EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, September 29, 2000
Things are getting shaky in WCW
Ouch. WCW management is totally hung up on ratings, a tradition dating back to Eric Bischoff's frequent commentaries about Nitro's decisive wins over Raw. This is evidenced by constant references to them by Tony Schiavone, Vince Russo, and anyone else who appears as on the WCW Live! radio program, including hosts Bob Ryder and Jeremy Borash. For all we know, the WWF may be equally obsessed about these figures, but they make no mention of it.
Also of note, television ratings seem to be an important factor to higher-ups in WCW, both in determining which wrestlers to push and, for Brad Siegel, to decide who's best at booking the show. Much of the Vince Russo-Kevin Sullivan-Eric Bischoff series of events, in which Russo came to WCW to take over booking, was replaced by Sullivan around New Year's, then got his spot back a few short months later, has been caused by, among other things, ratings.
All this is to say that if nothing else, WCW cares about the ratings. And whoa, did they ever get trounced this week. Very few people had estimates so optimistically in favour of the WWF, given their switch to TNN. The court ruling which would eventually allow Raw to air on TNN was delayed until the very end, and prevented Viacom from really announcing everywhere that it was coming. Sure, you had the one mention on the last Raw, and plenty of hyping during the pay-per-view, but I and others suspected that the most casual fan wouldn't be paying so much attention.
Either the WWF doesn't have casual fans, or they sure were paying attention. With a decrease of only a few tenths of a ratings point from Raw's recent average, and even less of an increase for Nitro, it's become clear that WWF viewers are going nowhere. Not because of the US Open, not because of a new station, not for any reason. At least not now.
I'm not sure if WCW is performing so poorly that no one, given the chance, would truly refuse to watch their programming, or the WWF's brand name is so strong now, that no one cares that there's competition. Probably a little bit of both. World Championship Wrestling spent a long time burning their bridges, wasting their lead, and generally putting on such bad shows that I had serious trouble continuing to watch them. Clearly, others didn't give them so much leeway.
Now, WCW and Vince Russo have pulled every trick they've got, including but not limited to big announcements, cage matches, swerves, title changes, soap opera, star power, returning stars, departing stars, Goldberg, new blood and New Blood, Lance Storm, and even new spelling for Disco (sorry, Disqo) Inferno. Nothing has worked.
This is not the first time in history that one company has gotten so far ahead of another that it never looked back. Nor will it be the last. WCW won't necessarily ever make a comeback, be it in ratings, house show attendance, or revenues in general. Business is cyclical, but it's not that cyclical.
As wrestling fans, we sometimes take it for granted that WCW will exist forever. It's a wrestling company losing money. If you can't remember what happens to wrestling companies that lose too much money, you don't have to go too far back in time to see that they go bankrupt and disappear. WCW may be an entertainment arm of one of the largest companies around, but it's also losing more money than I reckon a wrestling promotion has ever lost.
There are rumblings that WCW may be bought, and I'd be ready to believe that Time Warner would be willing to sell it, but it seems strange that anyone would want to buy it. We shall see. Also possible is that it will eventually be discontinued. I don't really imagine this happening for awhile, but it becomes more and more possible with every passing money-losing day.
It seems strange to imagine that WCW could ever cease to exist. Since the start of the online boom, the wrestling landscape has changed only a few times, and even then that was just a new dominant figure taking charge, be it WCW or the WWF.
I can't imagine wrestling without WCW. I hope I'll never have to. The lack of competition could end up killing the WWF -- though at this point, that seems very unlikely.
If Raw moving to a new channel and Nitro stacking its own deck with pay-per-view caliber matches and stories doesn't improve things for WCW, I'm not sure anything will. And if anything will, it's going to take a very, very long time to play out. The WWF may have to collapse before WCW could ever start picking at the loyal fans of Attitude.
Maybe it's time that World Championship Wrestling rethink its own strategy. Stop trying to compete on a national level with the huge WWF juggernaut, admit defeat, and accept the number two position. Keep ECW at bay or something. If they're losing money on talent, house shows, and even pay-per-views, then maybe they should consider re-evaluating their strategy. Ditch the big salaries. Hit the really small venues (admittedly, WCW has been doing this to an extent). Redesign the whole system. After all, if ECW can survive, then clearly WCW can too, just not as a WWF-esque massive entity with tens of millions of salary dollars to pay off.
I wish nothing but the best for WCW. It's in my interest, if nothing else. More than that, I've enjoyed their programs in the past and wish to continue to do so. Best of luck, WCW. After this week, with Viacom as the WWF's new partner, you may need it.
Here's the mailbag.
Peter Douglas, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"I've figured it out. I know who shot JR, I mean I know who ran over Stone Cold. It's really obvious when you think of it. Tazz did it. That's right Tazz.
And unlike what some internet writers have been saying he was not brought in by Vince McMahon to take out Austin. And he didn't do it to further his career either. He was sent to the WWF by ECW's owner Paul Haymen to take out the WWF's top star. It's true, it's true.
With ECW taking a beating in the ratings and the WWF picking away at their roster Heymen had no choice but to take drastic steps to save his company. You couldn't ask for a better way to start out on TNN Monday night. The story lines that could be spun from this are huge.
With the WWF and ECW having a history of cooperation this could have big interpromotional potential for both companies and could make for some real entertaining TV.
Of course they could also start off Raw with Austin waking up in the morning and realizing the whole thing was just a dream. It's true, it's true."
Peter, I don't want to burst your bubble -- you're clearly very excited about this idea -- but I think you overestimate the likelihood of the WWF working with ECW again. With WWF awareness at all-time high levels, I think a lot of the people who flocked to TNN for the first night of Raw on its new station probably won't have a clue who Justin Credible is, though to them he may resemble that Portuguese guy who wrestled in the WWF years ago.
The WWF will probably use the ECW card when they have to, and I don't think that's now. Besides, they've already been invaded by ECW talent -- Tazz, The Dudleyz, Raven, and plenty more now call the WWF home. Invoking the ECW name, even if they don't use any contracted ECW wrestlers, probably won't strike chords with too many folks.
And remember, it's WCW that caters to the smart fans. The WWF just wants the loud ones.
J Hillstead, email@example.com, writes:
"Hey Eric, I am hoping that maybe you can answer this. I have followed Sting's career, off and on through the years and am wondering why he never made the jump to the WWF? Is he that loyal to WCW?"
I actually couldn't. Unless there's some overt reason I'm not aware of, it's just been by chance. Remember, typically the WWF never imported WCW wrestlers the same way WCW did the opposite. Sure, you had your odd exception, and Ric Flair was such a big star that he was in a league of his own when he jumped, but until recently when WCW threw some of their best talent away, the WWF never seemed to care.
Sting has been there from the beginning, and doesn't seem to make a lot of enemies. Maybe he's just likeable and popular, and WCW wants to keep him. Playing the league leap-frog game can be dangerous, and you can end up without a home -- ask Randy Savage. If the money's good, why bother switching?
Personally, I'd love to see Sting in the WWF, or anywhere that'll get him into an interesting role again.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, writing, and have a great week!
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.