If you’re a diehard wrestling fan that follows online sites and forums, you’re likely noticing a trend lately. And the trend is the perception that WWE is massively struggling while AEW is red-hot and on the rise. Starting with the latter, AEW is definitely picking up steam; nobody can deny that. From signing several major names to increasing ratings and selling out arenas, the company currently has real momentum. Whether this is sustainable for the long run is still debatable, though I will suggest ideas for this in another article.
As for WWE, though, judging by social media, wrestling news sites etc., the organisation is almost terminally ill. One wouldn’t know that SummerSlam recently attracted 40,000+ to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nor that WWE hasn’t yet reached the midway point of its billion-dollar TV rights deals in the United States. Nope, according to these fans, the company is in a really bad way right now.
However, it’s easy to see why some currently view WWE as a falling giant. The number of releases throughout 2021 is understandable to trim an overly-large roster and an unnecessary wage bill. But to many, it’s also concerning due to some top talents receiving their walking papers. Worse still, numerous talents are actively choosing to leave WWE when their contracts expire specifically to jump to AEW. Meanwhile, NXT is presently receiving a revamp due to its own product hitting its biggest slump in almost a decade. And as for Raw, well, we will come onto that shortly. But needless to say that Monday night ratings are also not particularly strong right now either. All of which creates the notion that WWE is in trouble, even if their quarterly dividend reports are to the contrary.
A Positive Spin
Instead of playing the blame game, though, let’s take a more positive approach. So, let’s consider ten ways that WWE could improve its product on the whole. Some of these points are primarily in relation to the on-screen happenings. Meanwhile, others will focus more on what goes down behind the scenes. But all are valid, and just some of these changes occurring could greatly alter the perception about WWE right now. I personally wouldn’t say that WWE is struggling, but I would say that there are clear warning signs. And if WWE ignores them, then they could find that their bottom line does take a hit in the mid-2020s. So, in our latest wrestling list, let’s focus on the ten ways that WWE could improve its product.
Ten Ways That WWE Could Improve Its Product
Revamp Raw As A Whole
When fans express disillusionment about WWE, they’re usually referring to Raw. Whether it’s the familiar formula, the length of the programme or catering to kids, Raw receives regular and fierce criticism. As someone growing up when Raw was consistently exciting, it’s sad to see the current state of play. There are bright spots right now, with the RKBro tandem being one example. But on the whole, Raw is not clicking with many fans at all. And it’s time for changes that will last, not just those that last a few weeks. (I’m looking at you, Raw Underground.) So, what could WWE do to change Raw? Actually, there are many options.
For starters, do something different with the third hour. Give it to the women’s division or add some showcase matches for NXT. Use it for classic footage that will hook fans who remember the “good old days”. Seriously, the third hour of Raw showing vintage matches from yesteryear might attract more viewers than it does presently. Meanwhile, the theme song is incredibly dull and doesn’t even closely match the original chaotic ethos of the show. Place longer matches towards the end instead of having unnecessarily long bouts primarily to fill time.
Don’t rely on the 20-minute promos or the authority figures that would go out of fashion back in the late 2000s. And give the show a genuine new set that wows fans, instead of yet another giant screen as it currently has. There are lots of ways that WWE can change Raw, but none are happening, or if they do, they don’t last very long. If Raw begins to stand out and catch people off-guard positively, then it will serve a real purpose moving forward.
Fully Embrace The PG Rating
This won’t be popular, but hear me out. By trying to cater to everybody, WWE is particularly enticing to nobody. One of AEW’s strengths is that it specifically targets young adult males. Sometimes, this becomes overbearing as a viewer. And it’s certainly overbearing when seeing how much people defend AEW from the tiniest bit of criticism. But it’s the biggest reason why there’s a perception of Dynamite being cooler than Raw, SmackDown or NXT. Just like how Raw was the in-thing in the late 1990s when opposing WCW Monday Nitro for the exact same reason.
But even in the late 2000s, WWE being PG would allow John Cena, Rey Mysterio and others to stand out. For those two alone, crowd pops would always reverberate around arenas, and merchandise sales would often be strong. Right now, WWE needs to decide on a direction, and it’s clear that it won’t be young adults. The days of TV-14 are over, and though WWE occasionally tries to be edgy, they ain’t coming back.
