There has been a lot of talk about Vince McMahon’s desire to move away from the perceived “negative image” that his company is just a wrestling company. The decision to go solely by WWE rather than World Wrestling Entertainment seems to be in line with the big boss’ current train of thought.
But nobody appears to be trying to move away from wrestling completely especially with Stephanie McMahon and hubby Triple H close to inheriting the throne.
So the question is, where is the balance?
Choosing to go by WWE is not a big deal. Plenty of publicly trained companies do it, ranging from KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) to computer storage and data management company NetApp (formerly Network Appliance). Neither one of those have strayed from their core brand, so it’s plausible to believe that WWE could do the same.
But there is some reason to be concerned. Triple H recently said in an interview that the “Entertainment” is important because WWE does so much more than just wrestling. One of his examples, live shows.
Hold on a second, what exactly do people come to watch at these “live shows”?
WWE may extend its entertainment reach to other parts of popular culture, but it is always centered on the same thing.
WWE has celebrity guest hosts. On Raw, which happens to be a wrestling show. Snooki recently teamed up with the WWE, to wrestle at Wrestlemania. Quite frankly, Triple H and Vince McMahon are wrong. This is all about wrestling. It always has been, and we have seen nothing to indicate that it won’t continue to be in the future.
WWE’s current programming includes Monday Night Raw, Friday Night Smackdown, Tough Enough, NXT, and Superstars. The latter two no longer air on television in the United States. Until WWE comes out with a TV show that has nothing to do with wrestling, I’m going to have a hard time buying that this is anything other than a wrestling company.
WWE does have options with regards to bringing its brand to a context that does not involve wrestling. Icons such as The Rock and Hulk Hogan have broken the barrier and WWE has one in house guy capable of doing it as well.
Cena is a very, very powerful marketing tool. People know who he is. Mainstream American audiences do not know who Alberto Del Rio or even Randy Orton are. Cena has the power that is very rare these days.
But there’s a problem. John Cena lacks the edge that The Rock and Hulk Hogan had. He is the antithesis of badass. He uses the word “poopy” on television. It’s pretty hard to get behind a guy like that as a legitimate mainstream star.
John Cena likes where he’s at though, and this is incredibly useful for the McMahons. They do not have to worry about Cena defecting to TNA or going off on his own as a movie star. He wants to stay; WWE needs to work with him.
WWE needs to make John Cena what the Rock was, A People’s Champion. Not the corporate fan boy that he is now. Being the People’s Champion doesn’t mean always holding the belt, but it means that the people love you no matter what.
Which brings me to the next tool that WWE has to use to bridge the gap between wrestling and entertainment. WWE films. WWE has not produced any hits that didn’t need to rely on strong rental and DVD sales in order to break even. Why is that?
Vinnie Mac tried to take away the organic process that made The Rock and Hulk Hogan stars. Kane, Mr. Kennedy and Ted DiBiase Jr. aren’t movie stars, and it showed. Further more, WWE focuses too much of its marketing efforts on the star power of people who were only appealing to wrestling fans.
This further solidified the bond between the WWE and wrestling. WWE can try all it wants, but the bond between the company and wrestling is strong, too strong to break overnight.
Can WWE films bridge the gap between WWE, and the mainstream media it wants so badly to be a part of? Sure but it’s going to take time.
Can WWE Become More Mainstream?
So what can WWE do in the meantime? The answer is pretty simple. WWE needs to maintain its strongest relationship.
We the people, the fans.
WWE needs to step up its pay-per-view game, big time. No more shoot finishes, PPV's that end a half-hour early and buildups that are shorter than Christian’s reign as World Heavyweight Champion. WWE needs to fix the problems that it has with its core product in order to build into the mainstream world.
The theme song to WWE’s version of ECW had a line that said, “Your words are dangerous, your talk is cheap.” That’s pretty much what WWE’s efforts to become more than an entertainment company have been.
WWE can be both a wrestling company and an entertainment company. But it needs to excel at both. The WWE cannot alienate its fan base or else the house that Hulk built will come crumbling down.