Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, and solely expresses the opinions of Mike Hogan. These opinions are my own and not the views of Rajah News. Some opinions expressed may seem radical, and many of you will disagree with my opinions--and that's fine. Since so many of you loved my first column, I'm going to go ahead and include this Trigger Warning: Mike Hogan.
Listen Up, Slapnuts: The Need for Seasonal Wrestling in the WWE(6/24/2020)
Well, hey there! After the reception of last week's Listen Up, Slapnuts: In Defense of Chris Benoit I'm pulling a Val Venus--I came, I saw, and I came again...to write a second installment of the hit opinion piece!
This week I want to touch on The Need for Seasonal Wrestling in the WWE. I'm going to break it down real simple. Now, I'm highlighting the WWE for two reasons. First, I'm more familiar with the product than the countless independent wrestling organizations out there and their rules. Second, as the premiere sports entertainment company in the world, what WWE does, others tend to emulate. (If you doubt that WWE is the premiere sports entertainment company in the world, just ask yourself what other company is more profitable and has a show bigger than WrestleMania, both fiscally and in the public lexicon?)
As always, read the top disclaimer since a large number of people seemed to not have been able to do so last week. These are my opinions and suggestions and despite having a doctorate in Thugonomics, I am not a professional on this matter. Just a professional at speaking my mind. So let's do this!
What is a Seasonal Format?
This bit is not meant to insult anyone's intelligence, just to simply explain what a seasonal format is, especially in relation to other sports. Every major sport, outside of combat sports, has a seasonal format. The NFL runs its season from September through the first Sunday in February, which hosts the Super Bowl. They have a five week, four-game preseason in August. Major League Baseball runs from roughly April until October; the NBA runs roughly the opposite. Combat sports, such as boxing and MMA, do not have a seasonal format. I'll get to that in a moment.
The Purpose of a Seasonal Format
This one is fairly simple and straight to the point, but covers two major concerns: the well-being of the athletes & crew, and the oversaturation of the market. The WWE will, every few years, do a "season premiere" of Raw or Smackdown, as does every seasonal sport (and the majority of television programming). However, unlike other sports, the season premiere is just a paltry attempt at dragging in a few viewers who haven't followed the product in some time. WWE never takes an offseason, so the market is oversaturated with WWE content--we've got Raw on Mondays,
WWE Backstage on FS1 on Tuesdays NXT on Wednesdays, Smackdown on Fridays. Toss in a monthly pay per view event, with a NXT-branded one every two or three months, and it becomes a product that is, simply, always out there. Other sports--and the bulk of television shows--see huge ratings increases during their season premieres; mid-season finales, mid-season premieres, and season finales often draw in decent numbers, too. But it is that first episode which often sets the tone or pace for the product. Usually, the NFL and other sports will have big numbers for a seasonal debut because the fans have had to go months, often half a year or longer, without having a televised episode/game/what have you. As a fan of American football myself, I miss it during the offseason and am eager to tune in during the first few weeks.
Regarding the well-being of the athletes and crew, an offseason is key to preventing injury, giving injuries already sustained an ample amount of time to heal, and helps keep the mileage off the body. Imagine if the NFL never took an offseason. Greats such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees would not be playing at relatively high levels into their forties. And running backs, who are notorious for having much-shorter careers due to the higher impact of their position, would be lucky to last five years. The average lifespan of a running back in the league as a productive every down starter is four seasons. Some of the exceptionally talented, and not as injury prone, greats may play at high levels for six to eight seasons. It's unheard of to see someone like Barry Sanders, who can be considered a starter ten seasons in, at the RB position.
Just like running backs, wrestlers are subjected to a high impact volume on a regular basis. Unlike the NFL, wrestlers often have five matches a week when you factor in house shows. Now, yes, NHL and NBA and MLB players all have multiple games a week. But they also have the ability to substitute out if they're injured or if they've tweaked something; they also have an offseason. If King James tweaks his knee, he can sit for the remainder of the game. He can take a few weeks off--his team won't be forced to forfeit any title or trophy. In wrestling, however, that's not possible. There is no offseason. Outside of a very few select wrestlers who are part-timers after decades in the business, management expects you to wrestle day in and day out. And excluding the very few instances in which the Freebird Rule has been used, specifically with a team such as the New Day, an injury or a need to take time off to prevent an injury/rehab an injury means giving up your title. In the case of the New Day, when Xavier Woods went down with injury, Kofi was allowed to take his place and, in fact, the New Day have often treated the tag team championship a bit more fluid than, say, the Bludgeon Brothers who were forced to work injured a couple of years ago and pass on the titles to another team due to their own nagging injuries.
It's been a long-held, often repeated view of Vince--and there are multiple quotes by various former employees over the years--that if you come to Vince with an injury, he will happily let you take off all the time you need to recover. But your title won't be held. Usually, your push won't be held. Your place won't be held. Unless you're either supremely talented like Roman Reigns and Nia Jax, or have pull backstage--and I'm not going to debate which applies to whom in anysituation--then you're up a creek without a paddle.