Therefore, go all in, pardon the pun, and properly target the kids. Find that next superstar that will appeal to the children. Look for personality traits within its roster that will convince families to attend shows on a weekly basis. Create low-card characters that encourage audience interaction rather than trying to have five-star matches. And don’t worry if fans complain that the product is going soft. Right now, Raw is trying to please all, but it’s actually pleasing very few. WWE does seem to be going towards the direction of specifically catering to kids and families again. But the company needs to take this all the way to truly separate itself from alternatives such as AEW.
Oh, boy. This is one area that deserves a full article of its own. So, let’s be gentle and say that WWE could do a better job when it comes to writing shows. Even if you didn’t enjoy Nexus vs. John Cena in 2010, at least there was a clear week-to-week storyline. Nowadays, though, storylines often come to a halt and disappear without explanation. Pushes will start and abruptly stop (Toni Storm’s SmackDown match record currently starts at one bout). Even vignettes don’t come to fruition, with Elias’ character adjustment seemingly pausing out of nowhere.
And then you have WWE ignoring matches after announcing them on social media or even within previous programmes. For instance, Raw would announce Bobby Lashley vs. Sheamus, only to pretend that announcement was nonexistent come the following Monday. Reports of frequent script tear-ups and late show rewrites contribute to an environment that seemingly runs on chaos.
The common denominator amongst comings-and-goings on the writing team is that Vince McMahon remains ever-present. Therefore, it’s safe to see that he may be the reason for what must be a ton of stress and drama backstage. Rather than making over-the-top proclamations, I’m simply saying that somebody else needs to oversee creative. And by that, I mean that they need to calm things down and allow stories and character progressions to flow. The days of last-minute rewrites, 50/50 booking and lost pushes have to stop. Even fans who don’t follow the backstage scoops will notice when the quality of the product is all over the place. If this happens, then it will eventually have a positive impact on ratings and general faith in the product. But this is arguably the least achievable point on my list for various reasons, so let’s move on.
Ignore The Haters
This one may be more for the fans than the company itself, but it deserves a mention. If you believe social media and forums, WWE is as toxic as any organisation on the planet. And those who watch the shows are almost made to feel second-class for doing so. It’s a stark contrast to the excitement of watching multiple companies during the Monday Night War. Indeed, while some would prefer Raw and others would prefer Nitro, the teasing would never resort to bile towards the opposition. At least not between the vast majority of fans, anyway.
Compare that to now, where trolls hijack wrestler posts, fan comments and recap forums to spread hate. Yes, there are more ways for fans to express themselves nowadays, and some of those have no management whatsoever. But it all adds up to fans feeling worse than they should about watching WWE. No doubt, some criticisms have merit, but not as many as the internet would have you think.
WWE should ignore those who are criticising for literally no reason or doing so to look big on forums. It’s fair for fans to debate Karrion Kross losing his Raw debut in two minutes (more on that shortly). But the “and another thing” aspect of nitpicking everything becomes boring at best and draining at worst. These people (are they really fans?) shouldn’t receive attention when WWE attempts to cater to its audience. So, WWE needs to only react when the criticism is valid and widespread amongst the actual fanbase.
As for the genuine fans, if you want to watch WWE, do so without feeling any sense of discomfort. Let the trolls do their thing and just treat them as if they don’t exist. By doing this, the fans who do watch WWE will feel positive for doing so. And they won’t be second-guessing why they follow a product that they have a passion for.
A Balance Between Entertainment And Profit
The Zombie Lumberjack match between Damian Priest and The Miz at WrestleMania Backlash was questionable to say the least. WWE would willingly sacrifice a feud-ending match between two significant characters in order to profit from a movie. Supposedly, they would earn $1 million for the promotional nod. Business-wise, it’s nice money if you can get it and a totally understandable decision. But as a fan investing in the product, it raises all sorts of concerns. Like, what else might WWE do purely for financial gain? Cue your usual jokes about the Saudi Arabia deal. But even if fans know that WWE is doing something purely for money, the company must be more subtle about it. Better still, it should tie into the product in a way that is logical, rather than coming out of nowhere akin to guerilla marketing.
For instance, the Zombie Lumberjack match to promote Army Of The Dead was only announced on the night. And okay, perhaps it was a late deal that WWE was able to strike. But what if Priest says the previous Monday that he was on the phone to Batista? And what if Damian then reveals the stipulation to startle Miz and his then-buddy John Morrison? What if the heels initially laugh off the zombies saying “it’s just a movie”? Only for the zombies to then start to appear, freaking them out? It still may not be a roaring success, but at least it ties into the storyline somewhat. Or better still, implement this story for characters who might actually associate themselves with such creatures.
