Greatest Royal Rumble, the pay-per-view (PPV) WWE is putting on in Saudi Arabia, this Friday, April 27 is a history-making affair. We know how the company loves to hype its trailblazing ways, so you’d think they’d want as big a spotlight as possible on being at the forefront of the Saudi’s social and economic reform program with a live sports event. Not to mention one that’s the rare non-WrestleMania stadium show, to which they’ve lent one of their most valuable brand names.
It’s also been a bit of a seat-of-the-pants effort, even by Vince McMahon standards. Less than two months have passed since Greatest Royal Rumble was announced; a remarkably short amount of time to plan and execute a six hour stadium show on the other side of the world. Yet WWE has ten matches planned with seven titles on the line - most of which have some story behind them - ready to play out before a reportedly packed (if not sold out) house.
Again, all the more reason you’d expect a publicity effort similar to what the company rolls out for WrestleMania, SummerSlam or the annual, less-than-greatest Royal Rumble.
Yet the media blitz has been relatively subdued. Maybe that’s to be expected given the quick turnaround. And maybe it’s just realistic given Greatest Royal Rumble happens when Marvel rolls out a blockbuster a decade in the making with Avengers: Infinity War on the same date, and the National Football League will be smack in the middle of their annual college talent draft.
WWE didn’t have a lot of open slots on their calendar, and may not have had much of a choice. Alternatively, they could be quite happy to play third fiddle while a lot of their fans and media partners are focused on a superhero slugfest predicted to pack theaters and debating which teams improved their Super Bowl chances.
In addition to potential logistics snafus they could encounter putting on a show in front of 60,000 people from a venue they’ve never used and broadcasting it worldwide on WWE Network and via traditional PPV carriers, entering into a partnership with The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is controversial in and of itself.
While there hasn’t been a Fabulous Moolah-sized backlash, check comment sections or Twitter threads beneath any Greatest Royal Rumble post or tweet and you’ll see people unhappy WWE is running an event their women’s roster can’t participate in, which female fans can’t attend without their husbands or fathers (progress in Saudi Arabia, but still archaic by the standards of most of the non-Muslim world). That’s without getting into other can’t-win Middle Eastern political arguments, or dealing with religious and racial stereotypes many have, rightly or wrongly, of the region.
It’s also probably not a coincidence Kane was removed from the card during the run-up to an election where Glen Jacobs will compete for a Republican nomination in Tennessee.
The company is walking a strategic fine line between hyping their history-making trip to the nation known as the birthplace of Islam and letting the event in Jeddah fly under the radar. If you’re going to enter into a ten year strategic partnership with Saudia Arabia, this might just be the smartest way to begin it.