It’s Sunday night and I had no intentions of watching WWE Battleground as it aired. The build for the show was lacking, to say the least. My parents invited me to watch the show with them so I took them up on the offer. I figured that I could work on this very column while using Battleground as background noise. The pre-show played as I ate dinner and I was reminded of the card; the Shield triple threat, Zayn vs. Owens, Cena/Enzo and Cass vs. the Club, and New Day vs. the Wyatt Family. With a card like that, how the hell did I not want to watch this show?
Right now, WWE doesn’t build their product in a way that rewards you for watching it. RAW is over three hours long, which is a barrier to enjoying the show in itself. Because there’s so much time to kill, the show is packed with overly long promos from authority figures and plenty of replays. I realized a couple of months back that RAW isn’t built with the expectation that viewers will watch it all the way through, it’s meant to be watched in single hour increments with the first and third hours being the most important. Instead of using those three hours to build characters and further stories they just try to give the illusion of change while maintaining the status quo so fans can drop in and out of the product. What’s the incentive then for us, the hardcore fans, to pay attention to the product? I can’t remember the last time that I sat and watched an episode of RAW without doing something else while I was watching it. Instead of using their three hours to pack in as much intriguing content as they can, it feels like they struggle every week to fill that time. I can’t imagine what things are going to be like now that they have a roster that’s half the size.
Will The Brand Split Help?
Theoretically, the brand split should breathe new life into RAW. Without a doubt it should help SmackDown, turning it into a show with actual importance instead of being just slightly more relevant than Superstars. What hurts both shows is that neither one has an identity. No major differences stand out, they both have the same levels of roster depth. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the draft left me cold. It didn’t excite me, but it also didn’t really make me mad. I had become completely indifferent to the product and I wasn’t the only one.
For a bit of anecdotal evidence, let’s visit me at my job. I work at a comic shop and I’ve accepted and embraced being known as the guy that is way into wrestling. As many of you already know, there’s a large crossover between comic fans and wrestling fans. When the new comics come out on Wednesday, I see many of our regulars that follow wrestling and most often the biggest topic of conversation is what happened on RAW. This past week we talked about the results of the draft and my big takeaway was that nobody cared. Not a single person that I talked to had any real opinions on how things shook out. These are fans from all across the wrestling fan spectrum. Some only watch WWE while others follow what’s going on in Japan. One couple even goes to every SHIMMER taping. It’s a great sampling of wrestling fan culture that lets me get an idea of what the general consensus is on a particular subject. It was a shock to me that everyone that I talked to had a feeling of complete and utter indifference to the draft. That’s a bad sign for the company, especially with their current ratings trends.
The feeling of indifference carried over from the draft to the upcoming pay per view, Battleground.
Excitement was at a low and I would assume that the lack of a strong build contributed to that. The draft was WWE’s main concern which made Battleground feel like an afterthought. As I said in the opening of this column, I almost didn’t even watch the show and from what I gathered, I wasn’t the only one. Little did I realize that buried underneath the malaise created by the recent episodes of RAW was one of the stronger cards that WWE has presented to us in 2016.
And therein lies the danger for WWE. They put together a pretty great card and I came within, as Stone Cold would say, a frog’s hair of not watching it. I couldn’t have possibly cared about what they did leading up to the show because all of the focus was on the authority figures leading into the draft. If you show us so many times that the wrestlers don’t matter, like when Kane destroyed Owens and Zayn on the draft, we’ll stop caring. Little did I expect that this would be my favorite WWE pay per view from in in-ring perspective so far this year. There was a lot of good on this show, but if people don’t watch it, what does it matter? Many people watch RAW out of habit and if they miss one week because they don’t care about what happens that week, who’s to say that they won’t miss the next? If the ratings have been any indication, this could be the case.
The producers of the main roster shows could really learn something from the way that the Cruiserweight Classic is presented. On that show the matches matter and I’m made to care about the wrestlers. Those two things are rarely accomplished on Raw. Maybe the smaller rosters on each show will allow for a more focused product. If indifference is the greatest enemy of the WWE, empathy is their greatest ally. Make us feel something for your wrestlers. Make the matches mean something. Show us that wins and losses matter. Show us that anything beyond the authority figures matter.
If we’re watching your show, we want to care about what we’re seeing. We just need you to care about it too, WWE.