WWE Overhaul: Retire Vince, Cut the Comedy & More Ways to Save It

I know I'm not blowing your mind saying this, but WWE hasn't been great or even consistently good in quite some time.  The top dog in the wrestling industry for nearly 70 years that has been at the top of pop culture in the past has long since lost its way and while it's definitely not a pro-wrestling show anymore, it's even more difficult to define exactly what kind of show it is.  Vince McMahon loves to tell people that WWE is a variety show, but that doesn't exactly hold water, as successful variety shows have a target demographic and consistent tone, while modern WWE is tonally all over the place and their demographic seems to shift from young children to middle-aged men, sometimes within the same segment.

The problems are evident: low attendance at live shows, the worst TV rating they've ever seen, and a lack of true headlining stars to sell.  But how do they fix it?  That's the billion-dollar question and one I will attempt to answer and will gladly accept a billion dollars for if anyone is feeling generous?  Anyone?  No?  Alright, I guess I'll just answer it anyway.

1. Vince McMahon Retires

How To Fix WWE: The Steps I Think Are Necessary To Save The Empire
It's ok Mr. McMahon! If you follow these steps, I think you could get back on track, courtesy of WWE.

Let's just get right to it, ok?  Vince needs to go.  We all watched as he sat across from "Stone Cold" Steve Austin for an interview on Austin's Broken Skull Sessions (or Stone Cold Podcast, as it was known back then) in 2014 and was adamant that he was not out of touch.  He was wrong then and he's even more wrong now.

The fact is, Vince McMahon has never really been in touch with the world around him, at least since the 1980s.  Over the past nearly 20 years, he's buried or released almost a roster's worth of potential big stars, ignoring fans standing there holding their wallets open for them, all while claiming none of them have "it".  Well, if stars in wrestling are judged by how much money they draw and you have fans begging you to let them spend money on certain guys and then you just toss those guys aside, how is that exactly is that being in touch with your audience?

And of course, there are books that could and will be written about Vince's disdain for the traditional wrestling business and how it has always seemed over the years that he's desperate to jump into other industries (the WBF, ICOPRO, WWE Studios, and two different failed XFLs) and yet, here he still is.

At 76 years old, it's time to ride off gracefully and let a younger generation take the reigns and figure out how to evolve pro wrestling into the future.  WWE can not and will not take risks and try new things (like actually listening to what fans want) if all of the shots are being called by an insulated old man who can't seem to figure out what exactly he wants.

2. Become A Private Company Again

How To Fix WWE: The Steps I Think Are Necessary To Save The Empire
Sasha Banks and Braun Strowman at the New York Stock Exchange, courtesy of WWE.

The then WWF took some major risks, especially with content, between 1997 and 1999 in order to claim the top spot in the wrestling world and bring them to unprecedented success.  They were also a private company at the time, which allowed them to do whatever they wanted and didn't have to answer to any shareholders, who surely would have taken issue with the turn to a more risque product.

Since becoming a publicly-traded company in October of 1999 and making more and more shares available over the years since then, WWE has steadily become a more sanitized product that gets more removed from actual pro wrestling by the day.  This also has impacted the finances of the company and leads to decisions on where and when to spend money and when to cut costs.

If WWE were to go private again, any and all decisions would be kept in-house and potentially give them the freedom to again take more risks and try things that might aid them in creating new stars and a new product that will again appeal to a wider audience.

It's also worth noting that a lot of WWE's current issues are based on the corporate mindset that they're too big to fail and that's somewhat true, at least in the immediate sense.  They still make money despite themselves and a lot of their drop in quality is based on their safety net of not having to worry about going under.  And let's be clear, that's probably not a risk for a long, long time to come.  But like any creative venture, there needs to be some impetus to do your best work, and most of the time, that comes from the fear of failure and necessity for greater success.

Right now by being a public company, they're in a safe and padded middle area where they don't dare rock the boat, but can't reach all-new levels of success.  Take the risk and take control again.

3. Cut The Fat (contracts)

How To Fix WWE: The Steps I Think Are Necessary To Save The Empire
The Miz and his wife Maryse on this Monday's Raw, courtesy of WWE.

Can anyone justify why every time there are releases in WWE of strong talents that are potential stars, the excuse used is "budget cuts", meanwhile guys like The Miz and Randy Orton, who surely earn millions more a year than them and bring in nothing are still on the books?

When a major sports team is truly invested in cost-cutting and opening up space on their books, the first thing they do is look at the contracts of veteran players that they're paying the most to.  Randy Orton hasn't been a viable moneymaker for WWE in 10 years.  The Miz has never been a draw and if anything, is a deterrent to fans.  So if they're doing budget cuts while also always allegedly building towards the future, why are potential stars who fans have loudly supported like Keith Lee and Karrion Kross getting the heave-ho, while do-nothing wastes of money like The Miz are still around?

4. Keep The Roster Small

How To Fix WWE: The Steps I Think Are Necessary To Save The Empire
The roster during "The Attitude Era", courtesy of WWE.

The brand split has always been a self-harming necessity.  When you give people two options, they're always going to favor one over the other.  Why split your audience like that?  WWE has had to split its roster into multiple shows since absorbing WCW and ECW in 2001 and essentially becoming the only big game around.  Since then, they've over-filled their roster, which results in a lot of guys being left off of TV.

