Forget kayfabe … pro wrestling is real. Don’t take my word for it. Just ask ESPN. The world’s leader in sports coverage just added weekly WWE segments to its programming. The “wrestling” highlights might aggravate sports purists, but the networks involved – ESPN and WWE – don’t care in the least. They need the help.
ESPN has struggled financially of late. As with every other set time news delivery product, ESPN’s flagship programs like SportsCenter are constantly scooped by social media. Consider the recent news surrounding former Lakers player Lamar Odom. Bet you heard about it on Facebook first.
Because of the declining exclusivity of content, ESPN has been losing viewers and, subsequently, ad revenue. The network needs more fans … fast. In the past, ESPN depended on big name anchors to deliver eyes on their content. But earlier this year, the network let three of its top “talent” go: Keith Olbermann, Colin Cowherd, and Bill Simmons … thanks for the memories.
Instead of a top “name” draw to drive its programming, ESPN announced it will “nurture big name stars” and trim the fat where ratings haven’t been so wonderful. A second tier in this restructuring? More fans to market to.
A fan base something the WWE can deliver. Perhaps no other brand in entertainment, sports or otherwise, has fans as loyal, engaged and rabid as pro wrestling. In a market without any major networks talking about wrestling, the WWE fans created successful – and profitable – blogs, news sites, and ongoing web content. ESPN has the structure in place to take the WWE’s video content – which it jealously guards – and deliver it in bite size amounts to an underserved market.
But if you think this move offers a one-sided benefit, you’re jumping the gun. WWE’s ratings have been slipping too. Raw has been drawing record-low viewership, and it seems like the fan base isn’t too keen on any of the new superstars trying to steal John Cena’s top spot.
Worse, the WWE has connected with a series of negative PR situations. From athletes dying early to the lackluster response to the WWE Network to the recent excommunication of the first universally known wrestling superstar, Hulk Hogan.
The WWE needs greater exposure. It needs more eyes to see its product so it can have more people join the fan club fresh, without any loyalty to superstars on their way out, like Cena, The Undertaker, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho.
Exposure is the one thing ESPN can give the WWE it doesn’t already have. The latter network is banking on the idea people who grew up watching wrestling but moved on to “real” sports in later life will be pulled back into the squared circle by highlights on ESPN. This may prove to be the biggest sports entertainment tag team success since the 80s rock and wrestling connection.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and founder of top 20 United States PR Firm 5W PR.