Either way, if WWE is making decisions purely for money, at least link to the product in a sensible manner. The blatant shilling of an external product is easier to stomach if it fits in with WWE’s storytelling.
Utilise New Talent Appropriately
This may be WWE’s biggest problem of all. The stop-start pushes of new stars, especially those from NXT, draws a mixture of confusion, amazement and frustration. Karrion Kross is the most obvious example, with his Raw debut already being infamous for the wrong reasons. The then-undefeated NXT Champion would appear and shockingly lose to Jeff Hardy inside two minutes. Now, a swerve isn’t always a bad thing, and perhaps there was a genuine storyline benefit to this. But to almost everybody, it would come across as extremely short-sighted and a waste of Kross’ dominance in NXT. Not every NXT newbie needs to go on a winning streak, but Kross was already on one beforehand.
Even before this, though, there are countless examples of those designated for super-stardom on the main roster only for the booking to halt them. Keith Lee, Dominik Dijakovic/T-Bar, Ember Moon (who would go back to NXT), Aleister Black (now Malakai Black in AEW). These are just some of the many examples. And if this was a factor in NXT mainstay Adam Cole leaving the company, could you blame him?
Contrast that with WWE handling OVW/DSW graduates in the 2000s. John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista and Randy Orton would be huge triumphs. But even Shelton Benjamin, Carlito, Chris Masters, Mr Kennedy, Johnny Nitro/John Morrison, MVP and others would achieve moderate success. And to some wrestlers, mid-card achievements would be sufficient. But with WWE crying out for main eventers that connect with fans, it too often wastes ready-made stars from NXT.
Simply put, WWE must give new signings/NXT promotions a fair crack; at least 9-12 months or so to fully prove themselves. Abandoning pushes for no reason, jobbing them out unnecessarily or simply not using them is a waste of everybody’s time. As mentioned, Damian Priest and Riddle are two examples of WWE doing better in this regard lately. But when it comes to utilising NXT graduates, there needs to be more Damian Priests and less Keith Lees. (In terms of the actual creative treatment, not the talents themselves.)
During the peak of NXT, we would see WWE assemble one hell of a roster from an in-ring standpoint. Across the brands, for both genders, and from top to bottom, almost everybody on the books could steal the show. Whether it was Seth Rollins, Buddy Murphy, Asuka or Walter, a great match would become a near-guarantee every time. But how many of these would actually have strong characters that have an impact on ratings and general interest? It’s only been in the last two years that Seth Rollins would have a gimmick of sorts. His Messiah schtick didn’t please everybody, but at least he would stand out more than previously.
And look at Roman Reigns, a man who would be a vanilla top babyface (often to counterproductive reactions) for years. Now, as the Head Of The Table, he shows more personality than ever, and he offers far more entertainment. Yet he also remains a detestable heel from an on-screen standpoint, so he has the perfect balance right now.
In contrast, Drew McIntyre is a great guy in real life, but his babyface character is, again, vanilla. Even though he’s very relatable away from the ring, in the ring he’s another white-meat babyface. But if he gets a character revamp that allows him to stand out amongst the crowd, perhaps he makes it big. Meanwhile, Bianca Belair is very popular with fans inside the arena. But outside the arena, how many people know of her? Her EST statements sound fairly cool, but they’re not representative of a larger-than-life character. During WWE’s biggest two eras, there were a plethora of strong characters all across the board. Right now, the company needs more of these, because that’s how you capture interest and intrigue. Indeed, I would rather see a strong character thrive than any old wrestler has a great yet forgettable match. Speaking of which …
As everybody knows, Raw lasts for three hours. If you take away commercial breaks, it’s more like two hours and fifteen minutes. But even then, you have around ten-to-fifteen minutes of recap videos, sometimes of what would happen just moments ago. However, worse than this are the matches that are there purely to fill time. Currently, “Championship Contender” is a buzzword to try and add stakes to an otherwise unimportant match. But it needs more than that for a match or segment to feel important or at least memorable. Furthermore, though some may disagree, I get a kick out of the 24/7 Championship scene for several reasons. Namely, it’s different from the rest of the show, it’s usually entertaining, and it doesn’t last too long. Just a few minutes for the 24/7 crew means more to me than a drawn-out, technically sound yet insignificant match.
