WWE: Masters of Marketing

I would like to start off by stating that these are my opinions of how I see wrestling today. I admit that I definitely lean more towards the AEW side if you wanna talk tribalism, but I watch WWE too. I think it’s important to know as much about something you enjoy as possible, and that includes wrestling. Even if it is not something you particularly enjoy, it helps you expand your perspective on that thing. This allows you to develop new and most likely better opinions on something when you see it from all angles.

I’m gonna throw everyone for a loop here and start off by talking about how great WWE is. WWE is great at business.

Here’s why WWE is great at business and why I can’t understand why grown men get so worked up over the booking: WWE is for children. Once in a while they throw us a bone and say "we're making the third hour edgier,” or going back to the TV-14 rating, but we’ve all seen how this goes. It’s the same old same old. WWE knows exactly what they’re doing dragging along us old fans and appealing to the youngsters out there. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with enjoying the product. I still watch, but I look at it more as watching a kids show that appeals to adults such as Regular Show or Adventure Time. It’s all about expectations. I personally am a huge fan of Adventure Time, however I know it’s a kids' show so you don’t get upset when there’s an episode that doesn’t advance the plot.

WWE knows exactly what they want to accomplish. They want to sell tickets, sell merch, bring in the money, and the wrestling is almost second priority. They are in this to make money led by their fearless leader, Vince McMahon. If they appeal to someone like me, a 27 year old single guy, they get maybe a ticket sale when they come to town, probably a t-shirt sale if I go, and I buy the figures which I know my audience here is most of us, but I don’t know if that is the case for most adult fans.

When you hook a 7 year old, or whatever the age may be when the show comes to town you have that kid BEGGING to go to the show. I remember being 12 and absolutely begging to go see the shows when I saw on the TV when they were coming to Cleveland. And it’s not just that kid you have, at least one parent needs a ticket probably both so there is at least 2 possibly 3 or more depending on how large the family is and if everybody wants to go. Then once you have them in the arena, that kid is going to beg for every piece of merch they see, and outside the show they want all the figures for their own fig fed at home. That’s just business.

Vince McMahon, the man is a genius. While I disagree with the way they treat their workers 100%, Vince is an old school ruthless businessman. Nowadays I would say he’s out of touch but what person his age is not out of touch at least a little bit with the younger generations, especially with how fast things move today. What Vince has accomplished in his life truly is remarkable. Let’s go back 40 years to 1980 when Vince purchased WWWF from his father Vincent J McMahon. Back then it was the territory days. If you are unfamiliar with the territory system, it’s almost similar to the independent circuit now where it is very regional. There was an understanding among territories that you did not poach talent or invade other territories and the governing body was the NWA which was not a promotion, as it is today. They would help promote shows, but they were more of a unifying organization to govern and allow for trading of talent and draw power when the belt was defended in your territory. Vince saw bigger than that.

Vince seceded from the NWA in 1983 and proceeded to start signing top talent wrestlers to exclusive contracts across the territories, building the best roster of wrestlers across the country. In the process, he ravaged the territories and started the decline of the NWA. You can say it was Flair in 91, or Jim Crockett buying up promotions trying to unify the NWA, or Shane Douglas and ECW in 94, but Vince was the start of this.

After a few years, we have the beginnings of WrestleMania. Vince put his stock in Hulk Hogan as the face of his company to bring them to the main stage and it worked. It wasn’t singularly Hogan but he was a huge part. Vince bet everything on WrestleMania and it succeeded. This was also the first time a wrestling program had a national television deal, before this you basically got whatever your regional promotion was on a weekly show on local TV. This was the beginning of WrestleMania and the all so important Rock n Wrestling connection. Captain Lou Albano was instrumental in the Rock n Wrestling connection and his feud with Cyndi Lauper. Their match was dubbed the brawl to end it all and was aired on MTV, which was actually cool back then, bringing wrestling to a whole new fan base. This along with the first couple WrestleMania’s helped establish WWF as a national name. Now following the hugely popular WrestleMania 3 and the slam heard round the world, Vince was put in a position to announce a PPV, Survivor Series 87, competing head to head with NWA Starrcade and not only that but demand cable providers only show his PPV. With Hulk Hogan at the helm as champion Vince McMahon propelled wrestling to the national spotlight and for the first time was mainstream.

Next we move into the Monday Night Wars of the 90s. Vince was on top for years and began to get a little complacent. The show had gotten a little cartoony and fans were losing interest and out of nowhere comes Billionaire Ted and WCW. Ted Turner purchased WCW and flooded in the money, hired Bischoff and went head to head with Vince. For nearly 2 years WCW dominated the ratings and then we got what many wrestling fans look at as the greatest era in wresting, the Attitude Era. The attitude era made stars like wrestling had never seen like The Rock and Stone Cold, a more realistic alternative to what had been the norm for years. With this WWE took control of the Monday Night Wars and eventually ended up buying WCW and absorbing talent, titles, PPV names, and their video library in 2001. Another victory for Vince.

Now we move a little closer to modern day. After WCW was purchased they needed to do something to keep it fresh for several years it had been the Monday Night Wars and what was gonna happen on the head to head shows. This led to the birth of the Ruthless Aggression Era. With no true competition WWE grew larger than life. They positioned themselves as THE wrestling promotion. There truly has not been a promotion that could hold a candle to WWE before AEW since WCW folded in 2001, that’s 18 years, 18 long years. In that time WWE did not sit around. Vince was hard at work with the marketing team and making them the only wrestling promotion. WWE positioned themselves in a way that they were it, they were the only, and their name was interchangable with the term wrestling like kleenex is with tissues. Even today if you ask a non wrestling fan about wrestling they say “Oh you like WWE?”

WWE controls the entirety of wrestling history. They own the tape libraries of just about every relevant promotion in the history of modern wrestling minus maybe Impact. WWE gets to decide who are our legends are and market it to us as such. There’s a reason guys like Chris Benoit or Chris Jericho are rarely spoken about. I will preface this next statement with I do not support Hulk Hogan, but he is undeniably one of the most important singular people in wrestling history, and WWE tried to remove him regardless of what he accomplished. I could talk forever about Chyna’s legacy, and she was not mentioned once during the first ever women’s PPV Evolution and that is just wrong. Chyna is in my opinion the most influential women’s wrestler of all time, she opened the door for all this intergender stuff that is so popular on the indies today and WWE can’t even be bothered to include her in the hall of fame on her own. This is some true 1984 History of wrestling WWE is pushing on people.

Now here is where I make my point. Vince made this world and it’s time to expand upon what he did. WWE has hurt wrestling as a whole.

WWE has made themselves the end all and be all of wrestling and they market to children, turning our entire passion into a childish fandom. They operate in a closed circuit while wrestling is a living ecosystem. It isn’t a bad thing to have options right? I would say the more options the better.

Follow Jon on Twitter @Badger751


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