated value of the company at any given time. That stock price, while often kept stable by the diehard demographic, is mostly determined by how many of the general public are spending money on the product. As harsh as it might sound, the most loyal fans don't usually determine WWE's rate of main stream success, as a corporation, the priority is to reach the main stream demographic of causal fans. If the product remains watered down, it's remains to be seen how or if management generates more viewers for the shows than the roughly 3.1 rating that they average right now. By the way, that's a solid number for a weekly TV show, but when you consider that the peak of the Attitude era had 10 million viewers a week, there's obviously the potential for an increase for the ratings.

The bottom line is, the combination of over saturation and lack of angles that generate a buzz around the product creates a ceiling on the level of success the promotion achieves. Granted, the company is profitable and without any legitimate competition, there's no risk of another group getting a piece of the pie so it might not make a major difference, but as a business, it's not ideal to have an artificial limit of success.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail:drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com
You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta


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