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Vince McMahon addresses criticism of talent schedule in rare interview

Chris Buck for Variety

Vince McMahon doesn’t talk to the press often, but it’s not every day one of the entertainment industry’s leading trade publication comes knocking for a cover story about how you’ve conquered Hollywood and Wall Street.

That’s the general slant of a very positive piece by Joe Otterson & Cynthia Littleton on WWE in the May 2019 edition of Variety. The cover proclaims McMahon “King of the Ring”, and the article itself is headlined, “How Vince McMahon’s WWE Seized on TV Disruption to Become a Wall Street Champ”.

If that’s not enough to give you an idea of the piece’s tone, there’s the use of ratings figures which don’t reflect the drops Raw and SmackDown have experienced since signing the historic deals with NBCUniversal and Fox which have fueled the rise in the company’s stock prices. And sentences like this one to describe the April 23 SmackDown taping in Lincoln, Nebraska, which paint a rosy picture of both event attendance and the company’s creative direction:

“Attendees have paid up to hundreds of dollars to see their favorite wrestling stars in the flesh and keep up with the soap opera-like storylines that McMahon and his team craft with great care.”

There’s some interesting insight into how the entertainment industry, advertisers, and investment bankers see the business. Comments from Vince and Fox Sports head Eric Shanks about how the networks (USA & NBC will apparently follow Fox’s lead to keep WWE happy, the theory goes) will cross-promote WWE Superstars on other programming stood out.

But probably the juiciest quote from the entire article comes when McMahon addresses the issues raised by HBO’s John Oliver about the impact of the company’s non-stop schedule - something which makes its product so appealing to broadcasters, sponsors and investors:

“Anybody who wants time off can get time off. That’s easy. In addition to that, it’s easy to weave a talent in and out of a storyline. If they get injured, you’re not expecting that. Or if they have a family matter. Our characters are real people with real problems. It’s a revolving situation where this talent will work these dates, that talent will work those dates.”

There are two big, pretty obvious holes in this.

One, McMahon himself just told his shareholders that talent injuries were a cause of WWE’s lackluster first quarter results. If “it’s easy” to handle that, and Superstars are interchangeable parts you’re experienced swapping out, why did the unavailability of certain performers hurt the bottom line?

Two, if revolving talent is a feature and not a bug, why can’t WWE use its deep roster to plan time off for performers on a rotating basis, preserving their health, re-energizing them, and refreshing their characters?

Check out the entire article at Variety here, and let us know what you think about Vince’s answer about what the company asks of its talent, or any of the other issues and perspective addressed in the piece.

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