Now, here's what an offseason would look like--and how it would benefit the fans as well.
An Offseason in the WWE
Right now, let's exclude NXT. We've got two brands--Raw and Smackdown. Both shows have so much talent that many fan-favorites are either underutilized, or simply not used at all. That being said, there is more than enough talent on each show's roster to split the work in half. The WWE could either run each show as its own season, with an offseason bloc of time filled with specials, repeats of pay per view specials (as they've been doing lately on FS1) and some WWE Network Original content brought over; the WWE could simply run each show as its own season, and yield back the time to the networks to do with as they wish (which means, fill in summer programming or mid-season replacement programming, what have you); or they could run two seasons per show, featuring two different portions of the roster.
The most lucrative options for WWE, financially speaking, are to either run the two brands as one big season per show and fill in the downtime with repeats--kind of how CBS runs NCIS from September until May, and then runs repeats in the offseason--or, alternatively, split the roster.
In a split the roster situation--we'll call them Subdivisions--Raw would keep it's WWE Championship as its big belt and Smackdown would keep the Universal title as its big, branded belt. But those reigns would be treated as if Brock Lesnar were champion, or 1980's Hulk Hogan were champion--it'd only be defended a few times a year. The mid-card titles would return to prominence. Do you remember the glory days of when the Intercontinental title was the title to have? You couldn't even go after the WWF Heavyweight Championship without practically being the IC champion. I would see a split roster situation empower the IC and US titles. That champion, the brand's women's champion, and the tag team champions, would float over between seasons, but otherwise it might look like this:
Raw, Subdivision (1/2 the roster) A, January 1 - June 30. Reigning title holders carry over.
Raw, Subdivision (1/2 the roster) B, July 1 - December 31. Reigning title holders carry over.
This would force the split of the roster into two halves as indicated above. But it would give stars who have been relegated to jobber duty, or sitting in the back eating the catering, a chance to shine. When's the last time you saw Titus O'Neil do anything of meaning? Or, rather, anything in the ring? Look at all the released wrestlers from April. Most weren't used. EC3 was pulled up from a popular spot in NXT and relegated to playing a mute in backstage segments. Ricochet went from being one of NXT's hottest commodities, to being an after thought who's seen once a month, if that. A roster split would give the audience a fresh look at old faces and new ones, and we'd get to see talent that we normally either don't see, or only see when they're being squashed in a three minute match.
Think about talent such as the Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Their first gimmicks didn't get over well, true, and that did play a massive part in their popularity. But so did exposure. The Undertaker could easily have gone the way of Gene Snitsky. And yes, apples to oranges, I get it. But how can fans at large appreciate indie darlings if they're never given a chance to shine when they come up to the big leagues?
In addition to potentially finding the next big thing, it would give superstars six months off to rest, excluding champions. But that's an easy, and small, issue, considering Season/Mid Season Premieres/Finales can feature big matches and can be the culmination of months worth of buildup over certain feuds. It opens the door to cliffhangers, to drum up interest for the next season of any roster segment.
Ideally, Raw would run six months with Smackdown running the other six but it can be done in a way that each show continues on year round but with a split roster. These subdivisions would give Creative time to breathe, and new source material for completely new heroes and villains. No more periods of years where certain individuals are the only top faces (Roman) or heels (Corbin). The wrestlers would have time to heal their bodies as the writers would have time to just take a break. After all, how many more WrestleMania main events will Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, or Seth Rollins dominate?
A Bonus Perk: Specialized Subdivisions
What if one subdivision were focused on 21st century hardcore wrestling? What if one were focused on the women's division? What if one were focused on tag teams, six-man tag teams? These could be alternated in and out every few years to keep things spicy. They may not take off--but then, they may.
If you watched WCW in the early to mid 90's, you remember how important the Cruiserweight Division was. You'll remember how important ECW was to hardcore wrestling. The last decade has seen the decline, if not near-complete eradication, of both the Cruiserweight and hardcore wrestling styles. Cruiserweights were often used for gimmicks, bathroom breaks, and hardcore wrestling just hasn't been the same in nearly twenty years.
To sum it all up for those who just skip to the bottom, wrestlers need time off to heal, train, grow stronger and healthier. Writers need time off so they can quit recycling the same storylines with copy-and-paste heels/faces we've seen a thousand times already. A lot of talent isn't being used right and, if given the opportunity to shine, could be the next big thing. The WWE needs seasonal wrestling.
That's it for the second installment of "Listen Up, Slapnuts." You can email me at Mike@Rajah.com or reach me on Twitter @MikeHulkHogan Oh, you didn't know...that I'm taking over NXT Live Results Coverage tonight? Tune in for something really fun! Stay safe out there.