wrestling / Columns

The Fall of the Roman Empire: WWE’s Royal Rumble Fumble

January 27, 2015 | Posted by Len Archibald

#CancelWWENetwork – the #1 Twitter trend worldwide. Let that sink in for a moment. That is how upset fans were at the conclusion of the 2015 Royal Rumble. There have been several arguments from both sides of the aisle; from WWE supporters and WWE detractors about what happened in Philadelphia this past Sunday. Roman Reigns is going to the Main Event of WrestleMania whether fans like it or not. Those in Philadelphia made their voices heard emphatically. Once Daniel Bryan was eliminated unceremoniously, there was no turning back from the wrath of those fans in attendance. Once it became clear that Reigns was going to win, that wrath became something more.

#CancelWWENetwork. I can’t even fathom this. It is a level of customer dissatisfaction I have not seen WWE encounter in 20 years. Yes, people, things are getting to 1995 levels of bad. I am not going to skip and parade with a smile on my face claiming WWE is going out of business. No, I understand well enough that in some corner of this country, we have those in political power who do consider WWE a viable commodity to the United States financially and culturally and if worse came to worse, WWE may be considered “too big to fail.” We will see WrestleMania 50. I probably won’t live to see WrestleMania 100, but I am confident barring some massive national catastrophe that will be a reality as well.

In light of all that, I cannot deny that WWE is in trouble. Financially, WWE is sitting pretty. Total revenues for WWE’s third quarter were $120.2 million (compared to $113.3 million in 2013), while they were sitting on an operating loss of $5.0 million (versus income of $3.2 million in 2013 – due to the launch of the WWE Network.) I am sure these numbers will turn around and increase in some way by the time the fiscal year reports come in.

Yes, this is a column not about the art of wrestling, as I am accustomed to doing, but about the business of wrestling. Do I own stock in WWE? Actually, I do – even though I don’t pay much attention to it outside of a few ticks here and there – the $350 million dollar loss in one day was…alarming to say the least. But in all honesty, owning stock is considered more of a hobby and a way for me to gauge the financial direction of the company since I am a shameless historian.


I took part in indulging in the comments section here at 411Mania the LIVE! 2015 Royal Rumble coverage. It was a good time had by all. By the time the event ended, though – there was a sweeping feeling of…apathy. Not even depression. Just crippling, numbing apathy. It was at a point where I could tell fans were upset with the events of not only Roman Reigns winning, but the complete lack of direction and anti-climatic departures of Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose. In about twenty minutes, that upset turned into comments of “what did you expect to happen?” and the notion that people just did not care for the direction of the company anymore. And what happens when you cater a niche product to a fanbase that feels they no longer have a voice and no longer care about said product? #CancelWWENetwork. Apathy is the worse thing to happen in professional wrestling.

I summed up my personal feelings with this statement:

You know…I can’t fault Roman Reigns for this. I really can’t. He’s a good looking guy. He has pedigree. He does the basic power moves well. I completely understand why WWE wants him as their guy…

…But even John Cena was tested by fire. His first televised match was against KURT F’N ANGLE. He went through an entire character shift from plucky babyface that was not working to a heel with an edge. He got in The Undertaker’s face. He won the US Title. He was battle-tested with Carlito, Edge, Eddie, Angle and Jericho. By the time he beat Big Show at WM XX, fans were READY to see him move up. By the time Cena was in the WM 21 Main Event, fans were READY to accept him as the top guy.

Roman Reigns has not been tested by fire. At all. He has made two rumble appearances, a few high-profile singles matches, a lot of tag matches and a LOT of trios matches. Reigns first real test is going to be against BROCK LESNAR. For WWE’s main title.

Are we seeing the disconnect, yet? It’s not that I don’t want Roman Reigns to succeed, but it’s almost as if WWE is blatantly sabotaging his run before it gets off the ground. This isn’t about “Daniel Bryan or we riot” – this is about logical precedence, and honestly, Vince McMahon is clearly to blame for this. He has conditioned his fans to expect his performers to be built up a certain way before they are accepted by them. Roman Reigns’ situation is by far the most transparent, ass-backwards way of pushing someone to the moon I have ever seen. Yes, EVER SEEN. You can call it hyperbole, but I challenge anyone who thinks this is “hate” to watch every major WWE Pay Per View and see how the crowd reacts to their Main Event, Upper Card and Mid-Card talent. Main eventers were cheered like Main eventers, and so on. I understand that things changed when Chris Benoit did what he did and WWE has become a business that needs to look at talent as more than “professional wrestlers” but “entertainers”. Wrestlers take this industry too seriously, get strokes, get concussions, kill people, die early and the like, while entertainers don’t; but the fans are not stupid. They know when they are getting bullshitted by a shitty product.

Somewhere, WWE decided that they are okay with their main eventers being treated by their fans like jobbers, with apathy, boos and disconnect. I suppose I am part of the problem as I will support WWE because they represent a form of professional wrestling, and as a writer and researcher of the artform, I have to keep tabs on them. I have said that 2015 is going to be a defining year for them. They have decided to make their mark. It is okay – I understand that they do not cater to wrestling fans, but “WWE fans”. That is cool. What they need to do, then, is completely strip away the notion that they are a professional wrestling company. Let performers like Bryan, Ziggler, Swagger, etc., who were trained and busted their bodies under the pretense that they were going to utilize the tools they were trained on at WWE go somewhere else where they will be appreciated for their talents and let those who are perfectly fine with aesthetics stay with WWE.

