Advice to WWE Creative: Navigating the Road to SummerSlam 2021
WWE is hot off Sunday's largely successful Money in the Bank pay-per-view, but the wheel never stops turning. Soon enough, the next event will be right around the corner, and SummerSlam will be here before we know it.
The Biggest Party of the Summer is arguably WWE's second-most important show of the year behind WrestleMania. With the return of fans in attendance, it is crucial WWE does not mess this up.
If all goes well, it could be the event that turns things around for WWE and resolves the company's problems. A poor lead-up to it, though, could be disastrous and mark the point of no return for WWE's future.
In the latest edition of Advice to WWE Creative, let's examine some some pitfalls that must be avoided and other directions to ensure the smoothest ride to SummerSlam in August.
Actually Plan Ahead as Much as Humanly Possible
Every advice column has this section because it applies to every single problem that is possible in life, let alone just pertaining to WWE Creative.
Generally speaking, the less you plan ahead, the harder it is when time is up and a judgment call has to be made. That leads to rushed decisions and a mess that could have been avoided.
Naturally, it's impossible to have perfect foresight. Nobody knows how the future will play out. For instance, anyone could suffer an injury that causes a change.
However, WWE should have known what the bulk of the SummerSlam card will be prior to Money in the Bank as those actions have consequences that will ripple out over the coming weeks.
A key qualifier in this advice is that most of the matches should be settled upon. There's room for flexibility, but WWE should not have only one or two matches in mind for SummerSlam right now.
Despite how WWE can sell out the arena just from fans starved for a live event experience without knowing any matches, that isn't the same for people watching at home. Those viewers want to watch stories develop over the coming weeks, get invested in them and see the culmination of those feuds at the big show.
Plan over a month in advance, but ideally even more. Plan as much as possible. Make backup plans so if something happens, pivoting won't be so difficult. Make adjustments when necessary, but don't get caught the week of the event having to announce half the card on Twitter and wonder why there isn't more buzz.
Sort Out Plans for Every Championship
WWE desperately needs someone on staff whose job is to make sure the brass doesn't forget about Superstars, storylines, and even championships.
All too often, weeks can go by and it feels as though a belt like the Intercontinental Championship has been completely missing in action for no good reason. Apollo Crews hasn't been properly feuding with anyone for what feels like a month or two. Why is one of the most prominent titles being sidelined instead of prioritized?
Title matches should be a big deal by default and will make SummerSlam feel even more grandiose than if it's filled with generic grudge matches.
If every championship is supposed to be important in WWE, every belt needs to be treated as if it matters.
It's one thing for individual Superstars to be left in a holding pattern with no story, but when championships are left out of the mix, that brings down the reputation and credibility of the champion and the belt itself.
All it should take is a few minutes of discussion during the planning ahead process. Look at a spreadsheet with the roster and ask yourselves who the champions will face at the event.
If there is an obvious answer, move on to crafting the storyline leading up to that match. If there aren't any good answers, your task as a writer is to find the solution and then move on to working on the story.
There are five episodes of Raw and SmackDown before SummerSlam. If that's not enough time to establish all the contenders and have them interact with the champions to build intrigue and tension for an upcoming title match, that's a fault on Creative, not the Superstars.
When WWE waits until the last minute to announce a Fatal 4-Way, fans know this happened because it's a lazy method to cram people into the title hunt. It's the easy answer to what is then viewed as an afterthought, rather than something given any attention. Thus, fans don't care as much about those titles and it makes the champions seem like weak draws.
Don't Lose Sight of Mr. and Ms. Money in the Bank
It's not just the champions that need to be focused on, as now, Nikki A.S.H. and Big E are carrying around the Money in the Bank briefcases.
The moment they grabbed those, two new storylines started. The threat of a cash-in instantly became activated and both could sneak a title victory at any moment for the coming year.
