EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, July 6, 2001
Inefficiency hurting the WWF
That's what a monopoly will do to you.
Now, I promised I wouldn't comment on the big WCW angle for at least another week, and I stand by that. I don't want to micro-analyze something that will certainly take the WWF some time to fix anyway. Still, in other areas of the business, the WWF is getting sloppy. Cracks are starting to appear in its seemingly sleek infrastructure, and mistakes are being made.
First, a word about monopolies. When people think of monopolies, they think of vast companies run by greedy entrepreneurs who offer the worst product they can at the highest legal price. Well, while a company without competition is certainly in a position to take advantage and benefit, it doesn't have any kind of free reign. Unless the monopolist in question offers products that are absolute necessities, and we have no choice but to purchase them at the offered price, then there is always competition. The WWF still has plenty of competition, competition from rock concerts and sporting events, competition from Ally McBeal and Friends, and competition from everything else where would-be wrestling fans might otherwise put their money. If the WWF screws up their business, they will pay for it just about as much as in a perfect competition environment.
In reality, this 'monopoly' situation the WWF is facing may hurt them, but not through price gouging or laziness, but by inefficiency. Monopolies breed inefficiency, and that is a proven fact. Whether they have competition or not, they no longer have competition in the same industry. That means no one else is coming up with ideas the WWF can copy, though equally no one's around to copy them. There's no ECW-type organization to generate ideas and break ground, and there's no WCW organization to compete for ratings and keep the WWF on its toes. This is only going to help breed inefficiency.
Nowhere else is this inefficiency clearer than on the talent side. You see, the WWF may not have a consumer monopoly, but they do have a worker monopoly. Very few WWF wrestlers have other options available to them that would offer even close to the compensation they can achieve in North America's only big wrestling company. Most have nowhere else to go except down. The result here isn't necessarily that the WWF will become this malevolent entity and try to take advantage of its workers (though they of course may do that), but that things won't get done nearly as quick, sometimes not at all.
Two years ago, the WWF had to make sure each and every one of their stars was under contract, for fear of them walking off to the competition. And to make sure that they were making use of all of their resources, the WWF had to be sure that each of their contracted workers had a part to play. Everyone had to have an angle, and for years, they were very efficient about it. Now, the WWF has no such pressure. While they still obviously need a roster of marketable wrestlers, they can afford to let contracts lapse as they play hardball. They can afford to have workers and talents sit at home or work week-to-week without a contract, because there's not much danger that someone else will sign them.
Take Jerry Lawler. This has to be one of the strangest examples of negotiation I have ever heard. His wife, The Kat, was fired for reasons still in dispute, so he quit in protest. He then burned his bridge somewhat by semi-trashing the WWF in radio and print interviews. Still, a short time later, he had a meeting with WWF officials. Nothing came of it, because he allegedly still wanted his wife's job back as well. Then recently, the WWF almost agreed to this demand, but eventually changed their minds. He was even slated to call the Booker T title defense this week on Raw as a WCW colour commentator.
I'm not saying the final conclusion in this case, whatever that may be, would have been different were WCW still around. Instead, I think that there's no way Jerry Lawler would have been sitting around at home for several months, coming closer and further to going back to work. Instead, the WWF would have made its decision quickly and stuck to it. Now, we've got one of the top announcers in the business -- and my personal favourite -- out of public view. It's silly.
One could also point to Chyna for an example of this attitude. She hasn't been fired, but simply told that her contract won't be extended. It expires in November.
Time, money, and potential are being wasted. Many talented wrestlers on the WWF's roster are sitting on their hands, twiddling their thumbs, and wondering what to do. It used to be that free agent signings were big. Now we've got former ECW champions and even WCW champions showing up on WWF television, and not doing anything substantial for weeks. It's creating a pace that can only be described as standstill.
Stories are moving along in similar fashion -- that is, not at all -- and it's taking most of the edge off of the WCW invasion. The distractions caused by the XFL and the WCW purchase earlier this year are not helping.
Ultimately, WWFE has to get its act together. They have to start making decisions instead of treading the fence, afraid to fall off on either side. They have to see things through, even this WCW Invasion angle, and just do the best they know how. Monopolies suffer because they lose that pressure, even if they still have to perform to make money. The WWF will suffer if it loses its edge, and it will do that if it keeps tiptoeing every issue. Eventually, they've got to get the machine well oiled and running again, but the later they do it, the more fans they'll disillusion in the meantime.
This could be a great year for the WWF, with the Invasion angle, and Tough Enough, and returns slated for The Rock and Triple H. They shouldn't start to backpedal and second guess themselves now, or it may be too late even then.
Gregory Del Piero, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I'm writing from Guayaquil, Ecuador. What's the deal with the Tombstone Piledriver? Is it banned or something? I don't if you realized, but haven't seen a Tombstone Piledriver in more than a year! I'm the number one Undertaker fan, so I'm a great fan of the move. Neither UT nor Kane (who did a pretty good job with it too) use it anymore. It's a big disappointment. I just remember like it was yesterday when nobody got up from the Tombstone. As an Undertaker fan need an explanation! I'm really pissed off."
Well, hello to Guayaquil, Ecuador from Montreal, Canada. Gregory, you don't really need me, because you answered your own question. The piledriver, tombstone and all, has indeed been banned. Neither Undertaker nor Kane nor even Rikishi use it anymore, as it's simply too dangerous a move. Remember, it's the move that injured Steve Austin just as he was becoming a hot commodity, and the WWF has enough problems with bad necks right now. It's still executed from time to time, but only under certain circumstances. I didn't like Undertaker's replacement finishing move, the Last Ride, at first, but I do now.
Doug Carlson, from email@example.com, writes:
"I just read your column on wrestling injuries and it makes a lot of sense, as I think that no one really wants to see blood, gore, and injuries on a regular basis. However, as you know I am, or was, a huge Bret Hart fan because of his ability to make it look real without causing injury. Seems to me that this type of wrestling may be just the "middle ground" you are looking for, true athleticism with the ability to make wrestling look real. Not to say that all wrestling should be the Hart style, as without the occasional TLC or Hell in a Cell match, wrestling gets boring, but if the majority was the Hart style with long term story lines (Hart-Michaels, Hart-Stone Cold, etc.), maybe we would not be inundated with wrestlers being either bloody or out for a long time. (For example, Stone Cold, Chris Benoit, HHH, and yes even Hart and Michaels, but who put them out?). Food for your thought."
That's a good point, one I probably could have made in the original column. If I am going to attack excessive risk, then applauding the ability to put on a solid, believable, exciting match would also be appropriate. I find that most wrestlers don't sell that well or consistently, but the ones that do are invariably my favourite to watch. It's easy to see why. They can put on a heck of a show without making the viewer cringe or feel guilty as if watching a car wreck.
That's all for this week. Have a great weekend!
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.