Saturday 6 September 2014

The 2014 RAW Season Premiere

On Monday WWE will promote their “season premiere” of RAW. This is a label they often trot out around this time of year, an attempt to combat the return of (American) football to Monday nights. WWE understands that football holds far more mainstream appeal in America than sports entertainment ever could, although whether or not they’d publicly acknowledge it is another matter entirely. They also understand the need to put on as good a show as possible to compete with the more popular programme.

Yeah, I know. Pretty exciting...
What has been announced for this year’s premiere is, quite frankly™, not terribly encouraging. First of all there’s a SummerSlam rematch between Roman Reigns and Randy Orton. Their PPV clash was proficient although it didn’t come close to reaching its potential. The likelihood is the same results will be achieved here: the pair will have a good-but-not-great match that neither excites nor offends. While that would usually be fine something more is needed for a show WWE are relying on to attract a significant audience.

Worse than that is the securement of Jerry Springer’s services. This is a man who famously inspired Vince Russo’s Monday Night RAW writing back in the second half of the nineties. I mention this to demonstrate how old hat Springer’s act is by now. I’ve no doubt he still has a level of popularity and notoriety in the US, but it will be a fraction of what it was at his peak. This is not the bold, exciting appearance it would have been in 1999. Frankly it wouldn’t have been especially bold or exciting then.

Another outsider WWE contacted to appear was Michael Sam. He’s a football player who recently came out as gay before finding himself without a team to play for in the upcoming NFL season. So WWE, being WWE, offered him the chance to show up on RAW to talk about whatever he desired (although they very clearly would have expected those desires to include his coming out and not having a league team to play for). It was a very blatant publicity stunt and one that didn’t work out for them as Sam ended up joining the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys. Which means he won’t be at RAW.

The invite did get WWE a fair bit of the attention they so obviously desired. Various news providers and sports analysts covered the development. But that doesn’t really mean much. A declined invite, no matter how much it was talked about, won’t encourage people to watch a show. And it also made WWE look pretty insensitive for not offering Darren Young, their own employee who went through something similar to Sam last year, the same opportunity. They posted a positive message of support for Young on their website but he didn’t get any promo time to address his revelation on TV.

I’m not saying Young should necessarily have been given time to talk about his revelation. Had he been given time it’s possible the move would have been labelled exploitative and cynical. But to offer the chance to a non-employee who works for what is essentially your biggest competitor is an incredibly transparent move. It’s impossible to believe WWE made the offer solely because they feel it’s the right thing to do or to give a role model a platform on which to speak. They wanted him to attract NFL fans and media coverage.

Bray Wyatt and Chris Jericho: coming to a cage on your TV this Monday.
The one thing I think Monday’s RAW has going for it is the Bray Wyatt versus Chris Jericho cage match. I didn’t enjoy their Battleground match and didn’t see a huge improvement in their SummerSlam clash, but I’m in the minority. Most people love seeing ‘Y2J’ wheel through his list of tiresome catchphrases and stock of easily botched wrestling moves and have found his dispute with ‘The Eater of Worlds’ rewarding and satisfying. With that in mind putting the third and presumably final match of their programme on free TV is a clever move. People who are torn between watching football and wrestling may come down on the wrestling side just to see this match.

But that’s one match on a three hour show. Most people interested in the cage match will tune in just for that and then turn back to the football if they’re interested in both. If it goes on last they’ll switch over only when it begins. Jerry Springer chatting it up with the Bella twins and Reigns and Orton having a Blandest Big Event Match of the Year rematch is not enough to keep people engrossed for three hours. It’s definitely not enough to attract new or casual viewers who are interested in the football.

I can’t really understand why WWE didn’t make the September 1 episode of RAW the season premiere. They were facing no more competition than usual and so if they’d put all their effort into making that a couldn’t miss show, securing Springer, loading up on legends and promoting their planned rematches, it would have been more likely that a hook could have been found to encourage people to watch the next episode.

Yeah, that would have meant putting in just as much effort for the following episode to keep any extra viewers they’d picked up interested, but they should be doing that anyway. If WWE wants to stop themselves being trounced by Monday night football they need to up their game and offer an enjoyable, logical show with interesting performers and desirable matches on a weekly basis. It looks like they might be trying for that here, but if so they don’t understand what a 2014 audience wants from a wrestling show. They’re thinking is right, but their execution is way off.

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