You can't build stars that way.  Shrink and combine the roster, unify the titles, and have your audience be invested in the evolution of a set group of guys.

One of the big reasons The Attitude Era was great was that you were invested in the card, top to bottom.  You gave a damn about the guys fighting for the Intercontinental title.  You gave a damn about the guys fighting for the Hardcore title.  You gave a damn about the guys who weren't fighting for any title.  Because it was a controlled roster and they were able to craft compelling stories for most of them.  You're never going to care about someone who's on TV in a program for four weeks straight and then disappears for a couple of months after.  But that's what happens when there are too many players and not enough positions.

5. Bring Back Kayfabe

How To Fix WWE: The Steps I Think Are Necessary To Save The Empire
"Macho Man" Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee in 1988, courtesy of WWE.

Wrestling often gets compared to live theater or movies, but I think the more appropriate comparison (when it's good) is to watching a great magician or illusionist perform.  You know magic isn't real and this guy on stage doesn't have super powers, but when it's good and you have no clue how they pulled the trick off, you forget about all of that and you're hooked in the presentation.

WWE needs its audience (especially a new audience) to buy into what they're presenting.  That's never going to happen with wrestlers going on talk shows saying "I'm so and so and I portray [INSERT WRESTLER NAME] on Raw/SmackDown" or by having a blood-thirsty feud with another wrestler on TV and then posting pictures of them vacationing together on Instagram.

While it has often been used as an excuse as to why kayfabe is gone, social media in my mind is such a huge opportunity to actually expand it and have the show go on 24/7.  Even if two adversaries only have a five-minute war of words in the ring one night, they can continue it off-hours on Twitter or Instagram, threatening and cursing each other out to not only engage people who didn't watch the show that night but make it look like this is a real hatred that continues into these guys' private lives.  That always has and always will attract eyes to WWE.

6. Stop The Comedy

How To Fix WWE: The Steps I Think Are Necessary To Save The Empire
Vince McMahon and his magic Golden Egg at Survivor Series, courtesy of WWE.

When you get down to it, WWE is the fictional presentation of a real sports league.  It's all about competition and the journey to becoming a champion.  So why is a solid 60% of the show now devoted to slapstick comedy?

Now don't get me wrong; comedy in any entertainment, even wrestling, is ok.  Even the most serious and dark TV shows and movies have a moment or two of comedy in them to ease tension and round out the humanity of their characters.  But it should never be the main focus and certainly should never be the driving genre on WWE.

We just had to suffer through a week full of Vince McMahon searching for some stupid gold egg and it sank one of their most important Pay Per View events of the year and the episode of Raw the next night.  Why?  What does that do for your audience?  Does WWE honestly think that earns them new fans or better yet, doesn't encourage their current ones to turn it off?

WWE should be all about anger and drama.  Competition and desire.  It shouldn't be looking like they're mining the Disney Channel for content.

7. Stop Relying On Legends

Bray Wyatt Drops WWE Universal Championshop to Up-and-Comer Who Can Use the Rub
Goldberg, seen here winning the WWE title in 2020, courtesy of WWE.

This is maybe WWE's biggest hindrance in creating new stars today and it should be the easiest fix.  Let me ask you, in the company's biggest period ever between 1998 and 2001, how many times did superstars who were the stars in a previous era (no, we're not talking about The Undertaker, smartass) headline Wrestlemania or another WWE Pay Per View event?  Zero.  The answer is a nice round zero.  They knew then that to build their current roster and to make them look like headlining stars, they had to actually let them headline.

Yet now, it seems every Wrestlemania or "big four" event in WWE is pulling Brock LesnarGoldbergJohn Cena, or even The Rock in to sell the show.  Why?  I mean I know, the obvious answer is they're proven names that will generate a short bump in revenue.  But how is that sustainable?  Eventually, none of those guys will want to or be physically able to wrestle anymore.  And then what?  Who will be the big name from the past you'll put on your marquee then?

Building big stars is a matter of listening to your audience, giving them who they want to pay to see, and letting them do so.  As I said earlier, there are guys in WWE that fans are standing there, with their wallets open, asking to pay you to see in the main event and as champion.  Why are you ignoring them?  Oh, because Goldberg made a lot of money (for another company) in 1998? Well, do you know why he made a lot of money for WCW in 1998?  Because despite all of his faults, Eric Bischoff listened to the audience and put Goldberg in the main event.  It's ok that he was inexperienced.  It's ok that he couldn't wrestle well.  It's ok that he wasn't in the plans.  Because they were a business that wanted to make money and he made it for them.  No matter what you can say about him (and we all have), Goldberg was fun to watch for fans and they wanted to see him in the main event.

It's not rocket science WWE.  You're in the live attraction business.  If the fans want to buy something, you sell it to them.  A kid with a lemonade stand understands this principle. Why don't you?

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About Ryan Fassett

As a lifelong fan of movies, comics, wrestling, and collectibles, Ryan is excited to share his thoughts on all of it with you. He is also an active filmmaker and published comic book writer, along with being a connoisseur of soda.
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