WWE’s move to Friday Nights on FOX for SmackDown has been viewed as a big game-changer for the company and even for the industry in itself. It’s the biggest money-deal that WWE has signed from a TV rights standpoint and it not only means that SmackDown will get a facelift on the surface, but it also means that there will be a big change in direction and approach.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE wants to go with a more “Sports-like” approach. This probably explains why they will be getting an FS1 show like UFC did when they were in FOX. The idea of presenting the product as a legitimate sport is something that has been discussed for a long time.
But the bigger question is as to whether it’s the right one to take. To understand whether it is or not, we have to go all the way back to the earlier days of pro wrestling. Before it became the “work” that we know it as today, it involved two men catch-wrestling for hours and hours altogether, with many unable to come up with a conclusion. However, the moment that the showmanship and entertainment aspect of it came into play, it would burst in popularity.
It was during the 1980s that the world saw a huge wrestling boom as WWE ushered into its Golden Era. At the time, it was still a rather open secret about the nature of the business, particularly among adults. However, that didn’t matter as much as people would easily suspend their disbelief when watching the program and for many years altogether, kayfabe was intact with the large majority.
One of the key factors that Vince McMahon has credited to his success in the 80s and 90s was the fact that he chose to present his product as an “Entertainment show” rather than just a “wrestling show”. The entire idea and concept behind “Sports Entertainment” was to convince politicians and people in Congress not to levy the same charges and cuts that they would to a sport. And thus, for many years put together, it would be presented as “Sports Entertainment” rather than “Professional Wrestling”.
This is a tried and tested method. When Vince McMahon decided to focus constantly on the entertainment factors, it de-emphasized the importance of the in-ring technicality. Don’t get us wrong – to be in WWE, you need to be among the best in-ring performers in the world, but as we’ve seen over the years, the top larger-than-life superstars weren’t always necessarily the big in-ring technicians – they were the big characters who fans paid to see.
It’s a method that they have used since and while they have adapted certain aspects from UFC and Boxing and implemented it in their product, it has never been presented in a sporting-like manner, simply because it wasn’t viewed as a sport in the first place. But with FOX coming in and being in control, things could certainly get interesting.
One thing is for sure – it’s worth trying out. Since WWE really wants mainstream attention – something they haven’t gotten in a while, perhaps this change of direction may be necessary for them. It’ll be interesting to see how it affects characters and storylines, but a fresh presentation of the product may just be what they need to regain a chunk of their lost audience. Moreover, the positive aspect of it is that they don’t have to worry financially for now, meaning that they can experiment with this direction for a while.
It’s definitely something that can be viewed in a positive light, though there is an understandable skepticism about it. But after many years of presenting the product in a similar, formulaic way, this may just be the jolt that they need to get their momentum and excitement back.