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Natural wastage?



24 November 2004

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Well, it happened. Just as we knew it would, really. Itís a plot twist you could see coming on page 5. The pink slips, P-45ís, brush offs, whichever euphemism you want to use for it. Sackings. 10 of them. Wrestlers and a writer. And more to come. People seem shocked. But why?

Business is way down, and wrestling in general is going through a hard time. The WWE has noticed that it may be in trouble. Not Enron and WorldCom trouble. But enough trouble to make business commentators raise their eyebrows at the quarterly reports. You see, even in the dark days of 1993-1995, the rest of wrestling was strong enough to make us believe that Vince and the boys were just entering a ďboredom blipĒ, when they came with some new ideas or new superstar, it would turn around. And it did, with someone elseís ideas (take a bow, Mr Heyman) and the eponymous Stone Cold. But, although the WWE is in the middle of the same boredom, the general feeling is that there are no new ideas, everything has been used up and spat out, and the fans know it. Itís going to be a long, cold winter.

So the WWE has done what it does best. Dig in for the difficult times. And, as they have bought the line that there is nothing they can to improve the product, they are tinkering with what theyíve got. And that means cuts. If you cut costs, you make profits. Thatís what corporations do. And thatís exactly what the WWE is.

It exists purely to make cash, to provide profit for its owners. It doesnít exist to promote wrestling or to entertain us, these are by-products, just one of the means by which the almighty Dollar is secured. The WWE is busy selling the sizzle, not the sausage; thatís why one of their marketing men reminded us recently that they are a ďlifestyle brandĒ Ė by broadening out their appeal, they broaden out their consumer base, which broadens out their profits. If you thought you were watching a wrestling concern, think again Ė the WWE would make widgets if there were enough money in it. I donít know how many times I have to say this, but clearly the business of promoting wrestling has got in the way of the wrestling itself to such a degree that it has forgotten what brought it to the groaning corporate table in the first place Ė wrestling matches. Nothing else. No films, no music sales, no reality shows. Just wrestling.

Cash is King. The WWE exists for itself and no-one else. Of course, the WWE isnít quite like the corporate giants like IBM, Pepsi or Disney. These pure business corporations can swap and change CEOís without much disruption, whilst the WWE is founded on the paternalistic model of Uncle Vince as absolute leader Ė but heís styled it as much as he can as a corporation.

Itís a shame, and cruel too, but Vince has been a victim of his own business beliefs. Heís an arch free marketer, business as battlefield, last man standing. And heís won Ė he helped to decimate the territories by using TV coverage, and has watched his main rival, WCW, turn away from the wrestling which always sustained it, in an attempt to become itís own little WWE. Vince now stands alone in the wrestling world. But like most corporations, the WWE needs competition to move forward and grow; they have an aggressive business model, set up to destroy all opposition and make money by doing so. Vince has achieved that. The WWE are now in endgame (itís a chess term, dimwits) Ė and itís a game heís not so good at.

The WWE now has a monopoly. Which means old rules donít apply. It needs a new business model, one not so aggressive; in fact, it needs to nurture its customers (oh yes, thatís how they see us) and strengthen their core appeal to keep us interested. What brought us to the table will keep us here. Aggressively moving into other markets will just alienate us, we want wrestling, and lots of it. They may have won the war, but if they donít secure the peace, fans will go elsewhere, particularly as MMA is creating such a buzz.

Vince is all at sea, thrashing around in quick-fix angles. The roster split was partially there to create some false competition, and fans are now clued up enough to see it. They want slow burn angles and solid wrestling, not just flashy moves that go nowhere and mean nothing Ė it has to be within the context of the match. Seems simple, doesnít it? But itís something all those TV writers in the back donít understand.

So the sackings may be a consequence of Mr M not understanding the new market. The WWE is no longer really a corporation, as when a corporation wins it should be dismantled, it has done what it was created for and can do nothing else. The WWE needs to redefine its contract with its customers and employees (as thatís all wrestlers are) to involve them as stakeholders, to give them an interest in the business of the WWE. Of course, to do this, Vinnie Mac would have to give up some of his control, and this may be the most difficult thing heís ever done. The age of dictating the game has gone; the age of consulting has begun.

If he just has a rethink, and takes time to enjoy his victory, Vinnie may come up with something new. All corporations produce something, and itís when they begin to believe they are an entity in themselves that things hit the skids. The way certain stars were disposed of (Test while injured and Gail Kim whilst a very active wrestler come to mind) show just how WWE cares about its ďsuperstarsĒ when compared to the profit margin. Iím sure Vince sees the WWE as a great white, which will die if it stops moving; but at the moment it resembles a completely different big fish, super whale Moby Dick (I know itís a mammal, donít be pedantic!), beached, and with Captain Ahab and his harpoons on the starboard bow.

Thar she blows!

The Cynic

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