Last year, WWE failed to capitalize on Otis as Mr. Money in the Bank. It was very obvious he was sidelined with an attitude of "don't worry about that for now. We'll get back to that after we take care of the next few things." Then, weeks turned into months and WWE never got around to it, so he lost all his momentum.
This does not mean the title shots need to be used in the next five weeks. Burning through those cash-ins that quickly robs the rest of the year of the tease.
However, both winners should be acknowledged on Raw and SmackDown as having this dangerous weapon at their disposals. The champions should take note that they need to watch their backs. A.S.H. and Big E should tease that they just might cash in before or even at SummerSlam.
The more it feels as though there's a chance something can happen with the Money in the Bank, the more fans will start anticipating when the trigger is pulled and become more invested in watching that unfold.
Sometimes, Less Is More
A major problem in WWE these past few years has been repetition. Constantly, WWE's answer to most problems tends to be to simply rinse and repeat.
Feuds consist of five to 10 matches in a row for the sake of killing time and being an easy copy and paste. Then, WWE tries to craft the narrative that it's an epic rivalry just because of quantity, rather than quality.
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker had some of the best moments of any feud in WWE history and only fought each other nine times in 27 years, and that includes tag team matches. Mace and T-Bar have fought Lucha House Party seven times since March!
Repetition is boring and will convince fans to not bother watching the TV shows and only tune in to SummerSlam, if even that. After all, they can just get caught up on the good stuff with the video packages on the show.
But this repetition plague also applies to general exposure. Sometimes, less is more for even just referencing a feud.
Edge and Seth Rollins don't need to have three segments dedicated to their feud every edition of SmackDown for the next five weeks, along with recaps telling fans what they missed if they weren't watching the first hour of the show.
One promo or interaction a week is fine. These storylines are never so complicated that they warrant massive screen time.
Drew McIntyre doesn't need to go on MizTV to talk about how Jinder Mahal screwed him over at Money in the Bank just to remind everyone that he's wrestling Veer or Shanky later in the same night.
Overexposure makes fans sick of watching something by the time the pay-per-view comes around.
Leave them wanting to see more, instead of wanting the stories to just end already.
Nobody Cares About Contract Signings and Face-to-Face Confrontations
Professional wrestling, like most things, evolves over time. Some things stay the same forever as they're baked into the fabric of the business, like heels insulting the local sports team for cheap heat or referees being total morons who get knocked out when a slight breeze comes their way.
One thing that has overstayed its welcome, though, is the advertisement that two Superstars will have a promo advertising their match.
It doesn't matter if it's under the thinly-veiled disguise of a contract signing or if it's given the distinction of a "face-to-face" confrontation, as if that's anything different from a normal in-ring promo. Everyone who has watched wrestling for more than a few weeks knows how things will play out.
It's become such a trope that people lampshade it and talk down on those segments during those segments! Superstars will reference how it's clear a brawl will start and someone will be put through the table.
Don't do it at all, then, unless there's a hook.
If John Cena is fighting Roman Reigns at SummerSlam and can't get physical, advertise that he'll have a rap battle with The Usos. We don't need The Tribal Chief sitting down with the contract and Paul Heyman by his side exactly how he's done it in the past.
"You're next" is all Goldberg is going to say and it doesn't need to be said more than once. If there's no feud other than looking at his name and his opponent's name on a marquee, don't waste time recycling that same footage and trying to create variants of it with other segments where he stares at his challenger. It's the same thing and people can watch the clip on YouTube if they wanted to see it again.
It's doubtful anyone will tune in to SmackDown solely because of an advertisement stating "Seth Rollins will address his actions from Money in the Bank" as they can look it up online afterward or ask their friend what happened.
Fans know WWE does these things because they require little to no effort and try to capitalize off simply seeing the Superstars making an appearance, but with the internet at our fingertips, people aren't starved for their little taste of each person like they used to be. Now, a segment needs a hook or depth to it to be more intriguing.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.