The integration of stronger characters would help. But WWE needs to make as many segments on their shows feel at least somewhat important. How many people would truly invest in Mansoor and Ali endlessly taking on Mace and T-Bar? Even the good stuff, like The Usos vs. The Mysterios, struggles to leave a lasting impression. In contrast, I could tell you at least one highly memorable segment involving almost anybody from the Attitude Era. If the show is worth watching, then fans will invest and they will watch every single week. But if most of the show is skippable, then fans will react accordingly. This wouldn’t take a great amount of time to fix. But it would require people to exercise creative muscles that are currently settling for “good enough”.
On a similar note, a big issue with WWE is that it feels very predictable. I noted earlier about start-stop pushes, but the extreme reverse of that is an overly-familiar trope. For example, if someone comes to the ring to open a show with a promo, what are the odds of an interruption? Probably 90-95%, if not 99%. The only exceptions are quick opening speeches by authority figures or some real-life announcement. Otherwise, you know the score. Similarly, you know where a storyline is going as soon as two wrestlers begin to interact with one another.
This is especially true around WrestleMania season. Once Bad Bunny and Damian Priest began tormenting The Miz and John Morrison, you knew a Mania match was the destination. Yet the characters (namely, the heels) would still express surprise at such an eventuality. How about Drew McIntyre getting into Jinder Mahal’s business for weeks prior to Money In The Bank? Then, what happens at MITB? Jinder, Veer and Shanky would cost Drew the briefcase to the surprise of nobody except … Drew. And then there’s the “distraction leading to a roll-up” which happens literally every Monday night nowadays.
Surely WWE can do better than this? I believe it can. Maybe it’s to do with the last-minute rewrites, so the creative team settles for the usual formula. But it’s an incredibly stale formula. And it means that in 2021 if you watch one episode of Raw, you’ve essentially seen them all. There needs to be far more unpredictability, stuff that makes fans go “Woah” more often. It doesn’t have to be every segment, but a couple of times a show would help. And it has to be something meaningful.
Have Steve Austin make a totally-unannounced appearance one night. Give fans a surprise Ladder match main event another night. (But preferably not in MITB/TLC season, because that again falls into the predictable nature of the product.) Maybe have a Falls Count Anywhere match last the duration of the show and end up in an airport or something. If the show is too familiar and predictable, hardly anyone will remember it. But it only takes one dramatic moment to leave a lasting impression. At the very least, avoid having every other match on television end in a roll-up.
I could make a ton of other points. These include signing younger talents for the Performance Center and bringing psychology and selling back to matches/angles. But I have to include this point before I end my list. For many years, WWE has been scripting promos, removing a talent’s opportunity to express themselves as they wish. It’s understandable when you consider that the product as a whole has a script. Imagine a theatre show where the main protagonist suddenly ad-libs and brings up a ton of irrelevant points.
But at the same time, the talent shouldn’t have to recite a speech word-for-word. Especially when the language of the promos is so forced. How many times have WWE performers used words that nobody on the street would ever use? Do they read a thesaurus before appearing on television? And how is this a surefire way of attracting fans to the product? It isn’t.
But worse still is when the performer themselves sounds like they’re reading off a script. A recent example was Nikki AS.H. and her extensive speeches about being almost a superhero. Regardless of your thoughts about her persona, to me, the worst aspect was definitely her promos. Because they would sound unnatural, childish and boring all at once. If they allow Nikki to say something closer to her heart, perhaps the outcome would be different. Certain talents can pull it off, such as The Street Profits and MVP. But too often, the promos are channel-changing due to their content and delivery. This is something that may never change in modern WWE. But it would make a huge difference to one’s enjoyment of the product if it was to happen.
Many are seeing WWE’s current situation as troublesome, with the trolls suggesting that it’s karma for some reason. But I prefer to look at it as an opportunity; a moment to revamp a successful yet stale formula. It may not happen for a few months, or even a few years. But this is a chance for WWE to change for the better. A chance for WWE to fix what isn’t working and to run with what is working. And a chance for WWE to prepare for the next chapter of its history, one that will hopefully see them surging again.
It may not be realistic for WWE to achieve success akin to the Hogan years or the Attitude Era. But if AEW can increase ratings, ticket sales and general product interest, surely WWE can do so as well? And probably to a grander scale? Of course. So, let’s see them do it again. And they may just follow some of the steps above in order to do so.
So, these are my thoughts on ten ways that WWE could improve its product. But what do you think? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts!