Monday, May 19, 2014

The Future Is Bright

If Steen is part of the next wave of signings, he'll definitely be part of a roster that will keep WWE viable and strong
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein

A lot of attention is being paid to WWE's current financial woes. Granted, a major stock drop due to inaccurate projections for The Network by the company is nothing one should take lightly. Maybe the financial world needed a primer from the millions of wrestling fans out there who know Vince McMahon is an epic bullshitter and someone whose words should never be taken at face value. One million subscribers within three months of launch? I'm as bullish on the long term impact of The Network in the grand scheme of not only wrestling distribution, but in terms of how society consumes entertainment on the whole, as anyone else if not more so. But I know that early adoption of new technological advances is minuscule compared to who ends up consuming the innovation in the long run. The fact that WWE got 667K subscribers so far should be a victory, but when you spin tall tales about the size of your economic peener, then wins seem like losses in the wake of the hyperbolic projections from Stamford.

But to act as if WWE is in danger of folding or tanking because of something as volatile as the stock market is a folly. The big picture takes into account more than just temporary wins or losses, and this latest stock drop to me feels as inconsequential as the spike in price that happened before WrestleMania. To assess the far future health of WWE is to look at how the company is structured to produce its mode of entertainment for years to come. When looking through that set of binoculars, WWE's future, and the future of wrestling in general, is bright.

No matter how much McMahon wants to give himself credit and how many sycophantic yes men or misinformed critics want to agree with him upon whom the success of his company was built, the backbone of every boom period has been pieced together with dynamic personalities. Rock 'n Wrestling had Hulk Hogan at the top, supported by Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant, Ultimate Warrior, Bobby Heenan, and Demolition. The Attitude Era would not have worked as well as it did without Steve Austin at the head or without Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, "Mr." McMahon (the character), Triple H, The Rock, Undertaker, Kane, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle buttressing it. Sure, wrestlers can put on a subpar show without some kind of system behind them, but even the best booked shows can still feel off without talented performers at the helm (true even for ECW, which is the most, pardon the pun, extreme example of booking working with a dearth of talent).

Currently, WWE has the finest roster of in-ring talent that any major mainstream American wrestling company has ever assembled. These wrestlers have some personality to go along with their strong wrestling chops, and WWE is only adding more raw talent to go along with the roster it has. Fergal "Prince" Devitt and Willie Mack have already reportedly signed. KENTA and Kevin Steen aren't too far behind, or they're signed and just not announced yet. These rumored and possibly confirmed signings are probably only the tip of the iceberg. Few fans knew a flip about Sheamus, Big E Langston, Alexander Rusev, Tyler Breeze, Leo Kruger/Adam Rose, Erick Rowan, Roman Reigns, or Wade Barrett before they all got developmental deals, and now they're all among the future foundation of the ever-evolving roster to go along with the known quantities like Sami Zayn, Antonio Cesaro, Adrian Neville, and Paige as well as the legacies like Bo Dallas, Bray Wyatt, and Charlotte.

The positive trickle-down effect to the indies and international promotions is intuitive to see. If wrestlers get signed to WWE contracts from the indies, more people will go to wrestling schools and fill those vacancies created by developmental contracts. As WWE continues to grow and sign wrestlers, growth will continue to the point where everyone will benefit. Furthermore, the wrestlers who leave WWE and wish to continue to wrestle independently or for other outfits like TNA or New Japan Pro Wrestling have the opportunities to do so. Trent?, Doc Gallows, Lance Hoyt, Davey Boy Smith, Jr., Shelton Benjamin, and Ethan Carter III are among the former WWE guys who are now doing some work for high-profile companies, both at the corporate and independent levels. The cycle of life continues, and circulation helps everyone, especially as folks who come in from the indies, lucha libre, and puroresu promotions bring more innovation to WWE, and WWE expats bring a sense of pacing and psychology that other promotions may or may not lack.

And these wrestlers will get to have exposure right from jump as they settle into NXT and get the eyeballs in up to 667K households (and growing, no matter how slowly) with The Network. For all the "trouble" it is causing WWE in the short term, I still maintain that the medium is going to change the way everyone does things in the future. To give up on over-the-top distribution now would be exceedingly foolish, especially when the technology is still in relative infancy. If WWE can develop it as a way to reach as many households independent of third parties, then wouldn't it bode well for indie companies in the future as tech gets more sophisticated and affordable?

Nothing is ever smooth in every stage of development. Nothing is ever a sure thing, either. Who knows, maybe these current problems portent the slow death of WWE in the future. Maybe none of these current signings will pan out. Maybe the current roster has plateaued, especially its leader, Daniel Bryan, who now has the kiss of death of chronic neck problems to deal with for the rest of his career. But definitively stating this rough patch is a sign of the future feels like those claiming the sky is falling bought into the Vince McMahon bullshit machine before it even was proven to be a smokescreen. Either WWE will course correct, or it won't. But at the same time, it has all the tools to continue to not only survive but flourish in the future. No matter how bad the booking gets bungled (and believe me, if you think WWE was well-booked in 1986 or 1999 from top to bottom, I have oceanfront property in Colorado to sell you), the two most important pieces of a successful wrestling company, hot talent and a modern distribution model, are there. The future is looking pretty bright from where I sit.