Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ready for Prime Time

Paige's exposure in NXT has helped her hot reaction so far
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When NXT jumped from the realm of local television and Hulu to WWE Network, whispers of doubt started to spread around. NXT worked as a developmental territory because it had remained sheltered for so long, and if fans are able to watch wrestlers before they make it to the main roster, they might lose some of their aura, their surprise factor. I didn't necessarily agree with the take, but I saw from where those doubts and fears were coming until recently.

Paige has already made her main-roster debut, and both Bo Dallas and Adam Rose are about to make theirs within the coming weeks. All three are known entities from NXT, even if Rose spent most of his developmental life under another name with two completely different characters before his current, Aldous Snow homage took hold, which means a good portion of the Full Sail/Hulu crowd knows who they are and are familiar with them. I credit Paige's excellent reaction to a rather milquetoast and timid debut (even with winning the title) to the post-Mania crowd being full of those scions, and I doubt the sustenance of that crowd heat the next week was attributed to the crowd aping what it had heard the week before. Paige already got to show how awesome she was on a live stage, and NXT ArRIVAL kicked that streak into fuller gear.

I predict similar initial successes for both Rose and Dallas, and for wrestlers like Tyler Breeze, Enzo Amore, and especially Sami Zayn when they finally get to the main roster. They will have been seen by starter audience, one made wider by making NXT available on The Network, and thus they will have the most vocal part of the crowd, the part that has willed Daniel Bryan to the main event of WrestleMania and beyond, by their side. The benefits of airing WWE Network are already paying off, and I would be shocked if the benefits ceased in the immediate future.

Things like aura and mystique are intangibles and are subjective from person to person and case to case. Surprise factor in wrestling, or in any form of media, is vastly overrated. Vince Russo's booking patterns in both WWE and WCW prove that statement to me. If I were WWE's director of personnel, I would rather put my faith in wider distribution than by trying to snow the crowd with a surprise. You can count the number of viewers more easily than you can gauge individual fans' levels of "mystique." Right now, nearly 700K people can tune into NXT and watch it as it runs first, and people are already making the show appointment viewing on Thursday nights.

Many improvements in developmental have made the current operation in Florida more successful than when it was based around the country, most notably in Ohio Valley Wrestling. The Performance Center, the current training staff, and the caliber of performer brought in have a lot to do with the better success rate of transitioning rookies and trainees into viable WWE superstars. However, a piece of that success has to be dedicated to the increase in exposure that WWE has placed on these wrestlers while they still toiled in developmental. As that exposure continues to increase, I expect the results to get better and better, bearing out that maybe hard numbers and analysis have a place in wrestling operations other than microanalyzing financial numbers or worrying about ratings.

Those numbers favor letting more and more people see NXT and other potential future developmental promotions. The more eyes a performer has on him or her, the better a sample size is for future success. Paige, Rose, and Dallas all have been among the hottest wrestlers in NXT both in the short term (Rose) and long (Dallas and Paige). Allowing a looking in view during their formative years allows the tastemakers in WWE crowds to get advanced word and make trends. That kind of spark is invaluable for any promoter, let alone the largest one in the world.