The WWE has never been bigger. If the recent announcement that Netflix is paying the WWE $500 million a year for the rights to stream RAW doesn’t convince you, let’s take a look at how the company has gone from good to great following Nick Khan’s elevation to WWE President:
-The WWE navigated its way through the COVID-19 pandemic with the company posting record profits
-The WWE secured a one billion dollar deal with Peacock for the streaming service to air the WWE Network.
-The WWE worked through Mr. McMahon’s hush-money scandal, with the company emerging stronger.
-The WWE's creative department has vastly improved, with financial benefits and praise from many fans.
-The WWE recently negotiated new big-money deals for SmackDown and NXT.
-The WWE has posted consistently strong quarterly profits
-The WWE has expanded its PLEs into international markets
-The WWE has had Increased ticket sales
-The WWE merged with Endeavor to form TKO-Holdings
-The WWE has sustained the ratings for RAW and SmackDown at a time when most shows continue to lose their audience due to increased competition from cable and streaming.
The WWE has enjoyed varying degrees of success throughout its history. Once the company bankrupted ECW and WCW, its ascension as the only national promotion in North America all but guaranteed its success. The company had the infrastructure and fanbase to sustain it through various slumps, including economic downturns and creative slumps.
However, is good, good enough? The book From Good to Great includes examples of companies that leveled up from good to great through innovation and a refusal to be content with being “good enough.” Looking at the WWE in 2020, it’s clear that the company decided it was time to level up.
The vision of Vincent Kennedy McMahon helped elevate the WWF from a regional promotion to a national one. There’s a strong case to be made that McMahon took his father’s company (which thrived under Vince Sr.) from good to great.
While it’s difficult to understand exactly what motivated Mr. McMahon to shake things up (would you want to try and decipher the inner workings of Vinnie Mac’s mind?), there are some possibilities. The first is that the company was in a creative slump. That by itself likely didn’t play a factor as McMahon has always booked the WWE under the policy that he knows what’s best for the fans.
A more likely reason is that the WWE was beginning to suffer at the box office. Ticket sales began slumping, even for TV shows such as RAW and SmackDown and pay-per-views. At one point, there were rumors of the WWE scrapping its house shows due to poor attendance. There were also concerns about ratings, not so much that the WWE’s shows faced cancellation but that RAW and SmackDown’s ratings were decreasing at an alarming rate.
In 2020, McMahon made his move, appointing Nick Khan as the WWE’s President. Khan worked with the WWE long before Vince McMahon decided to drop Co-Presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson and appoint Khan as the WWE President. Khan was a top star at the talent agency Creative Artists Agency, and as noted by The Sportster’s Tony Parker:
Khan's time as a talent agent was not only marked by successful client representation but also by his skill in negotiations, a skill that would later come into play in WWE.
H/T The Sportster
Khan helped secure the WWE’s big money rights deal with the USA Network and FOX for the respective rights to RAW and SmackDown. The WWE received over 3-and-a-half what it previously received, quite the haul.
The brilliance of the WWE’s rise from good to great is that the company accomplished this even when its storylines were still hit-and-miss. While the WWE achieved a momentum shift with Roman Reigns’ heel turn, there were still plenty of misses, including the faction Retribution, breaking up the popular faction The Hurt Business, and the WWE’s poor booking of Big E.
Vince McMahon apparently felt comfortable letting Nick Khan change things up in the WWE. Long-time employees were replaced, departments were merged, and innovations were made. This is common when a new executive steps in, but that was just the start.
Nick Khan has made major changes in the way the WWE does business, similar to how Vince McMahon did in the 1980s when he ignored the traditional borders of other promoters, improved the quality of his shows, utilized celebrities to make wrestling mainstream, and revamped the presentation of his wrestling product in and out of the ring. There were occasional failures but many successes, which all helped the WWF build momentum and take over the industry.
Khan has done likewise. He’s seen new opportunities for the WWE to grow, including holding more events in stadiums, expanding further into international markets, signing product placement deals and sponsorship deals like never before, capitalizing on the growing digital market, and exploiting TV and streaming services’ insatiable hunger for content by negotiating premium prices.
While critics may claim the business is cyclical, and wrestling will eventually fall into a slump, much as it did in the early to mid-1990s and from 2014 to 2019, the reality is that the WWE has built itself up into an entertainment brand that can sustain itself through any creative slumps. The WWE has mastered a certain creative formula for its content, and short of some catastrophically poor creative choices, the fanbase is not only going to stick around, but continue growing as the WWE taps into more markets.
Do you think the WWE has never been bigger, or is it something else, such as wrestling enjoying a surge in popularity?
Photo Credit: WWE