If WWE were a professional sports franchise then these recent years would be described as the rebuilding years.
The last trails of the glory days with championships and a deep roster ended around 2008. Finances went down, talent retired or moved on and the fanbase declined.
2013 is going to be a critical year for WWE.
One of the things I like best about 2013 is the stars of the glory days from years in the past are now stepping into management/coaching positions. This is a plus for the overall stability of the company, wrestling acumen in management and the talented crop of talent coming into its own.
Coaching changes also seem to be in the process. The head coach is also the owner, GM and whatever else he wants to be. Each year that goes by we hear more involvement and decision making courtesy of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The more plays and talent we see determined by Triple H, I think the better.
Triple H understands the value of building the entire franchise from the ground floor to the top penthouse. Every successful franchise puts as much if not more focus on the stars of tomorrow and the scouting and development process.
WWE has drafted well in the past few years. The minor league/developmental system of NXT not only is creating and beginning to turn out promising talent, but is also putting on a solid presentation in its own right. The NXT program filmed at Full Sail University is great—a studio wrestling feel mixed with the high class production values WWE stands by.
I feel like by the end of 2013, we'll have a more accurate idea of what to expect from WWE for the long-term future.
Times are changing and everything works in cycles. 2013 might be an advanced version of 1997.
WWE had dark days prior to the famous attitude era. The product had gotten stale. It was unoriginal and it got challenged by WCW.
WWE's stock has spent the last two years bouncing around at its lowest points. Live attendance has gone down. Pay-per-view buys are down. Ratings, although television is in a different state than it use to be, are down.
Today, there is no WCW. That was WWE's competition then. That's what was driving it. Today, the competition is everyone—not just UFC, but everyone.
In 1997, WWE was a private wrestling company. In 2013, it has put itself in the game of trying to be mainstream entertainment. It brings in Hollywood stars to guest host Raw and get specials on NBC. It is trying to produce Hollywood movies and Rolling Stones concerts. Big dreams but puts you in a different playing field.
1997 was a year where WWE was coming off several bad business years. It was starting to get the talent together. It just needed it all to click.
In the 18 months prior to the start of 1997, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind, The Rock, Triple H and Goldust all debuted in WWE.
This complemented the already existing cast members of Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and The Undertaker. All three men would go through drastic but exciting character changes with degenerate behavior, anti-american heel heat and a violent streak in matches like Hell in a Cell (which also debuted in 1997), which eventually leads to portraying a devil heel character.
WWE had its back up against the wall by the start of 1997. It had begun rebuilding and signing talent. Then, WWE didn't really have the developmental system it does now. If you signed a new guy, odds were he just came from WCW, ECW or was just breaking into the business.
A guy like Triple H or Mankind who previously worked for WCW would be brought in and then repackaged to be the guy you want. This process takes some time.
In 1996 WWE had a similar year to what it just did in 2012. There was stability at the WWE Championship position. CM Punk held it all of 2012 while Shawn Michaels held it for about eight of the 12 months in 1996.
The past 18 months, we've seen many names come to the main roster that seem to be here for the future. AJ Lee. Alberto Del Rio. Antonio Cesaro. Big E. Langston. Brodus Clay. Damien Sandow. Daniel Bryan. Prime Time Players. Sheamus. The Shield. Wade Barrett. Ryback.
With NXT, we can look into the crystal ball for the future and if you've watched lately, you know more is coming.
In 1997 the attitude era unofficially began. Stone Cold took off. The Mr. McMahon character was born. The once loved hero in Bret Hart was spit on by Americans while he spit back. Hell in a Cell debuted. DX debuted. The Montreal Screw Job blurred real life and entertainment.
I'm not getting my hopes up for 2013 to have situations of that magnitude but I do think we can expect a change of the tide.
The darkest part of the night is just before the sun starts to rise. I think this can be a fair description for WWE. It takes the darkest of nights before it all gets brighter and better.
It's time to get up. It's almost time for the sun to rise.