A pair of interesting quotes making the rounds this week, from people in different positions at WWE. Both are interesting in light of the situation surrounding the company’s policy on wrestler’s engaging with fans via third party platforms like Twitch and Cameo.
From high up in the corporate hierarchy, we have this quote from Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon. Appearing on The Playbook podcast, she was asked by host David Meltzer (not to be confused with Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer) about the importance of individual wrestler’s brands to the whole of WWE:
“I think one of the things that we understood early on is, it’s star power. It’s about the attraction, it’s about the draw. Whether you’re going to a live event or you’re trying to drive television ratings or social media engagement or whatever it is, is you have to have the star power. So for us, we try to amplify the individual stars so that we can create the biggest moats around them. They need to have individual voices. They need to be their own personas.
“And I think now, in the digital and social age, the audience wants to engage with these stars on a personal level. Like, ‘I know you play this particular character, but who are you in real life? Do you have dogs? Do you have cats? What do you like to eat?’ All this stuff, because people want to relate.
“At the end of the day, the audience might not relate to a brand, to the WWE or whatever other league, but they might want to relate to a team, or they might want to relate to the individual stars. And I think more and more you’re seeing that in the media space, whether it’s content creators on TikTok or Twitch, you see these consumers and people really getting behind the content creators and influencers individually because they relate to them - in whatever way. It’s different ways for every person. But if you can create that opportunity for engagement, then the rising tide will raise all boats.”
McMahon’s answer points to why the company would want to control talent’s third-party engagement - because it’s their stardom that WWE is selling to customers. The company definitely plays a role in making its wrestlers famous. But that role is different for each performer, based on things like how established they were before signing with WWE, and their own efforts to build an online presence.
The trick will be finding a formula for splitting the online revenue from individuals’ star power that everyone agrees to. The second quote shows that one wrestler who’s built her own online brand is optimistic WWE and its roster can figure that out.
Here’s what Lana told The New York Post when they specifically referenced WWE’s new policy, and asked her if she thought they could work something out that benefited everyone:
“Absolutely. I know we are all in that discussion with the company of trying to work that out. Once again, the world has changed quickly. Everything has moved into digital space now. So there is a lot, a lot of money that can be made on the digital front from brand deals to Twitch, to YouTube. There’s so much money that maybe WWE didn’t always see they could make.
“I may not be a main-event WrestleMania player, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a lot of money on the digital front. And I think with a lot of different people, you see that. I see that. I think coming from the entertainment world to this, I always look at things in casting. So I look at our girls and I’m like, ‘Man, Ruby Riott can make so much money in this aspect, Liv Morgan, Mandy (Rose) there, me there.’ I’m always like, ‘Ah, I should be a manager.’ I should be a real-life manager.
“I’m actually really excited because I expressed to WWE how much I would love to help them build something out for the talent because I feel like we haven’t even slightly started to tap into how big of stars we can be on the digital front and how much money we could make for WWE. So, I’m excited. I know sometimes when things happen it’s a slow and steady … you have to be patient with change. But I really believe I’m gonna be one of the ones that’s gonna help build this out and this new WWE where we are going to be bigger than ever, the talent.”
Is Lana right to think the wrestlers can work with management to create a “new WWE”? The two sides have come to similar arrangements in the past on things like house show gates and PPV revenue (whether those were ever fair or just is another story). But it feels like workers have less power than ever, in this situation and overall. Should Lana be as optimistic? Or is she just falling for the company line?
I certainly don’t know. It’ll be fascinating to see this play out over the next few years. And important to the future of the business, too.