Lutz's Blog: It could take time for WWE to regain the trust of disillusioned fans
By Jeffrey Lutz
WWE business is booming. The company launched the WWE Network this week, it is gearing up for a milestone WrestleMania in five weeks and more young stars are earning meaningful television time that at any point in recent memory.
Many fans, however, are hesitant to go all in with WWE because Vince McMahon, Triple H and company aren't meeting the needs of a vocal minority -- i.e., internet fans. Message boards and call-in shows are densely populated by fans who have lost trust in the product, and in the company itself, and are finding it tough to give that trust back even when WWE begins to earn it.
The launch of the network should have been a chance for WWE to regain some of that equity, and for the most part, it has. The network was a grand innovation that is outshining WrestleMania season and allowing fans to relive their favorite childhood wrestling memories. Even though connection issues should have been expected since WWE has obviously never forayed into such territory, they've embittered fans who expect a global company to flawlessly execute a major undertaking with which it has little experience.
Whether those expectations are fair or not is an interesting discussion point. Offering a firm initial sign-up date rather than allowing fans to purchase the network without content available would have given WWE time to work out the kinks and perhaps made early connection problems obsolete. WWE asked buyers to commit to the network for six months gave WWE a responsibility to limit -- if not completely prevent -- glitches, and its failure to do so means many may feel they haven't gotten what they paid for.
Even though technical difficulties on the debut NXT ArRIVAL show made some question whether WWE would be able to handle a much larger WrestleMania audience, but the network likely will settle into a smooth-operating service that satisfies its customers. WWE's on-air product may not be so lucky, as the light of the end of that tunnel isn't shining quite as brightly.
Several factors have conjoined to make WrestleMania 30 seem like a smaller deal than it should. The Rock decided not to follow through on storyline plans to work with Brock Lesnar; Raw went to three hours to water down WWE's flagship television show; C.M. Punk left WWE in a defiant act that reflected many of his fans' growing disappointment with the direction of his character; Daniel Bryan still isn't in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture, instead settling for a likely WrestleMania bout with Triple H.
Hulk Hogan and Undertaker -- who will be working the event with Brock Lesnar instead of The Rock -- returned Monday night as hype for the network and WrestleMania kicked into full gear. The term "WrestleMania," though, launches fans into a world of fantasy booking that went wild with possibilities this winter when several possible cards were leaked, and WWE failed to satisfy the imagination.
WWE instead opted to go with the matches that were rumored all along, as a potential creative upheaval never happened. It's not the matches themselves that are disappointing -- except maybe Randy Orton vs. Batista -- but that WWE teased us with the idea of a completely revamped card and made any match possible, especially one that included Bryan in a title match.
The matches, in fact, are mostly exciting. Bryan could finally be vaulted into the championship discussion by finally dispatching nemesis Triple H, and match that needed to happen because of WWE's storytelling over the last six months even though it's not the match most want to see. Bray Wyatt getting a crack at John Cena suggests WWE may actually be putting a permanent spotlight on newer stars. Undertaker and Brock Lesnar won't be technically sound but it is an attraction worthy of the biggest show of the year.
These are exciting matches, but that doesn't mean everyone is excited. WWE has shown too many times that it won't elevate younger performers and that it won't include fan favorites in the main event that it could take years of providing fan-friendly television for people to finally let go of their misgivings.
The network will go a long way toward making that happen. WWE often boasts that it listens to its audience before making decisions, and this is one instance where that dedication is truly evident. WWE sacrificed time and a lot of money to launch the network, and it is clearly determined to make it succeed. Original content and from-the-vault pay-per-views mean fans could watch for months -- or years -- without seeing the same thing twice.
It's a perfect tool with which to regain the trust of fans. But it could take a while for it to work. Trust from fans will only occur when they're ready.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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