Dear Vince McMahon,
In this open letter I’m going to tell you how to turn your company around and make it even more popular than it was in the 80s and 90s. And I’ll do it for free!
Why does everyone love NXT, but complain about the WWE main roster shows? It’s because NXT is offering the wrestling product people want to see, while WWE is a sports entertainment mess. But the good news for you is that you can fix that, and it’s not even that hard. Just follow these simple guidelines.
Treat it Like a Sport
Look, we all know that the outcomes are predetermined and the wrestlers are not actually trying to hurt each other. You came out and revealed it yourself. And honestly, even when we didn’t know I think most people at least suspected it.
So we all know, but we don’t want to be reminded of it. Fans want to get lost in the moment and maybe even question if what we are seeing at that moment is actually real. And all this focus on the entertainment aspect takes away from that.
Present it more like a real sport. Announce time limits, make sure we understand the rules and the referee enforces them, have the announcers focus on calling the action in the ring, make sure all the matches have clearly defined endings, have challengers qualify to be title contenders, etc.
You can still have stories and larger than life characters, but don’t make it detract from the overall show. People watch WWE to see wrestling. Between all our TV channels, streaming services and the internet in general we can find all the other entertainment we want, but when it comes to wrestling the sources are limited. So focus on that.
As you well know, we have over a hundred years of pro wrestling tradition and history you can look to. Use it. People like tradition, it gives you a map of what’s worked in the past, and it helps define your product.
Have champions come out as the last participant in a match. Put your world title match on as the last match of the show. When it’s Survivor Series have a survivor style elimination match as the main event. It’s all the details that add up to make what you offer something special that fans can invest in.
Keep It Simple
Everything is overly complicated and too produced these days. Just take a step back and simplify it all. If we look at that history I mentioned before we’ll see that the most memorable parts were not complicated. The stories and characters should be straight forward. The screen shouldn’t be cluttered with social media scrolls and anything else not associated with the action in the ring.
Stop writing everything out and forcing the athletes to be actors. Give them a few bullet points of what to talk about instead of a script to memorize. Acting isn’t everyone’s strong suit, and it becomes obvious when they stumble over words they would never say that were written by someone else. Give these guys and girls a chance to show their personality. And let them have input into their characters and stories.
And in regards to storylines, use common sense. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t do it. If it conflicts with something we’ve seen in the last few months, don’t do it. Wrestling fans do have memories, and don’t like their intelligence being insulted by flawed logic. And don’t cater to kids to the detriment of the adults watching.
Clear Cut Good and Bad Guys
With that simplicity in mind, I don’t think anyone is tuning in to wrestling to see the nuanced shades of gray in characters. I want to easily know who is the bad guy and who is the good guy. Bad guys should cheat and whine and treat people badly, good guys should not. Tweeners don’t work, they just take away from the story. And don’t have people switch between bad and good too often. It lessens the impact and creates inconsistencies and motivational flaws in the stories.
Feuds should be pretty straight forward, with bad guys fighting good guys. No reason to muddy this. Oh, and we don’t need to see authority figures all the time. If we have to have one make them neutral, as the evil authority figure is beyond played out, and doesn’t always make sense for the story.
Make the Titles Important
The titles should be the most important thing in the company at all times. The heavyweight title should be the goal of everyone, no one should be viewed as being above it. It should be featured in the main event and the title holder should always be treated as the most important person in the company. And it needs to be defended regularly.
But beyond the heavyweight titles you need to keep the mid card singles titles and tag titles relevant. They should be the focus of their divisions. Make people care about these titles and the wrestlers holding them. Give us some variety in what we are seeing by having time dedicated to each division. Make sure the titles are regularly defended and the title holders are always involved in a storyline or feud. And if a title doesn’t have a purpose it shouldn’t be there. Do we really need an Intercontinental and United States Championship? Not unless you decide to split the brand again.
Also, make those title belts less ugly. The gaudy blinged out heavyweight title, divas pink butterfly title and tag team giant penny titles are hideous, and cheap looking. They are borderline offensive to the title holders. Why not look to tradition and bring back one of the classic looks with a slight updated twist?
Build Up the Mid Card
For those mid card titles to mean something the champions and contenders have to mean something. The mid card scene has been lacking for some time, and that needs to be fixed. It needs to be filled with coherent stories and have time dedicated to it on the show. You can treat it like a mini main event, and soon the audience will treat it that way as well.
Make guys win enough to care about them, and get rid of this terrible 50/50 booking that does no one any favors. Wrestlers need to go on winning streaks, as winning one then losing the next does not help build them up.
Make New Main Eventers
Turn the successful mid carders into main eventers. And really back them, don’t just drop them as soon as a single story ends. You need to create real stars and stop depending on the same one or two people over and over. That gets old fast, and creates a real lack of interest when a talent regularly depicted as being lesser has to fight them. You can’t just turn constantly to John Cena to be your champ and headline all your shows.
Less is More
Cut back on the amount of content you’re producing. I know the advertisers love Raw having a third hour, but as a viewer it sucks. It has become obvious that you cannot create a compelling three hour program every week, in addition to a two hour Smackdown; not to mention all the c-list shows like Main Event, Superstars or Total Divas. The three hour Raw is a chore to sit through, and that is not something you want for your flagship show.
And Smackdown is basically forgettable as it hasn’t been important in years. I expect you’ll put some effort into it when it moves to the USA Network soon, but it will move back into irrelevance within two or three months. Don’t let that happen. Make it compelling, must-see programming. It was at its best during the brand split days. Maybe consider doing that again. Or using it as a show to focus on specific divisions, like the mid card or divas. Just don’t revert it back to the Raw recap show it’s basically been for some time now.
You should also consider cutting back on the amount of Pay Per Views you produce. Do 6 a year instead of the current 12 or 13. Restricting it to every other month would make them feel special again, and I’ll bet more people will order them. It will also give you time to make the stories leading up to them feel more compelling. And it gives you a chance to get rid of some of the stupid gimmick ones that often feel forced. I’d suggest the Royal Rumble in January, Wrestlemania in March, King of the Ring in May, SummerSlam in July, Night of Champions in September and Survivor Series in November.
Listen to your Audience
Your audience likes to tell you what they think. Listen to them. Don’t force things on them that aren’t working. Promote the wrestlers that they want to see. Don’t confiscate their signs and edit out their chants to try and present them the way you want them to act. It doesn’t work.
You’ve got one of the most vocal fan bases in the world and they want to like your product, so take advantage.
A long time fan who doesn’t want to quit watching.