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The pending announcement of WWE's enormous television contract, with both FOX and NBC, marks the official end to an era of professional wrestling that has existed for more than a century. For the past 100 years, wrestling has been a viable industry because it has, in some form or another, created a product that created fan interest. In this new era, the era that will formally begin when the new TV deal in 2019, but has informally been active for the last several years, the interest, or desires, of the fans will largely cease to be relevant.
In short, the idea that WWE needs to create a product that is exciting for fans, is no longer the case. With WWE receiving a BILLION dollars from television rights, WWE will be more financially secure than they have ever been before; and not because they are drawing fans to arenas, or have a super-hot drawing card as their world champion, but because a television company is willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for live television content. WWE could put out a horrible, awful wrestling for the next several years, and unless their viewership craters (and with the loyalty of their fans, that is unlikely) and still remain enormously financially successful.
For a wrestling fan, that could be a good thing. WWE won't be going out of business anytime soon, although it wasn't like they were in danger of going under before. More money in theory means more content, and with the additional revenue from television could mean that may lower ticker prices for live events; since they will be less reliant on generating revenue from that sector.
However, the landmark TV deal basically ends the relationship between what the fans want, and what their financial Impact on the company is. For a century, a wrestling company's viability hung on the fans either paying for a ticket, or purchasing an event on PPV. Later, that switched over to subscribing to a subscription service, but the idea has always been the same; present a product the fans want to see and they will pay for it. Now, with so much guaranteed money coming in year over year; money that dwarfs the amount of revenue WWE gets from live event tickets, merchandise, PPV sales or WWE Network subscriptions, WWE no long has to appease fans for the money to come in.
The historical barometers of what have been used to determine business success in wrestling are no longer an accurate reflection on WWE's financial status. Live attendance, merchandise sales, television ratings, even if they all decline, WWE is still collecting a billion dollars from their television deals.
With the new TV deal, the fanbase has had their greatest power (the choice of whether or not to spend their money on WWE) stripped away. In it's place is enormous corporate revenue from networks desperate for live programming that has led to record contracts for not just WWE, but UFC, the NFL and the NBA as well.
Since the cash is coming in record numbers, no matter how disinterested fans become, WWE creatively could do whatever they want and the fans could boo and refuse to buy tickets, but it will not matter at all. Roman Reigns could hold the world title for the next five years and WWE would still generate record revenue. The idea that an individual wrestler is a draw for WWE will be extinct; RAW, SmackDown and the WWE brand are the draw.
This isn't necessarily a new trend; part of the reason WWE has been able to do things like push Reigns for five years despite mounting evidence that he shouldn't be pushed to that degree, is because WWE has become less and less reliant on catering to what their fans want to see. The switch from PPV to the Network has proven that WWE doesn't need to sell individual PPV shows based on their strength of those shows alone. As long as a few shows a year are good, people will keep watching. Under the old model, Jinder Mahal would have never been a given a lengthy title run because nobody would have bought the shows headlined by a Mahal title defense. However, since WWE didn't have to create PPVS shows fans actually wanted to watch; fans were treated to nearly six months of Mahal as champion.
Expect more of these kind of moments now that WWE is so financially secure. With the live sports bubble peaking, even as WWE is less popular, from attendance, merchandise, and TV viewership standpoint, their product increase in value. It's almost symbolic that as the news about WWE's lucrative new deals, RAW and SmackDown were generating their worst audiences of the year and the product has been almost unwatchable.
The only way for fans to really force change in WWE is for a large amount of them to stop watching on a weekly basis. As long as WWE keeps their audience of around 2-3 million each week ; they'll be in great shape. If they were to lose something like a million weekly fans over the next couple of years (and they've lost more than that over the last half-dozen years) then they would be in trouble.
I doubt that will happen though, WWE's fanbase is extremely loyal and willing to put up with a lot of frustration for a few moments of true entertainment. I've said before that watching WWE is a lot like watching your favorite sports team. You've been watching for years; and even if the team isn't very good, you still follow hem because one day it may turn around. At this point, the sheer habit of following WWE each week keeps people engaged, even if the product isn't very good. Unless enough of those people change the way they consume wrestling, WWE will never be forced to cater towards fan interests again.
Must Watch Matches:
ACH vs Flip Gordon: **** - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 1
Dragon Lee vs SHO: **** - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 2
Marty Scurll vs Hiromu Takahashi: **** - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 3
Dragon Lee vs Hiromu Takahashi: ****1/4 - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 6
Kento Miyahara vs Naomichi Marufuji: ****1/4 - AJPW Super Power Series 5/27/18
SHO vs KUSHIDA: **** - NJPW Best of the Super Juniors Day 8