In the early 1980s, pro wrestling was a regional industry. Wrestlers mostly operated locally for specific promotions. Then came Vince McMahon’s vision of a single great, coast to coast promotion. It would be a herculean undertaking, requiring not only great “superstars,” but also incredible promotion and the virtual creation of new ways to distribute content.
The WWE did that, sparking a meteoric rise for the brand that now practically owns the wrestling world, especially in the United States. Now, the company is on the verge of signing new TV deals that will mean a lot more money for everyone invested, as well as a wider market to connect with.
The properties in question are the WWE’s top weekly programs, Raw and Smackdown. Both programs currently air on USA Network, and both contracts are set to expire at the end of the year. USA wants to keep Raw, but it won’t option Smackdown. Now, it appears Fox is interested in the WWE’s “Blue” program.
The reason for this is that both programs are just too popular for one network to afford. With the price for airing both shows rising dramatically, USA’s loss will be another network’s gain… and a huge boost for the WWE.
So, why is the WWE so successful when other promotions have struggled to gain an audience? There are a lot of reasons, but many of them fall under the umbrella of successful public relations. The company understands its fan base, how to connect, as well as how to create brands and storylines the fans will pay money to see.
From almost the very beginning, McMahon has a “type” he looked for in a hero and a villain. For the hero, he wanted bigger than life representatives of truth and justice, Superman in tights. For the villains, the WWE often played on tropes and stereotypes that got the fans riled up. Occasionally, a popular wrestler would “switch sides” to jolt the public interest.
That led to a third type of wrestler, an anti-hero that a growing number of fans loved, because you never quite knew where they stood or what they would do next. These characters are integral to something else the WWE does very well: merchandising. From faces and colors, to catch phrases to attitudes and logos, pro wrestling fans literally wear their favorite superstar’s “gimmick,” and they pay good money to do so.
This connection is the result of an ongoing conversation the company has with fans, both at live shows and through the internet and social media. The company gives the fans a place at the table, and fans have responded with deep loyalty to the brand.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations