Stephanie McMahon Says WWE Fans Have The Ability To Change The Direction Of Storylines

Stephanie McMahon spoke at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in the nation’s capital yesterday, and she revealed details about just how much the WWE Universe has the ability to decide which direction WWE storylines will go.

Stephanie, who is the Chief Brand Officer for the WWE, described how audience feedback can cause the company to adjust its plans. She said that plans for WrestleMania are set a year in advance, and then they can be changed based on how the WWE Universe reacts to the storylines.

“Our audience tells us what they love, what they don’t like and worse, what they don’t care about. And you have to be listening, and in WWE, yes, we do, we pivot on the fly. It’s an advantage that we’re live. We do set our storylines out a year in advance, WrestleMania being our Super Bowl and then we program backwards, but things happen. The audience might not be invested in a character that we think they will be invested in for whatever reason. There could be an injury that happens, because we really are an incredible athletic event as well. Anything can happen, so that ability to pivot and twist is really important.”

McMahon described the WWE’s developmental program, NXT, as an example for how the affect the audience can have on programming. According to Stephanie, the NXT Universe is the most passionate fan base in all of WWE, and their reactions go a long way in helping determine which superstars are ready for a call-up to the main roster.

“When you think about NXT, for example, our audience is actually determining who makes it to the next level, who goes to that main roster. And they know it, they know that they are a part of that person’s success, so they are that much more invested in it. And again, I just think that engagement is really important.”

Bobby Roode made it from NXT to the main roster thanks, in large part, to strong fan reactions
Bobby Roode is a good example of how wrestlers can make a quick jump from NXT to the main roster [Image by WWE]

Another prime example of what Stephanie is talking about revolves around what happened in the build-up to WrestleMania 30. Daniel Bryan was arguably the most popular wrestler in the company during that period and after pinning John Cena cleanly at SummerSlam 2013, which was an amazing feat, the WWE had Bryan immediately lose to Randy Orton. Eventually, the WWE brought back Dave Batista, who had been out of action since 2010, and had him win the 2014 Royal Rumble, a victory that fans in attendance that night, as well as the many watching on television, thought was going to go to Bryan.

Batista was brought back as a baby face and initially received cheers, but when he was practically handed the spot many believed Daniel Bryan rightfully deserved, he began to feel the wrath of the audience. The main event for WrestleMania was looking like it was going to be Orton against Batista, but fans clamored so intensely for Bryan that the WWE had to re-write the biggest show of the year. Daniel Bryan wound up facing Triple H, and the stipulation said, that if Bryan won, he would be inserted into the Orton/Batista match at the end of the night.

Sure enough, Daniel Bryan defeated Triple H, and much to the crowd’s delight, closed out the show by becoming the new WWE champion.

Daniel Bryan celebrates his victory
Daniel Bryan overcomes two wrestlers, and the office, to win the world title on the WWE's biggest stage [Image by WWE]

So, if the audience doesn’t respond to a wrestler the way the company had predicted, it could lead to that wrestler’s push being brought to a halt. On the flipside, it’s possible for a wrestler, who the office perceives as a lower-tier superstar, to be given a chance if the audience clamors for it loud enough.

[Featured Image by Evan Agostini/AP Images]