WWE International?

March 12, 2007

I’m sure you’ve all read the rumors about WWE considering expansion of the company internationally and running separate WWE branded companies around the world. The area’s I’ve heard mentioned were Mexico, Asia (primarily Japan), and Europe to be added to the existing WWE US (and Canada) based brands. This would be a means by which Vince and WWE could virtually take over the wrestling industry on a global level. At first glance this may seem like a great opportunity for WWE to expand their product and completely take over the wrestling business, but I see it as an ill fated plan, that would be bad for both WWE business and the wrestling business on the whole.

There are so many flaws in this plan that I almost don’t know where to start. I guess my first concern is for the industry as a whole. When WWF expanded nationally way back in the 80’s it lead to the demise of so many regional territories. World Class Championship Wrestling, Stampede Wrestling, the American Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, to name just a few, fell at the feet of Vince McMahon’s WWF/WWE. While wrestling may be bigger and better at the top due to Vince’s efforts, the industry as a whole, has likely suffered. There are less people making a living at wrestling now certainly, you are either struggling/starving at the Indy level or one of the lucky few with a WWE contract (some TNA guys would be included in this group) that are making a good living. There is very little middle ground. It could almost be compared to so many 3rd World Countries in that there are the very rich minority controlling the Country (Industry WWE) with the very majority living in poverty (The Indy Scene) with virtually no middle class what so ever.

This also created another problem in that as the WWF/WWE killed off that middle class (the grass roots of the Industry so to speak) it became harder for them to find the skilled new talented needed each year to replace aging or injured stars. With a strong middle class it was easy to step people up to that next level, but now WWE can’t acquire talent from Stampede Wrestling (Bret Hart, The British Bulldogs), the AWA (Curt Hennig, Shawn Michaels), ECW (The Dudleys, RVD) or WCW (Steve Austin/Chris Jericho) and they are forced to finance their own developmental systems to attempt to train and develop their own middle class. The process has had some success (John Cena, Kurt Angle) but it has also had its failures (Achim Albrecht, Nathan Jones, John Heidenriech) and I think on the whole people would agree that the over all caliber of workers in the industry has decreased since the demise of the territory system.

If WWE were to expand into Japan, Mexico, and Europe as a permanent presence (Their occasional touring has already damaged local business somewhat) the same things could happen. If these WWE International brands were successful they could bring an end to the many existing companies already there, which would again provide less training grounds for workers, less employment opportunities for workers, and thus an over all decline of quality workers in the industry.

As bad as all of this sounds I’m not overly concerned about it happening, because I think when WWE looks carefully at this proposal they will realize it is a bad idea, not to mention the fact that I think it would fail if attempted. Japan and Mexico have very distinct styles of wrestling and I don’t think the large fan base there would completely endorse a permanent WWE style promotion. WWE draws well in those countries now (in my opinion) because it is more of a novelty; they want to see the big American show when it comes to town. Under this plan the local shows wouldn’t be the Monday Night RAW WWE everyone talks about it would be WWE Mexico or WWE Japan, a completely separate talent roaster that would have to be judge on its own. I think the local fans would expect that product to reflect the current style of wrestling, not the WWE style of product.

WWE would also need to use a lot of local talent because; Japanese fans and Mexican fans are going to want to see Japanese and Mexican wrestlers. This will require a huge adjustment in thinking at the WWE office level because style and work will need to be valued more than appearance and build, and there isn’t going to be a lot of Bobby Lashley like Mexican and Japanese performers.

Another obstacle will be in the geography of such a system, in that unless they use exclusively local talent and employees, they are going to require talent and office workers to relocate to different Countries. Chris Benoit is a perfect example. If WWE were to expand to any of these territories Benoit would be the perfect fit. He has worked the respective styles during his career and has been a top star in each respective region. He could be a top star that would not only have WWE drawing power but local acceptance and drawing power as well. That being said how is a guy like Chris Benoit going to react to being asked to move his wife and kids to another Continent? Probably not well.

You also have to consider the probability of WWE favoring the original brand. If WWE Europe, or WWE Japan had a huge break out star, or a hot-handed writer, would they be able to leave them alone or would they steal them for the home brand WWE USA? If they do that the WWE International brands will end up feeling like second-class citizens and those Countries will feel like they are getting second-rate product and be more likely to support the traditional local companies.

There is also one other HUGE draw back, which I think should be the deciding factor when considering such an expansion. If WWE had local brands based in these other markets the current US and Canada based Brands would have to stop touring those markets. If WWE RAW and SD still toured globally it would again paint them as the major brand and end up jobbing out and undercutting the International brands.

If you limit WWE USA’s touring options by eliminating Europe, Asia, and Mexico, they are going to have to depend almost exclusively on their domestic business, which as history has shown us, gets burnt out from time to time, and WWE’s solution to domestic business decline has always been increased International touring. WWE home brand would have take a substantial business hit to allow for International brand growth. When you consider that the potential increase in International business from the newly created brands is going to be far less net profit than it appears (because of home brand decline in International business) and the increased cost of running these international brands, especially if you consider the ever increasing developmental system costs if you swallow up the smaller promotions world wide, this project becomes far less appealing.

From a business stand point the numbers would need to play out like this, for expansion be worthwhile: Currently WWE spends let’s say “X” (with X being the total cost in effort and money expenditure) to make a net profit of “Y”. After the expansion the total cost in effort and money spent would be likely “3X” so unless the total net profit from the new system actually totaled more than “3Y” expansion is a failure as you are making less return on your money and effort. We’ve already discussed how lack of touring would likely decrease WWE home brand (from decreasing International touring) so the expanded brands would have to actually be more financially successful than the current WWE product to keep the average up. I think even the most optimistic people inside of WWE would have to admit that has very little chance of happening. Wasn’t that the reason behind discontinuing ECW brand house shows? They brought down the total WWE revenue average and looked bad on financial statements.

That’s my take on the possibility of an International WWE expansion. Looking at it strictly from a business standpoint it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, but then again the thoughts of seeing Vince McMahon in a Booker T like promo with Crown, Robe and Thrown proclaiming to be KING of the World, makes me think there’s always a chance.

Lance Storm