Insulting your consumers: What’s best for business, WWE?
Paul Levesque, known to wrestling fans as Triple H, the 13-time WWE world champion and now executive vice president of the company, doesn’t like WWE fans. At least that’s the impression that he gave in cutting a promo, using the parlance of wrestling, on WWE’s flagship weekly TV show, Monday Night Raw, this week.
Triple H cut a nasty promo, basically a lengthy monologue usually used to advance a storyline involving rival wrestlers or factions of wrestlers, to hit squarely at the Internet Wrestling Community, or IWC, as it likes to refer to itself. Seems that the IWC was unhappy with the recent pay-per-view event put on by WWE this past weekend, Battleground, which ended, predictably, with 15-time champ John Cena retaining the WWE and world titles at the conclusion of a hyped four-way match, and really little else of consequence taking place otherwise.
It’s not been the best of years for WWE, which began 2014 with the buzz in the walkup to the February rollout of the WWE Network, a web-based network that is now home to the company’s pay-per-view events in addition to literally thousands of hours of archived programming dating back decades. The early reviews of the network have been solid, but the early returns in terms of subscribers have been less than stellar, and WWE stock, for a brief time in the $30-per-share range, has lost about two-thirds of its value as investors fret over subscribers and lower-than-expected rights fees for WWE’s weekly cable programming in its new deal with NBC Universal.
So there’s that, on the money side, and then on the programming side, the company has been beset by injuries, most notably with a months-long program elevating Daniel Bryan to the position of WWE and world champ at WrestleMania 30 ending with Bryan going on the shelf with a neck injury that is threatening his career, and at least one curious creative move, having The Undertaker lose to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, ending his 21-match winning streak at the annual mega-event, and removing that marquee match from future WrestleManias once and for all.
So money is an issue, and the product is an issue. Fans don’t have much to say or care about the money, except to snark when appropriate, but the product is the bailiwick of fans, customers, everywhere. Criticism of the move to re-elevate Cena in the absence of Bryan has ramped up in recent weeks, and a general malaise about the WWE product has set in, with the realization that the company hasn’t been able to create marketable big names really for several years now.
Triple H, in his promo, mocked fans who type away at their keyboards to chronicle their frustration, and though the sentiment can easily be written off as having been scripted to heighten fan displeasure with the Triple H heel character, it is said backstage that the message in the promo is reflective of the real-life feelings of Levesque, that as his Triple H character said on live TV, he really doesn’t like having to deal with fan critics who don’t know what has to be done behind the scenes to run a wrestling company, and that if they did, they’d understand.
Which is certainly one way to look at things. I’m on the inside, and trust me, we’re doing it right, and if you don’t like what we’re doing, keep your opinion to yourself, change the channel, whatever. Except that, well, and this is probably pretty obvious, those are the people who pay your bills, right? And if they’re telling you that they don’t like the product, and your numbers are down, your network is doing what the analysts said it would and the bean-counters said it has to do, if the cable networks don’t value the product at the level that everybody thinks they should, then maybe you need to, here’s a wild idea, listen to them?
The other approach is the way of the dinosaurs. Do it the way you want to do it, the changing environment be damned, and circumstances will eventually turn around the way they always did, and we’ll survive and thrive.
– Column by Chris Graham