Joe Babinsack: WWE, network TV and the UFC deal



   
I can’t help but comment on the commentary on this site, reflecting the position of the WWE on the announcement of the deal to put UFC on the FOX Network.
The WWE comment regarding UFC programming moving to Friday is succinct:  "Different audiences."
I just saw the initial advertising for the UFC on FOX, watching the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Philadelphia Eagles. It was quick, and I’d be remiss to guess who was on there (Silva? Lesnar? GSP?) but that ten seconds of UFC advertising trumps the network efforts of the various incarnations of MMA on CBS, and very likely begins a new level of UFC’s rise to prominence in what I call combat sports.
And yet, the WWE ho-hums the announcement, pretends it does not matter, and ignores reality.
There is as cynicism and a joke in there, that professional wrestling (dare I call it that?) ignores reality. But it’s a scary part of the industry over the past decade. It’s a scary awareness as some sort of an analyst on the industry to realize that the foremost company in the business, that organization that once touted a battle of billionaires a few years back – between its owner and Donald Trump – now looks hopelessly out of touch with the mainstream.
The WWE has proven to be out of touch with the mainstream for a long time.
Sure, there are NBC specials, but those are the significant measuring stick of mainstream recognition. What started out – in the most recent incarnation – as an attempt to bring the WWE back into vogue, quickly became a disappointment, and then turned into a charitable offering.
Sure, the airings to praise the service of troops is laudable, and I’m not complaining that the WWE does it, or even that they’ve done it with a cynical purpose and a way to be on mainstream television without worrying about ratings, but when you get down to it, the WWE was ill-equipped to handle Network TV, unable to capitalize on the potential, almost unwilling to market itself on the biggest stage possible.
Over the past decade, the WWE has gone from red hot to admittedly a top ten ratings getter, but almost embarrassingly tolerated by the big cable TV operations.
And why is that?
The WWE, once it became the top dog in the industry, has been resting on its laurels ever since. Any sense of competition in the industry is laughable as long as the Carter Family uses TNA as a prop for the daughter to be a division president, and more likely as some sort of tax gimmick for their other business operations. (Please, if anyone can give me a better reason for TNA’s ongoing less-than-mediocre production, I’d love to hear it.)
Any attempt to create a new star has been woeful. Sure, there are exceptions, but most of us writing or reading on this site are well aware of the ineptitude of WWE Creative as well as the utter disdain for wrestling talent and worse, a complete indifference to talent that made waves elsewhere and might be able to replicate it, or even worse yet, a focused dismantling of those who attempt to gain notoriety outside of approved avenues.
Let there be no misunderstanding, I’m a pro wrestling fan, have been all my life, and will always prefer the sport.
But the sport is nothing as it once was.
Neither is the audience.
Once upon a time, I’m told by a certain Living Legend, the audience was filled with men in suits and a well-dressed crowd and people who were rabid fans in terms of not just watching, but going out to a show, buying tickets, paying for parking and attending on a regular basis.
I know that’s not the same sense of loyalty these days, and that the sport has changed, but what is the audience Vince is chasing?
Pro wrestling used to be a trend-setter for new media technology. It was a trend setter on issues of race. It was a powerhouse on local television, on the internet’s early days and original web site business and web site news. Who knows if regional pro wrestling minds that dominated their local shares could translate that into national ratings, but I have a feeling most of them could have, if given the chance
So I ask again, what audience is Vince chasing?
A different one from what the UFC is chasing?
While Vince is doing some clever things in allowing CM Punk to break down some walls and talk insider talk (as if Russo/Bischoff hadn’t pioneered that crap and showed where it leads long ago and even recently…. ) there’s the UFC making a major deal with a major TV presence and expanding his audience tremendously.
Vince is chasing fans long gone from his promotion, many of whom have found a more satisfying product in that sport he refuses to consider a competitor.
Who knows if Dana White paid a business visit or a respectful message about what he’s up to a few weeks back, but Vince was laughing earlier this week about no UFC deal, and now the official WWE response to a blockbuster UFC deal is basically: indifference.
Different Audiences?
Seriously!
So the WWE is no longer courting a mostly male demographic of 18-45 year olds, no longer interested in being a mainstream product, no longer interested in being relevant, and apparently no longer interested in actually trying to regain a dominance in Pay Per View profits?
And, if you even bother to watch the WWE’s internet offerings, you realize how little they care about that potential (yet currently unprofitable) avenue of profit.
Meanwhile, the UFC is airing prelim matches on FaceBook, while the WWE encourages talent to use Twitter, but then scrutinizes every word and has destroyed more careers because of social media than because of enhancement chemicals.
Apparently the WWE is targeting indy wrestling fans, former fans that want to watch 50 year old (or older?) names from their own past (hey, isn’t that TNA’s business model??) and cable TV fans (which is a strategy already well beyond the point of diminishing returns).
After much consideration, I guess the WWE’s statement and reaction to the UFC deal is appropriate.
The UFC has shown a capability to sell PPV to a small, hardcore and rabid audience and maximize those buy rates to a degree that makes professional wrestling look laughable.
While Elite XC and StrikeForce have both been miserable on their CBS appearances, I get the impression that the UFC won’t be overlooking the long term interests of their business, won’t be ignoring the platform to build up new stars, and won’t fail to understand that airing a product to millions and millions of potential new fans is an opportunity to show their best efforts.
Somehow, again, I think the UFC is searching for a different audience, one that might be willing to be entertained by a sport dominated by athletic competition, with a strong and legitimate structure, with personalities and talent that is allowed to shine.
Once more, the WWE’s warped perspective on reality and overbearing and self-destructive vision of what the fans want only proves that they have no clue about what audience they should be targeting.