Vince McMahon is a fighter. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking he isn’t. The WWE’s battling boss has defeated the U.S. government, upended Time Warner and Ted Turner during the Monday Night Wars, and has put his own livelihood on the line in matches with some of WWE’s most prominent, and dangerous, competitors.
Still, there is an argument to be made that McMahon has lost touch, at least a bit, with the business that has put food on the table of several generations of his family. It’s perhaps more apparent than ever following news that the National Basketball Association has just nearly tripled its TV rights deal, with a nine-year deal with ESPN and TNT worth $24 billion. It’s the same kind of deal McMahon was expecting to work out with NBC earlier this year, despite having to settle for what can only be considered a colossally disappointing deal for much less.
It’s not the first time he’s lost touch with the audience. He first did it in the late 90s, before WCW began regularly handing WWE its backside on a polished, silver platter.
It started with things like giving people blue-collar jobs as gimmicks. At one point in time in WWE, the roster included such star-studded characters as a pirate, a garbage collector, a repossession agent, and a reject NHL player. It took weeks of prodding from Shawn Michaels and Triple H and the insane heat being generated by anti-hero “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to convince McMahon that a new direction was needed to combat the growing threat of WCW.
It’s said that the wrestling business is cyclical. It’s hard to argue against that theory because one glance at the WWE product in 2014 would say that Vince is even further out of touch than he’s ever been. He frequently orders complete re-writes of the RAW script, most recently a mere 20 minutes before the show went live.
He approved WWE golden goose John Cena’s complete emasculation at SummerSlam at the hands of now-WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar, only to flip his lid and order Cena be booked twice as strong up through Night of Champions in a delusional fear that Cena’s fans would all suddenly stop believing in their hero.
Still, Vince believes in his company. Without competition, there’s no incentive for McMahon to worry about being in-tune with what the audience wants to see. After all, where else are they going to go for mainstream pro wrestling action?
The WWE needs to evolve. Fans don’t need to point fingers at the PG Era. Blaming PG for things is about as effective as blaming John Cena. The truth of the matter is, good wrestling and good entertainment don’t necessarily hinge on the rating of the product. A good team of writers and a boss who’s in touch with trends and demands in his industry can put on an excellent television product, PG rating or not.
The Attitude Era isn’t most fondly remembered for the excessive swearing, the scantily-clad women, and the extreme edge of the TV product. It’s remembered most fondly for the sense of urgency behind the product on TV. WWE was determined to succeed or die trying, and rather than just having one or two big acts on TV, WWE was generating as many profitable and entertaining characters as they could.
McMahon needs to either get with the program or surrender primary control of the WWE TV product to his son-in-law Triple H. If Vince ever wants the WWE to achieve the must-see TV heights of the late 90s and early 2000s, the product has to evolve. The cut-and-paste comfort zone style of sports-entertainment isn’t going to help them catch up with the rest of the sports television industry.
[IMG Credit: WWE.com, MuscleAndFitness.com]