Features

Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff: The WWE Dream Team Going Forward? – by Mike Sanchez

This week I was all set to pen my thoughts on the recent social media spat between some WWE and non-WWE wrestlers and the various reactions to it, but that was stopped in its tracks by an announcement from WWE that none other than Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman are to take new roles in the company and become Executive Directors of Raw and Smackdown Live. Heyman will take charge of Raw, while Bischoff will take the reins of Smackdown. It’s a big surprise and a welcome piece of good news that could go some way to silencing many WWE critics. Both men are hugely experienced in booking, producing, managing talent, writing and appearing on camera and are household names when it comes to the wrestling industry.

It’s fair to say that WWE has had its issues of late. From the repeated booking of matches, to the strange rules of the ‘Wildcard’, myself and many other fans have questioned what direction the company is going and what their game plan is. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s been a case of ‘as you were’ such as the continued involvement of Baron Corbin in the Raw Universal Title picture, or the lackluster attitude towards the Women’s Tag Division. In all fairness, there have been some high spots like the recent push for Samoa Joe from US Title level to heading into a feud with Kofi Kingston and the swift rise of Ricochet who took Joe’s belt away last Sunday at Stomping Grounds.

What does the addition of Heyman and Bischoff mean for the product going forward? We haven’t been given full details as yet, but one thing is for certain; Vince McMahon is still calling the shots. Whether Vince is going to take a back seat for some of the TV shows, or ease off the booking remains to be seen. However, he wouldn’t have hired both men in the high-profile spots they’re in if he didn’t trust them or at least wanted to relinquish some control of each show. For all we know, they may be given a remit of booking and producing the mid to lower card portion of each show, dealing with the Women’s Tag Division, Intercontinental and United States Titles while Vince and his crew focus their attention on the top tiles in the company.

Then again (and more likely) I could be wrong, and Vince may hand significantly more control of the shows to Eric and Paul while he adopts a more hands-off approach. He’ll still have Stephanie, Shane and Triple H to ensure things don’t get out of hand while he takes a break. The move smacks of a Vince McMahon idea; in the face of competition, do something that’ll take them down a peg or two. Yes, I appreciate that the fledgling AEW hasn’t been too much of a nuisance to WWE lately but there’s no doubt that many will be tuning in to the new fed once it gets off the ground – especially here in the UK when WWE moves from Sky Sports to BT Sport from 2020.

For those who aren’t aware of this, a quick side note as to why that move from WWE may be significant in the UK. Many people here pay for a selection of packages when it comes to Sky. I personally buy their sports package, which comprises of several channels that show English & Scottish football/soccer, Formula One, Golf, Tennis, NFL, NBA, Darts, WWE and a whole lot more. For this, I pay £12 per month. For me to purchase BT Sports on top of that (because I want to continue watching the other sports on Sky, so I won’t be cancelling that), I’d be forking out another £16-£30 per month depending on whether BT supply my internet or not. Frankly, I’m not paying that just to watch WWE. I’ll be catching up with Raw & Smackdown right here on TJR Wrestling, or on WWE’s YouTube channel, which is really good. AEW’s weekly show, on the other hand, will be free to watch on ITV.

The UK viewership for the Champions League soccer dipped when the rights for the games were bought by BT a few years ago. In 2016 when BT bought the rights to Champions League soccer for an eye-watering £897 million, the audience dipped from 4.4 million who were previously watching on free to air TV to less than 200,000 (source: Daily Telegraph). Although those numbers have grown since, they certainly haven’t hit the heights of their free to air rivals. Sky’s subscribers in the UK total 23 million for 2019 (source: CSIMagazine.com), whereas BT’s subscribers were around 1.8 million in February 2018 (source: tvbeurope.com). The migration from Sky to BT in the UK may make business sense for WWE, but the number of eyes on the product here will surely drop.

Video credit: Inside the Ropes

But I digress. Vince McMahon may have jumped the gun with these new appointments and fearful of AEW snatching up one or both men, has acted first in tying them into WWE. Vince has already seen Jim Ross, Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho, Dustin Rhodes and more of his former employees jump to the new federation, so in retaliation has made some signings of his own. I fully believe this move will only be positive going forward. By allocating a specific show to each man, they can focus on one product at a time and begin to look long-term into their production. A huge bonus from this will be the freeing up of Triple H from Raw and Smackdown duties so he can dedicate more time to NXT. Triple H has shown what a superb operator he can be and though I have little doubt he would be successful with Raw or Smackdown, his fondness for NXT makes him the ideal person to stay with the brand for the time being.

The acquisition of Paul Hayman and Eric Bischoff is a shrewd move by WWE. I expect the brand split will reignite with stars appearing their own show and nothing more, save for some PPVs. I imagine a revamped and revived Draft to be put in place with talent from NXT included to be stepped up onto the main roster. I hope there are inter-brand rivalries with Heyman and Bischoff taking center stage to promote their show and hype their contracted talent.

I believe this change will bring the stability that has been missing from WWE TV for a while now and will sow the seeds for the future. In regards to AEW, I don’t believe they’ll have too much to fear, however, Vince McMahon has been in dogfights before and has recruited two men who he previously competed with in business. They all know how to play dirty. They know how to draw talent and viewers. They know how to work for a wrestling company. Perhaps the most important signings in wrestling right now aren’t wearing tights, but are wearing suits and potentially holding a microphone. Only time will tell.

—-

So do you think the addition of Eric Bischoff & Paul Heyman will be beneficial to WWE? How do you see it playing out? Will Vince McMahon relinquish some control or will he still keep a firm grip on proceedings? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.