October 29, 2001
Don't just blame Vince, Mr. Powell
While John Powell's column on the problems with the WWF raises some good points, it is terribly one-sided and short-sighted. Calls for Vince McMahon to "pass the torch" are not only premature, but absurd. Powell has neglected to take into account several factors that are affecting the current poor showing from the WWF, and while a change on a large scale would be welcome -- and could very well turn the promotion around -- calling for the head of the man that is very much responsible for creating the industry as we know it would be cutting out the heart and soul of the WWF.
First of all, as has been demonstrated time and time again, wrestling is a cyclical business, and over the past 20 years it has hinged itself on the fortunes and misfortunes of its leader, the WWF. The industry's previous swoon took place in the early '90s, fresh off a late '80s boom period, the highlight of which saw Wrestlemania III pack a record-breaking 90,000-plus fans into the Pontiac Silverdome. The swoon happened for a number of reasons: the WWF was rocked by a steroid scandal and an investigation by the U.S. federal government. Vince McMahon, having to devote much of his time to staying out of jail, handed the reins over to others to run the WWF in his stead. It turns out they didn't do a very good job -- storylines took sharp nosedives into oceans of illogic, the "creative" staff came up with such winning ideas as Doink the Clown and Bob "Sparkplug" Holly, and the product as a whole just wasn't that entertaining. Fans turned away from wrestling in droves; ratings plummeted, pay per view buy rates dropped, house show attendance declined -- very similar to what's happening now. That's what happens when your product isn't all that good: people don't buy it. But the important thing to remember is that they came back. Just as Vince McMahon can't take all the credit for wrestling's recent boom -- increased competition from WCW or innovative ideas from Vince Russo contributed, among other factors -- so too can he not take all the blame for its current funk.
In the late '90s, the WWF reinvented itself and came up with something fresh and new, which led to the huge boom and popularity. Now, well, the novelty has worn off and people are watching other programming. It's the nature of television. When the WWF does something new and interesting, viewers will come back. To prophesize the demise of wrestling or the WWF at this point is not only alarmist, but once again, it's also absurd.
Powell also apparently hasn't noticed that the economy in general is in the crapper. He cites such misleading facts as the WWF stock being rated a "hold." Well, there aren't a whole lot of stocks out there with a "buy" rating, so the fact that the WWF has avoided a "sell" rating thus far -- despite the XFL fiasco and the flopped WCW purchase -- is pretty amazing. In fact, the opposite is true; according to globeinvestor.com, a Canadian financial web site, the consensus among analysts is that the WWF stock is actually a "buy." Companies everywhere -- including Quebecor, the company that owns CANOE.ca -- are laying people off left, right and centre, and all sorts of stocks are depressed. While hurrying to point out the negatives of the WWF's business, Powell has neglected to point out some of the positives: many companies are posting losses and announcing big layoffs, while the WWF is still making a profit, albeit a smaller one, and it has thus far avoided large staff cuts. Again, this is just short of miraculous considering the huge costs the WWF incurred in the past year with the XFL folding and WCW acquisition, and considering the current economic malaise.
It's trendy right now to harp on Vince McMahon and the WWF, but the fact is, there are other forces at work that govern how successful the promotion is at any given time. It's unfair to place full blame on a man whose track record as a businessman speaks for itself. There are too many know-it-alls on the Internet who think they can run a billion-dollar company better than a man who created one, and there are too many people who simply try to tear down what others have built.
Vince McMahon is not infallible, sometimes he gambles and wins, and sometimes he loses. But you don't become a billionaire without knowing what you're doing, so he will eventually fix what is broken with the WWF.
Is the WWF product stale? I agree with Powell -- yes it is. Does it need a big change or reinvention? Once again, yes. But I have more faith in Vince McMahon correcting these problems than I do in armchair quarterbacks who do nothing but sit back and spew negativity in the mistaken belief that they are somehow doing some kind of good.
Pete Nowak is from Toronto and can be emailed at email@example.com.