SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Golden Era, Attitude Era. You remember those, right? Each are signposts that WWE uses to mark points in time throughout the nearly 40-year history of the company. Really, though, they’re marketing gimmicks. Corporate slogans. Buzzwords to make naming WWE documentaries on Peacock easier for the marketing department.
I say that because in reality, WWE has had only one era. The Vince McMahon era. Before you jump out of your seat to remind me, yes, Vince McMahon Sr. ran the company before Junior did. But Senior’s promotion was unrecognizable soon after Junior took the reins and expanded nationally.
Ruthless Aggression Era, Reality Era. Cute, but irrelevant given the colossal news that Superman punched the wrestling world in the face on Friday evening. Vince McMahon announced that he has retired from WWE. A true end of an era with a true new one on the horizon. W.V. and A.V. With Vince. After Vince. That’s what we’re looking at here.
McMahon’s legacy is a complicated one. Umm, obviously Zack.
I get it, but let’s paint the picture anyway. The Vince McMahon era was riddled with high highs and low lows.
The highs? Building a national pro wrestling company and corporate juggernaut, Hulk-a-mania, Austin vs. McMahon, countless tickets sold, billion-dollar television deals, moment after moment and memories on top of memories for a worldwide audience of fans. Oh, just to name a few.
The bad? Rita Chatterton, Owen Hart, the Steroid Trial, multiple alleged affairs, sexual misconduct allegations, Jimmy Snuka, ruthless business practices, and billion-dollar Saudi Arabia deals. A horrific list of happenings.
There’s the complexity. The highs carry a weight. The lows do too. Any analysis of Vince McMahon and his run as a promoter must address both simultaneously. He can’t have one without the other – and we can’t either.
Man, irony is surrounding all of this. McMahon’s greatest accomplishment on the road to being the greatest wrestling promoter in history was the mainstream and corporate success he achieved in the pro wrestling space and the synonymity of his brand with the wrestling product. That took a long time to develop, and as McMahon built the WWE empire, he and his lows were able to hide in the shadows, away from corporate and mainstream criticism. The thing is, billion-dollar television deals, licensing partnerships, and high-profile philanthropic endeavors attract attention. The good kind. Until it’s not.
McMahon pulled his company out of the shadows and his grotesque skeletons eventually came with it. His downfall? Hush money payments of over $12 million to multiple employees with whom he allegedly had affairs — along with accusations of sexual misconduct. Those dollars weren’t appropriately reported in WWE financial statements either and you don’t mess with the money.Period.
So, Vince McMahon is out and his era of WWE with him. That means a lot of things – the biggest being, McMahon’s business voice and creative fingerprints that were central to WWE for four decades are now neutralized and less significant.
You’re a wrestling talent? Giving Vince McMahon what he wanted was the ticket to success, for better or worse. Oh, you’re inside the WWE offices in Stamford? Vince McMahon isn’t the figure at the top of the food chain, so your political strategy within the company has to change. Journalist? It’s not about how Vince McMahon would think about booking, creative, talent, or anything else. It’s a new game. The fans? Your angry tirades or loving praise must be directed elsewhere.
Vince McMahon’s vision for WWE is all the world was fed. Now, that vision is gone but the world is still hungry. Maybe more than ever.
A real new era in WWE is upon us all. Stephanie McMahon and Nick Khan are the new dynamic duo CEOs running the show, though Stephanie carries the Chairwoman title, which I’m sure she’ll remind Khan of on an hourly basis. Triple H is the EVP of Talent Relations and more importantly, the Head of Creative for WWE.
The WWE vision is now focused through the eyes of three individuals instead of one – a massive change from the W.V. era and one that lends itself nicely to both obscene levels of winning and a scorching hot dumpster fire.
Here is the key for WWE’s A.V. era. Balance. Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Nick Khan need to balance their own desires to impact the product for the better with the already-in-place, steady-as-she-goes approach that has lifted WWE to a billion-dollar entity. With a major television contract on the line in a couple years for Raw and Smackdown, rash jolts of new creativity on the booking side from Triple H or pivots in strategy on the sponsorship front — as necessary as they might be and as much as the power trio might want them to happen — would simply be ill-timed.
Balance. The new regime has to lay their change in at a pace that is relatively unnoticeable at the beginning, but that adds up to an impactful, recognizable change 18 months from now.
There are a lot of levers that Triple H should — and shouldn’t — pull as the man in charge of creative. Pushing new stars or “his guys”? He won’t be pulling that one. The company is invested in guys like Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Cody Rhodes, Edge, and even future guys like Theory, Bron Breakker, Solo Sikoa, and Mandy Rose. That ball is rolling and the question Triple H will have to answer is whether or not it’s prudent to stop it from doing so.
The answer will likely and correctly be, no. The lever to pull is more nuanced. It’s a more laidback tone on the commentary desk, booking consistent characters for long periods of time so that they matter to the audience, remembering recent history to reward fans for investing in the product, a long-term vision for where you want to go and which talent you lean on to get there, and establishing journeys for characters at the top, middle, and bottom of the card. All of that will change the product for the better — but do so quietly to make sure the boat doesn’t rock too much with so much on the line.
As CEO, Stephanie needs to cultivate a new culture in the company. Even before the sexual misconduct allegations against Vince McMahon came to light, the news out of WWE was that it was a one-man show and the employees, writers, and talent served an audience of one. Vince. Not only did that create a safety bubble in which, allegedly, Vince McMahon could inappropriately operate in when it came to various relationships, but it stifled creativity at a time where WWE needed an abundance of it.
Stephanie opening up and empowering talent to come forward with an idea will automatically feel different from the ship that Vince ran culturally, while at the same time fostering in an environment that is healthy for the business to sustain and grow.
It’s a lot to take in. W.V. and A.V. With Vince and After Vince. None would ever admit it but, the heads of Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Nick Khan are spinning like a vomit-inducing ride at a summer carnival, due to the responsibility and pressure that’s now an everyday part of their lives.
Such is the price to pay for ushering in a true new era of WWE. It has begun. Hang on tight.