WWE has played host to endless hyperbole, likely as a promotional tactic to shoehorn its way into the mainstream conscious. Each passing month seems to lay claim to the biggest matches, best performances and most important moments in WWE history.
Even WWE's upcoming rematch between John Cena and Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Royal Rumble is being hailed as the "biggest championship rematch in history," by Bobby Melok of the official WWE website.
So, as Vince McMahon stood rather unassumingly on the stage of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), to make a groundbreaking announcement, one could hardly blame cynical wrestling fans (a common breed) who were prepared to be disappointed.
What turned out to be the launch of the WWE Network was anything but disappointing.
In an all-hands-on-deck presentation, WWE spoiled its fans with promises of the first-ever 24-hour streaming on-demand network. WrestleMania and a six-month commitment served as the bait sure to buoy subscriptions.
McMahon's uncharacteristically calm demeanor—especially during a sales pitch at CES—may have been the result of his own humbling realization.
WWE is ready to be mainstream.
This isn't Attitude Era mainstream where WWE captivates the daydreams of adolescent teens through shock value and crash TV. That success came through blood money, parlor tricks, shame and guilty pleasures that were the enemies of good parenting.
That was dirty. This type of mainstream appeal has staying power.
WWE's game-changing announcement on Wednesday bled into Twitter until the wee hours of Thursday morning. Not only was the WWE Network trending, but so were derivatives such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, who spoke at CES, and the entertaining hashtag #NixedWWENetworkShows:
Star Trek: The Next D-Generation. #NixedWWENetworkShows— Kayfabe News (@KayfabeNews) January 9, 2014
#NixedWWENetworkShows Darren Young and the Restless
AJ Glee #NixedWWENetworkShows— Big Nasty (@ThisIsNasty) January 9, 2014
#NixedWWENetworkShows Darren Young and the Restless— Larry T. Csonka (@LarryCsonka411) January 9, 2014
WWE fever isn't just hidden on Twitter. It has also been felt throughout the sporting world as of late, with organic storylines integrating pro wrestling personalities with top athletes.
At halftime of the Ohio State vs. Michigan State College Basketball game from January 7, the Michigan State College Football Spartans led a "yes" chant. Coming off a Rose Bowl win over Stanford, "yes" chants have been adopted by the Spartans as a ritual. The memorable scene was featured prominently on ESPN SportsCenter, with full credit given to Daniel Bryan.
WWE's presence on ESPN also implicated a Hall of Fame inductee. Ric Flair's recent pep talk to the San Francisco 49ers has become a major subplot of the looming playoff showdown between the 49ers and Flair's hometown Carolina Panthers.
Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith was vocal about Flair's naitching, telling the Charlotte Observer (via ESPN.com) "as a guy who actually has a Ric Flair robe I'm real disappointed in seeing [Flair's pep talk to the San Francisco 49ers]. Real disappointed. I'm not sure if he'll get the invite here. That Golden Gate Bridge has been burned."
While no negotiating could get Flair out of yet another sticky situation, WWE's ongoing TV negotiations have caught the attention of the entertainment world. Top publication Variety Magazine dedicated an exclusive report to WWE's upcoming television jackpot:
The company cites Nascar’s impressive dealmaking this summer as an example. The racing league secured a new 10-year deal with NBC and Fox worth $820 million a year. And that increase came in the face of declining ratings for many of its races. WWE argues that “Raw” and “SmackDown” alone are just as attractive, with a rabid fanbase that’s helped build networks, and its series are diverse in ethnicity and age.
In a year where WrestleMania XXX figures to be the third-most profitable milestone on the WWE calendar, WWE's money-printing empire will soon be impossible to ignore.
Guilty pleasure or not, one cannot argue with the hundreds of millions—possibly billions—of dollars that the promotion figures to collect in an environment where live programming is coveted.
WWE's family-friendly approach, mixed with its seemingly endless profit centers, will ascend the promotion near Disney levels. The stigma of the pro wrestling fan is in and of itself endangered.
WWE fulfilled the hype of its groundbreaking announcement at CES, but it wasn't the launch of the WWE Network. It was the launch of a new mainstream WWE.
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