Jimmy Van: WWE's Common Sense Mistakes

In my day-to-day life I own and manage a marketing and development company. In my business and in every company for that matter there are new hires that learn the job and succeed, as well as new hires that prove not to be a fit, struggle and unfortunately end up fired. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had to let go of a few new hires and all of them shared the same characteristic – they made what I call common sense mistakes. In their case it meant poor spelling and grammar in client correspondence, or accidentally including the wrong person in an e-mail, or not doing proper due diligence with client prospecting that subsequently cost us money, or a variety of similar mistakes that lacked basic logic and were very avoidable if common sense was applied. Thus I call them common sense mistakes. I’ve never had an issue with an employee making a mistake so long as they learned from it and corrected it to ensure that it didn’t happen again. But some things can’t be taught, you either have it or you don’t, and unfortunately some members of my staff didn’t have it, continued making the same common sense mistakes, and it cost them their job.

A lot has been said over the last several years about WWE’s creative inefficiencies, how they continue to drop the ball in a variety of ways, and how they’re now suffering because of it with respect to television ratings and the erosion of their audience. But watching WWE Raw this week it was apparent that one of the company’s many creative issues stems from a lack of common sense, issues that should be preventable but continue to creep up in WWE programming regularly. And so in this article I’m not going to look at storylines I consider to be horrible or the misuse of a talent I think should be main eventing. Instead I’m going to look at some of the common sense mistakes made on WWE Raw this week and how they resulted in the live audience – and likely resulted in the television audience – not reacting in the way that WWE had envisioned when the show was put together.

First and foremost, in business an obvious “sales for dummies” or “sales 101” rule is simple – know your audience. How can you expect to be successful in business if you don’t know your audience? Does Miller Lite run commercial time on Nickelodeon? No. Why? Common sense. And so I have to ask, how did Vince McMahon or Triple H or whoever was responsible for booking Brock Lesnar on Raw this week, not realize that bringing Brock – your heel – out in front of his hometown crowd in Minnesota was going to result in the crowd shitting on Goldberg – your babyface – and not get you the reaction that you were anticipating? All the credit to Paul Heyman who tried his damnest to illicit a “Goldberg” chant but he knew it wasn’t going to happen in Minneapolis, and when Brock’s music seemingly hit out of nowhere to end the segment, it felt like it was WWE calling an audible and throwing in the towel because the segment had become a train wreck. Common sense should have indicated that you don’t bring your heel out in front of his hometown crowd if you want that crowd to cheer for the babyface. The segment was a mess and a complete waste of Brock’s presence, and it was all avoidable.

Speaking of “know your audience”, WWE is in a conundrum with respect to their television demographics. On the one hand, the average median age for a Raw viewer is in the low-to-mid 40’s meaning when you book your main event talent to fight over a “list” – a storyline that only children or young teenagers would find entertaining - you can expect a very poor reception afterwards and so you can call that another common sense mistake. But on the other hand, as your audience continues to skew older, I can understand WWE’s desire to attract a younger fan base and I can subsequently understand their reasoning when booking silly angles like that. So as a fan in my 40’s, watching Seth Rollins try to cut a serious promo over Jericho’s list I thought to myself, this is so foolish. The WWE audience is eroding because the median age skews older and storylines like that are making people drop off. But if you don’t attract the next generation of fans, then once the aging fans drop off you’ve got nothing left. So they’re in a tough spot.

Another common sense mistake that’s been happening for a LONG time now has to do with WWE’s decision on a seemingly regular basis to book the participants in a PPV match on Raw for free prior to the PPV. It happened again on Raw this week with New Day vs. Cesaro and Sheamus. I’m sure WWE officials would explain it by saying, “Well this was a non-title match and the one on PPV will be for the titles.” But it doesn’t matter. Once people have seen it, they’ve seen it, titles or no titles. It’s completely nonsensical to give it away for free first, and even though PPV revenue is of little importance now due to WWE Network, that still doesn’t excuse them for killing a PPV match in that way month after month.

A similar mistake that’s been happening for a while is this – WWE has a habit of having a wrestler scheduled to challenge for and likely win a title on PPV, lose to a different opponent who has no relevance to the title storyline, first. It should be common sense to protect a wrestler that you want to put over for a title so that it’s believable when they win as opposed to looking like a one-off fluke. But time and time again WWE does this. And on Raw this week they did it with Brian Kendrick, who is challenging for the Cruiserweight Title at Hell in a Cell and will likely win it, but on Raw he was defeated by Rich Swann for no apparent reason. In UFC if they’re grooming a fighter for a title shot, and then that fighter loses to someone else in the meantime, does he still get the title shot? Absolutely not (unless your name is Chael Sonnen). He’s then forced to fight another contender and earn the title shot again, which makes sense. And even though wrestling is entertainment and Kendrick’s title shot is scheduled for the same week as his Raw match, I think it would make more sense if the match was now deemed non-title or if Swann was added to the match as a three-way. But if recent history is any indication, Kendrick will probably win the title, then beat Swann in a rematch thereby making Swann’s initial victory meaningless.

For those of you who follow NHL hockey, I’m an Edmonton Oilers fan and have been since I was a kid. For the last ten years, the Oilers have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs. As a result, the team has programmed its fans to expect the worst all the time. The team is currently 5-1 at the start of the new NHL season, one of the top teams in the league. But still, myself and other Oilers fans I know are waiting for the wheels to fall off and for the team to go on a losing streak and end up at the bottom of the standings again. My point? WWE fans are in a similar rut. WWE television has been so mediocre for so long, that fans have come to expect it. And a lot of the issues stem from preventable, easily fixable common sense mistakes creeping up in the booking which results in the live audience sitting on their hands and the television audience tuning out.

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