Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wrestling's Business is Making Money

There are always those products that seem to evolve and adapt to the changing environment. And I don't think that wrestling has any equal in this department. There are lots of entertainment companies follow the model of using their television program to sell other products. Sports is the best example. DVD collections of championship runs, jerseys, ticket sales, team gear and video games are all points of revenue for the NFL, NBA and MLB. But wrestling was at the forefront of merchandise sales. DVDs come out every month because people will pay for pay-per-view matches. How many other companies can sell a DVD of a show they did a couple months ago and expect to sell many of them? Only TV collections which come out a few seasons after ward can equal this kind of sales potential.
I have been part of this kind of expansion because I have bought into most of what the WWE sells. I bought the T-shirts and the video games. I have bought books and DVDs as well as pay-per-views and magazines. I think the only thing I have not gotten into is online stuff because it just seems excessive at that point to pay for something I probably won't use. As it stands I have just enough time to watch the regular shows so I don't need to have up to the minute updates on the world of wrestling.
One interesting point that the "McMahon Media Empire" brings up is the increasing distribution of products that are not shows, like the special DVDs and merchandise and subscriptions to bring in a new revenue stream that is lost when people lose interest and wrestling is not mainstream anymore. I do remember the appearance by the Rock on SNL and Triple H being on Mad TV. You can see it here. So I do wonder if it is possible that this kind of synergy and massive expansion could alienate those that would like to get in. It might not happen since all one needs is the main show but seeing that books and magazines and online subscriptions are part of what the company displays to be the full experience, it might be a bit overwhelming for an outsider. I know I feel this way about other forms of media that have their own universe such as Harry Potter or video games like Final Fantasy. Both of these products have reached out beyond their original media and it seems like a hassle to try and grasp the entirety of the mythos.
It might also be possible that people will not give the empire a second thought and just watch the shows. But then it could be possible that the expansion will continue to increase because new viewers may be placed into that pool of fans who buy a DVD about a wrestler or that video game. And with more people watching, then the WWE will more product but the thing to watch for is the crash, when all of this merchandise doesn't sell because there are too many products out there and the number of people who were there once watching the show are gone again.


Sam Ford said...

Luis, you raise an interesting point about the fear of a text too big that people won't want to jump in. It's one of the main reasons I argue that wrestling fans should be recognized and especially appreciated by the WWE because they are the main avenue to pullf fans in. With the WWE's Web site providing all sorts of ancillary content to the main show, the Heat and other secondary shows online, WWE 24/7 On Demand showing tons of historical footage, etc., I agree that there can be a chilling factor, but fans can be the tour guides and proselytizers to bring new people in and keep them in because they can act as support in tackling such a daunting text load.

We at CMS have talked a lot in the past couple of years about transmedia storytelling, or whatever term you would rather use for a text that shares its narratives through multiple media platforms. Pro wrestling has a model set up to be able to do just that.

What I think is significant about this "media empire" is that all of these products somehow relate back to the wrestling, and much of it is not just cheap branded merchandise but rather products that in some way meaningfully extend the narrative.

But I think you highlight that WWE makes sure all these ancillary extensions are not so vital that you can't understand the main show, and that's key as well because many people just don't have time or want to put the time into anything more than watching their favorite wrestling show every week, and you have to enable that as well.

narwood said...

What I actually find most interesting about this case is that there is very little room for 'fannon.' It all comes back to the same notion that Vince is running everything, and the entire world of wrestling is thus consolidated - which makes it even more interesting when the WWE is now coopting the history of the sport for redistribution.

I've been trying to figure out why, and haven't gotten very far. The model seems closer to something like Survivor than a fictional media world like Harry Potter. The main drive for Survivor fans was always to figure it out, and to do battle with the producers over who could stay one step ahead. With Harry Potter, the main drive is to play in the world, and create. Wrestling bridges the gap between reality and fiction, but I do not know where the fictional-loving side of the fan community is. (Literally - because I'm not a part of it.)

Sam Ford said...

