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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Are You Listening, WWE?

Earlier today WWE announced that WrestleMania 29 was the highest-grossing event in the company’s history. And while WWE executives and stoc holders may be thrilled with the record-breaking revenue WrestleMania brought in, it is of little comfort to the scores of fans who were left underwhelmed by the event. 

Yes, I am quite late in weighing in on the April 7 event, which I attended in person. And maybe that’s a good thing. Perspectives always benefit from the passage of time, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the show, I now understand why many fans did not.

My first reaction when I read the litany of negative reviews was, “What were they expecting?” WrestleMania 29 went almost exactly as I thought it would: John Cena beat the Rock. The Undertaker’s streak remained intact. And, all-in-all, the night’s matches went about as I figured they would.

But maybe that’s just it. The problem isn’t that WWE gave fans what they expected; it’s that what fans expected and what they wanted were two different things.

As vehemently opposed as I am to the Vince Russo booking philosophy of unpredictability for unpredictability’s sake, WWE also can’t stubbornly tell the stories it wants to tell—as logical as they may be—if the fans simply don’t want to hear them.

I’ve often made the argument that, just like in all storytelling, the predictable outcome is often the right one. Good conquers evil, the guy gets the girl, and they all live happily ever after. And while that argument remains sound, there’s one thing I didn’t consider: It’s not enough to simply tell a story logically. Fans have to be interested in that story to begin with. And that’s where WWE has a big problem. Never was that more apparent than the night after WrestleMania, when 16,000 fans inside the IZOD Center absolutely refused to go along with the storylines that WWE was offering. They cheered passionately when Ziggler, a rulebreaker, dishonorably captured the World championship. They sang along with the theme music for Fandango, another bad guy. And they heckled supposed fan favorites Randy Orton and Sheamus throughout their match.

And then, of course, there’s WWE's biggest conundrum of all: the fact that its number-one hero, John Cena, gets the loudest boos every night.

Clearly, there’s an unrest among many WWE fans that has grown too big to simply ignore. This isn’t to say that WWE should acquiesce to short-sighted and unrealistic fantasy bookers whose ideal WrestleMania would have included Ziggler cashing in, Punk ending the Streak, and Cena turning heel.

But it is to say that WWE should do a better job of listening to its fans. I think most of those fans aren’t asking for a complete overhaul of WWE, but rather just a sincere effort to mix things up a bit.

In truth, WWE is doing a much better job at keeping its product fresh than it was just a few years ago, when Cena faced Randy Orton in nearly every WWE pay-per-view main event. Relatively new acts like The Shield and Ryback have been featured prominently, and there has been a steady stream of talent debuting on the major brands.
But WWE shouldn’t rest on its laurels, and shouldn’t dismiss the sentiments of its fans when they’re not going along with the storylines. 

Al Castle
PWI Senior Editor


Tony Laplume said...

The problem is always having a lightning rod heel like, well, "Hot Rod" Roddy Piper or Steve Austin when you need them. They had one with CM Punk, but surprisingly his own success in the company was his undoing, being the heel with the championship for a modern record length of time. That was some unfortunate timing right there, and the fact that he's now paying the price physically for that period.

The irony was that the last time he was the perfect heel (circa Straight Edge Society and Nexus), the company had no idea what to do with him, and wasn't at all willing to put him in the main event (evidenced by the Nexus feud going nowhere, although arguably it led to the Money in the Bank program later that year).

Hopefully when he's ready for full-time action again he'll still be a heel, although it's time to drop Heyman, because Punk is perfectly effective on his own. And he'll have two big-time opponents (and a cumulative three matches) that fans will remember him from as a heel, Rock and Undertaker. When he pursues Cena again (especially after yet another standout match between them earlier this year), the fans will most certainly be cheering. That's as how it should be.

Remember all those years Hogan was in the Cena position? Yeah, he was getting cheered. The WCW switch to heel mode only made it official. He always wrestled as a heel. He always acted as a heel. It's was just the perception that changed. The sad part, and this is something PWI itself shares blame in, is that in Hogan's case when he was finally able to just do what he always was (and it should be remembered that as a giant he was always pegged to be a heel to begin with, until Vince decided otherwise), the fans didn't cheer. I would argue the 2002 switch was when everyone realized that the Hogan they were familiar with had never actually gone away. And that WWE blew it by making him a face again.

Anyway, just some confused thoughts, because that's what wrestling fans really want. They don't want the black and white, as your analysis of Cena proves.

Jake McDonald said...

If Cena was around in the 80s, he would have been cheered. If WWE tried to do with Hogan now what they did in the 80s, he would get booed out of the building, just like Cena does now. Times have changed. WWE knows the fans are smarter now, but they don't know how much smarter. They need complex storylines with complex characters. Every successful TV show has that these days. WWE doesn't. Don't get me wrong, the wrestlers are entertaining, but how many can you say have a complex character? Punk maybe? That's it. I know some would argue that you can't just change people all the time so they're unpredictable, and you're right, but a guy can still do something new and approach things different every week without having to change into a face or heel. It just takes some thought. Great TV shows know how to constantly keep the suspense and keep you guessing while still having a central direction. They can't just do the same thing and insert new "stars" and expect us to think its different. Until WWE gets with the program and realizes that the old way doesn't work anymore, they're destined to remain a dying niche entertainment industry that never dominates the ratings or is even remotely mainstream ever again.