To say the overall quality of the WWE product dipped during the COVID-19 pandemic would be an understatement as large as Bobby Lashley's bicep. The lack of urgency in storylines and subpar creative resulted in stagnant fare that failed to inspire the audience.
Part of that can absolutely be attributed to the lack of fans and immediate feedback to Raw and SmackDown they provide. Without a live audience in attendance to react to the angles, matches and Superstars in front of them, WWE Creative stayed the course.
There was no immediate accountability from fans and, as a result, the company felt more comfortable and inclined to stick to its guns.
With fans returning to the stands Friday night for SmackDown, Sunday for Money in the Bank and Monday for Raw, WWE must up its game to ensure the best product possible—or face the consequences.
A Sense of Urgency Goes A Long Way
One of the biggest issues facing WWE's shows was the total disregard for their lazy and repetitive nature of Raw and SmackDown. Every week, the same faces wrestled each other with little storyline or any sense of urgency on the part of creative.
The matches happened over and over again, with Superstars trading wins until an ice-cold pay-per-view bout that no one was excited for because they had already witnessed the company beating it into the ground for the previous six weeks.
First, WWE has to understand the value of fresh matches. Its rival, All Elite Wrestling, still manages to tell ongoing storylines on Dynamite while presenting new pairings every week. Very rarely are fans subjected to the same match over and over again. It works for that show and keeps fans interested.
WWE has enough talent under contract to ensure that happens, but it still manages to replicate the same matchups with little care for the fact that fans disconnected from the show weeks earlier because the showdown had been presented three out of four weeks in a row.
That desire for the fresh and new, coupled with a show that feels energetic and meaningful, will go a long way in propping the product up as fans return to arenas across the country. The alternative is lethargy from the crowd, something WWE cannot afford as it promotes the return of audiences as if that will somehow change the tone, feel and quality of the shows.
Listening to the fans might also be a great place to start.
Hear Your Audience and Listen to Them
One of the biggest issues with WWE and its creative process is Vince McMahon's own stubbornness.
For a guy who says the right things about listening to the audience whenever a reporter sticks a microphone in front of his face, he and his company sure have a weird way of showing it.
How many times have fans championed a wrestler and taken to social media to tout them as the star they want to see elevated, only to rebuffed in favor of one of the WWE chairman's hand-selected names? The arrogance on the part of those in power to decry the desires of the fans is part of the reason why the current product is as stagnant as it is.
As fans prepare to reenter arenas, it will be imperative that the company actually listens. If the last 16 months have taught WWE anything, it is the value of the live audience to its product. There is nothing like the energy and excitement they create and the performers feed off of.
The company cannot take them for granted.
Otherwise, there could be 23,000 fans in attendance amid a silence that might be even more deafening than an empty arena or man-made ThunderDome could ever house.