WWE: How Do You Top That? by Matt Corton

Last week I got to thinking and sharing with you all about some of the dream matches that I think could be lying in wait for us all in the future and that, in turn, has got me to thinking about whether the WWE has its own dream.

I got to wondering what Vince and family dreamed of the next ten years bringing.

We’ve known for a while that Vince seems to dream of big guys filling his wrestling rings. The WWE has been long known to have a ‘type’. The thing about what you know though, is that it’s just one piece, not the whole and it’s been clear to me for a while that there’s been a shift away from the big guys a little bit. While we’ll always have guys like Braun Strowman and Ryback pushed as far as it’s possible for them to be pushed, they’re a spectacle after all, there’s definitely been a greater focus in the past few years towards the recognition that match quality is just as important is the spectacle. Equally important, of course, is ratings (for now), and given they were falling it’s not surprising a shift in focus occurred.

It is a shift rather than a revolution as well, because two other things that are important to the WWE’s hierarchy are investment (from network subscribers, advertising, TV rights etc) and growth. Both of those are fairly strong for the WWE, but I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on business matters, I do that enough in my daily life.

What is interesting about all that though is you could say WWE’s dream for the past few years has been to scale the mountain of the WWE Network, be that getting it off the ground, getting that seemingly magical figure of one million subscribers or growing the amount of original content. I think you could say WWE has reached the summit of that particular mountain quite nicely and firmly planted its flag on top.

WWE has almost secured its future with the WWE Network and it’s more than just a fairly successful business, it’s a juggernaut.

So when it’s topped the mountain, what other forms of exploration does a juggernaut dream of?

Well, it had a dream of deep diving into the movie business. Like a little starlet it packed itself off to the studios to find its big break, never quite managing it. Right?

Well that’s a common view; only, there aren’t half a lot of films in development over there. While we’re talking about dreams, WWE Studios helps realises some of the wrestlers’ dreams of acting in a big feature film. Sure, revenues are down, but WWE Studios still makes money and the publicity associated with the movie business; that can only rub the company in the right way. Not to mention the savings from the ability to create their own content without having to contract that in from film companies.

I don’t think movies, or satisfying the wrestlers’ dreams of appearing on the big screen is what the WWE’s next dream is about though.

I think the problem is how do you top becoming the best in the world at what you do, a global integrated media organisation with fingers in the movie business, a huge marketing arm, incredibly profitable consumer products division and flagship content on international TV?

What does the climber do when they’ve climbed Everest?

I think you do something that nobody else has done before. That’s all there is left. When you’ve reached the top of what you’re doing, when you’ve bested everyone else and done nearly all of what you set out to do, that’s all that there is left. You become an explorer, a pioneer, or an inventor.

So how does WWE top becoming the complete wrestling and entertainment package? Well, in this writer’s view it’s got a long way to go because while it might be the biggest and the best, it’s not everything it could be. It’s got storylines to sort out, characterisations to bring up to the speed of the modern world and it needs to turn the hearts and minds of a good portion of its fans from scepticism to excitement.

Case in point? Wrestlemania. WWE’s dream PPV.

Now I haven’t been watching WWE for all of its thirty-three years in existence, but in the time I have been watching, I don’t remember so many people being so openly unenthused about a Wrestlemania. They’ve all had something to keep me interested since I’ve started watching, be that Stone Cold vs. The Rock, The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, The Rock vs. John Cena (hang on there’s an unintentional mini-theme developing there), Bret Hart finally getting his hands on Vince, Daniel Bryan’s journey, the Undertaker’s streak or Money In The Bank. Every show has had something I’ve been really interested in, but I must admit this one looks the weakest for a long time.

I’m still looking forward to it. I think it’ll be a good show because they always are, and at least you can be guaranteed that something major is going to happen at every Wrestlemania. I’m keen to see Ambrose vs. Lesnar and I think the women’s title match should be good. I don’t really want to see Reigns vs. Triple H but I’m ready to be surprised. Shane vs. Taker has a major stipulation on the line. Jericho vs. Styles will be a good match, but I’ve seen it already. I’m not bothered about the New Day vs. the League or Nations or Ryback vs. Kalisto or yet another ladder match for the IC title, so I can see why people could be down on it – none of the above, bar the title feud, is bad, though.

I’m sticking to my guns and saying I think this year’s Wrestlemania will be a good show. I just don’t think it will be great.

That means that WWE’s dream in the short-term is to make next year’s Wrestlemania just that – great. Not only must-see but also something that gets the goose bumps prickling.

So what do I hear rumours about this week?

Well, I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say that brand extending is not the way to do make WWE’s product great. This should not be one of the WWE’s dreams for success. It’s not because I think it’s a terrible idea or anything, and if those rumours are to be believed it’s becoming more and more likely it’s going to happen, I don’t want it for a very simple reason.

Three hours of Raw plus one hour of NXT is enough wrestling in a week for me.

My dream is not to watch ever more wrestling content, any more than the WWE’s dream should be to put ever more content out there. The simple fact is, I’m not sure what place SmackDown has in the NXT world and the brand extension would give it that place. But they don’t need to split the roster to do that. As I said above, they could have used the network provider move to really shake the show up, explore new territory and give us something we’d never seen before, but I have no desire to see two more hours a week of content formatted in the same way on top of the four I already watch.

So if WWE’s dream is to snatch back the long-lost idea of creating its own competition by having two competing brands, I say again what I said back then when they tried it the first time – it won’t work.

It won’t top being the most successful wrestling company of all time – it will dilute it.

They need to do something different, they need to do something fresh and they need to do something that hasn’t been seen before. And they have form for doing that, be it new match types, the first Wrestlemania, the Money in the Bank concept, TLC and the Network – they have form for innovating, changing and making the WWE a place where really anything can happen.

A roster split is just more of the same with different people.

So that shouldn’t be WWE’s dream but the thing is, the WWE itself already is a dream, its own El Dorado. It’s the dream of one explorer, Vince McMahon who bought his pot of gold from his Dad. They’re an organisation that’s gone from 13 employees in 1983 to over 700 today, becoming a global integrated media organisation producing films, TV and network content, a huge range of consumer products and much more. This ain’t a wrasslin’ territory.

Did Vince dream it could get this big when he started? Do you know what, he probably did. He’s achieved most of what he’s dreamed of, so I wouldn’t bet against whatever the WWE and Vince’s next dream is being just as ruthlessly pursued and just as great for fans as all the other innovations.

But do you know what? It’s not make or break yet, any more than an explorer finding their way to El Dorado first is going to make or break that person, there’s more to a person than that and there’s more to the WWE than finding the next city of gold. But they do need to find something, and soon, because it might not be make or break, but if it doesn’t change at all, it could be. I just don’t think the roster split is the right dream to pursue.

What do you guys think? What avenue of exploration do you think they should force their way down?