Saturday 20 August 2011

Cult of Celebrity

Big Brother has recently returned to British TV on its new home channel of Five. As I was watching all the alleged celebrities entering the house on Thursday evening (what does it say about the word ‘celebrity’ that it now covers some guy from a clothing catalogue?) I thought that being a contestant on the show would have worked perfectly as part of the brief “viral” campaign CM Punk embarked on last month.

Rewind back to Money in the Bank. Punk won the WWE championship by beating John Cena in one of the most anticipated WWE title matches in years. The next night on RAW Punk was nowhere to be seen and it was clear he’d done exactly what he’d said he would all along: he’d left the company with the title. Well, in the storyline at least. For the first time in the company’s history the title was (again, in the storyline) around the waist of someone not under contract to the promotion, and they were free to accept bookings from rival promotions and show up wearing WWE’s top prize. The situation had huge potential to gain WWE publicity, make CM Punk a household name, and shake up the wrestling business as a whole.

Unfortunately WWE got an itchy trigger finger and brought CM Punk back to television on July 25th, just eight days after his title victory. I get why they did it: they felt they needed Punk, the hottest star in the wrestling business, to help their TV ratings and pay-per-view buys. I can understand their position: why would they invest all that TV time allowing Punk to become so big and re-sign him to a contract only to allow him to go and work for New Japan, Ring of Honor and various US indy promotions just as his new contract kicked in? Those companies and the business as a whole would’ve benefitted from that approach immediately whilst WWE would have had to wait. As any long time fan knows, WWE is good at many things but waiting isn’t one of them.

Bringing Punk back to TV after just eight days away allowed a rematch with John Cena to be set up for SummerSlam. It also meant WWE could finally put a world title on Alberto Del, something they’d been postponing for months. It also meant they could reintroduce Kevin Nash and start whatever storyline he’s going to be a part of over the coming weeks. It was all about cashing in on Punk’s popularity as quickly as possible. It wasn’t the worst thing they could have done, but it was short sighted.

I believe WWE made a mistake bringing Punk back that quickly. Personally I’d have kept him off television until Survivor Series. That would have allowed Cena to become more established as the WWE champion, which would have resulted in the unification match meaning more upon Punk’s return. It also would have created space at the top of the card: WWE would have been forced to elevate some talent to fill the vacuum created by Punk’s hiatus.

While off TV Punk could have continued the “viral” campaign that was hinted at when he made appearances at Comic Con and the July 23rd All American Wrestling show. I mentioned above that he could have appeared for ROH and NJPW, and that’s just scratching the surface. Punk could have helped the WWE reach new markets by appearing at any public gathering or media event and simply being himself.

The only downside of this proposal is that WWE wouldn’t have benefitted from Punk’s popularity until November, and would have been forced to run the risk of him not generating the attention they were hoping for. A company that is so used to being in control simply couldn’t allow Punk to effectively create his own schedule for a prolonged period of time especially while calling himself the WWE champion.

This brings me back to Big Brother. Punk is probably the least likely wrestling personality to want to appear on a show like that, but that in itself would make great TV. I’m sure the combined forces of WWE management and, more importantly, Colt Cabana could have persuaded him that it would be a good move and he’d have ended up appearing in some fashion, even if it was just a weekend in the house (which Big Brother executives have announced will happen). Having a reigning world champion inside that house (especially one with such strong beliefs as Punk) would have helped attract new viewers to WWE, created media attention in the States (WWE’s primary market remember), and helped Five’s ratings (pretty much every wrestling fan in Britain would have tuned into the show religiously to watch Punk).

The opportunity’s gone and it will be a very long time before anything remotely similar falls into WWE’s hands again. This time they simply weren’t ready to release a bit of creative control and exploit the situation to its maximum potential. Next time I hope they learn from their mistakes.

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