Spoiling in wrestling takes a different format, where most fans I know want to play booker. There is a wrestling fan fiction community, and Sue Clerc will hopefully be joining us in May to talk about just that, particularly wrestling slash fiction.

It seems that fan fiction is almost wholly female, and that male creative writing for fans takes a curious path between fantasy sports and fan fiction. There are various groups of activities I've seen where the fan plays booker. There's the informal sense, in which many friends I know who are wrestling fans basically write lists of matches and storylines for what they would do were they booking the next PPV, etc. I have gotten many a long e-mail, pages to print out, on my friends' versions of Backlash or Judgment Day or the next PPV, criticizing WWE creative choices and asserting their own.

In a more advanced way, I have personally participated in role-playing feds. Some had a computer program (see Oliver Copp's TNM) which generates matches and decides outcomes, with a group of fans representing various wrestlers on the card. These text-based programs were quite intricate, also with a promoter mode where you have to sign the wrestlers to contracts and they could quit and give notice at any time, wrestlers could become injured and drop out, etc.

These role-playing feds leave to two models, and in another lifetime I participated in both. The first is a wrestling group where people pick various wrestlers and then e-mail out interviews. One person plays the role of the head booker of this role-playing federation, and he (usually he) scripts the weekly show. You write promos for your wrestler throughout the week, and the outcomes of the matches are subjectively determined by that person who writes the show.

The second version may not have been widespread, but it was what my friends and I amused ourselves with. About three of us would each be a promoter, and we used the TNM game to sign our rosters. We would each write our own weekly show and then had a fourth friend who would be the Nielsen ratings. My job, since I had the game, was to run each show through the TNM, which would determine both how good each match was (in *** ratings), if anyone was injured, if anyone quit after the show, etc., and then I would call the Nielsen guy and basically present the whole show to him. I ended up being considered such a good pitchman that I would present all the shows to the Nielsen guy (which could be quite detrimental to my friends, but I guess they trusted me), complete with my doing my own versions of the wrestlers' promos and playing music in the background, so it was quite the multimedia over-the-phone experience.

Anyway, that's what elaborate games nerdy wrestling fans in Kentucky played after school and on the weekends. For the record, that most definitely was before I got married. :)

While some of these feds used created characters, most of them dealt with "real" wrestling personalities.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

The entry problem for transmedia texts is a problem a lot of people, most of them working for C3 and leading very stressful lives, are working on. It might be worth noting that there seem to be few cases of what the inimatable Geoff Long calls "hard" transmedia storytelling--in which a mythos is planned out in several media from the outset. The big success stories we've seen, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter, tend to have a single, authoritative text in one specific medium that's designated as the entry point into the property. I don't know if that's always the way it's going to be; I can personally attest that I think of Star Wars primarily as a series of videogames with some above-average movie adaptations, but I seem to be alone in that. But as it stands now, all you need to do to be a Harry Potter fan is read the books. And all you need to do to be a Star Wars fan is watch the six movies, and then spend the rest of your life complaining about the three prequels.

I think as long as it's clear that the television shows are the WWE's primary text, entrance barriers should remain low. If they continue to oversaturate the PPV market...well, we'll see.

Ismael said...

When I was younger, a lot of the merchandising was geared towards young children. I had all the action figures, rings, coloring books, ice cream, and even slippers. It seems like wrestling realized that its core fans were growing up. As a result, their merchandising and storylines grew up as well.

It's pretty incredible to see how much money the WWE makes from PPV and DVD sales. most of their revenue comes from thee two areas. It's almost a little disturbing to see how much money people are willing to spend on these two forms of entertainment. As long as people are willing to give their money to the WWE in these forms, I don't see how they will ever go out of business.

Sam Ford said...

Ismael, some people question whether WWE should keep the 15 PPVs a year up or not, becuase of a fear that it will eventually burn the market out. But the WWE makes a lot from those PPVs, so it's hard to cut them down. I know I've switched to not buying the PPVs and just getting them on DVD afterward...I bet a lot of others do that as well...They up the $$$ of a PPV, though, so even with fewer buys, they make as much money, and international makes a huge difference these days.

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