Tonight was a clear line in the sand. It is 20 years again. Are you pissed? Good, you should be. What you plan to do about it is another issue. For me, I have clearly made the jump to call New Japan my new home promotion and THEY will get the bulk of my support financially, because money talks.

If you are upset and feel that there is no where else for you to turn to for your wrestling fix, I implore you to understand 1) you are not alone and 2) YOU HAVE OTHER OPTIONS. WWE has lulled us into thinking they own a monopoly on this industry. They don’t. WWE made a choice and told you how they feel. Now it is time to make yours.


#CancelWWENetwork became the #1 trend in the world. Mainstream outlets like Time picked up the story. WWE’s facebook poll asking if fans enjoyed the Rumble (as of this writing) is currently sitting at 7,071 for yes…and 24,851 fans saying no. When over SEVENTY-SEVEN PERCENT of your polled audience tell you they do not enjoy your product – that is a level of customer dissatisfaction that needs to be rectified yesterday. The WWE Network cancellation page CRASHED because too many customers tried to cancel at the exact same time. The Network call center suffered a similar issue when they could not manually cancel subscriptions because they were coming in at such a high pace that it crashed their system. This is not good, people. What happened?

I empathize for both sets of fans, those who are right pissed at Vince McMahon and have made their voice heard through their wallets; and those who feel the form of entertainment they love is being dumped on and feel the need to defend it, or berate those who have called for the death of the company…or worse. When WWE fires on all cylinders, they are almost untouchable – but when things are bad in Stamford, CT…They are BAD. Those who have taken up the unenviable task of defending WWE, those who feel that Sunday was an anomaly because the Rumble took place in a “smart city”, or those who feel those same fans are ruining the product, I need to level with you. I understand why you are upset with those who are upset. You feel those fans take the product way too seriously and suck all the fun out of your personal enjoyment. They cheer for performers you do not care for, or maybe take their fandom into an obsessive territory that disturbs you. You may be upset because some fans represent the lowest common denominator type of fan you wish to avoid being lumped with when the outside world discusses professional wrestling. It is an outlet of escape and a harmless form of entertainment. You have no stock in the company, and you hold no financial stake so why would these things bother you? They shouldn’t and you have every right to feel that way. That is the great thing about both democracy and capitalism…everyone freely has the right to express their opinion of a product and choose how to express it – whether they toss up memes of Vince smiling saying, “Why? Fuck you, THAT’S WHY?” or cancelling their WWE subscription; just as you have the right to cheer for Roman Reigns and feel Daniel Bryan is overrated.

But it is time for a reality check – as we are within the throes of this new “reality era”.

In 2013, before the launch of the WWE Network, the WWE took in $508 million in net revenue. That’s a healthy number. Until you look closer to see WWE brought home $2.8 million in profits. The two key indicators of a company’s health is their revenue and their profitability; revenue serving as the total amount of money WWE made through live events, their cut of the pay-per-view market, sponsorships, and merchandise – while WWE’s profit is the amount of money left over after WWE covered their expenses. The WWE has considerable overhead in producing their shows, fulfilling their contractual agreement to their independent contractors/wrestlers, paying their employees (and the coinciding taxes), keeping Titan Towers functioning, funding their developmental performance center, and other various expenses (from WWE Network to WWE Studios). Now, yes, WWE spent a whopping $505 million in expenses, mainly from the brunt of creating the infrastructure for the WWE Network, and those numbers should uptick to a more considerable amount.

Or will it? Remember those 2014 Q3 numbers I mentioned before? 75% into their fiscal year and they have generated TWENTY-THREE PERCENT of revenue compared to all of last year. It will take a miracle (or some major embezzlement that Al Capone would be proud of) to generate $388 million in revenue in WWE’s final three months to even match where they were last year. Take that in for a moment. Where did $338 MILLION dollars go? These are factual numbers straight from WWE’s corporate site. While some fans have boasted about WWE’s financial take – which is still a hefty sum – it is nowhere even close to the money coming in that they had become accustomed to.

Which is the next point – just how much money is WWE making now compared to what they were making at the height of their popularity? Here’s where things get interesting. Upon WWE’s upswing in 1998, the company made $251,474,000 in revenue and $56,030,000 in profits. Now, those are numbers comparable to what the company made in profits in 2010, where they made $53 million…but 1) in 2010 they also generated revenue of $477 million, indicating that they spent a lot more – and 2) when one considers inflation, 1998 actually generated over $357 million in revenue and nearly $80 million in profits. Remember last year’s $508 million in revenue? A good number – but compared to the numbers that they brought in 1999, 2000 and 2001, adjusted for inflation, WWE took home a whopping $513 million, $625 million and $548 million in revenue, respectively. What was WWE’s profits those years, you ask? Nearly $69 million in 1999-2000 (inflated to $94 million); nearly $85 million (adjusted to $116 MILLION) in 2000-2001 and nearly $57 million in 2001-2002. That $116 million profit margin was all WRESTLING RELATED revenue, eaten away by losses from the XFL that brought profits down to almost $16 million (adjusted to nearly $22 million.) Even when faced with the debacle that was the XFL, WWE was making more money hand over fist THEN, then they are now. Investors, are you banging your heads, yet?

Here is why #CancelWWENetwork trending is a damning and troubling sign. There is a *massive* precedence of Vince McMahon taking a huge gamble on endeavors outside of promoting professional wrestling and failing HARD. I won’t even get into the WBF. Vince McMahon has gambled nearly everything on the WWE Network being profitable – and with profit, comes credibility and respectability. He has two major strikes against him; but those were moments when WWE was still a privately-owned company. WWE NYSE is now publicly traded, going for $10.52 a share. They boasted 1-2 million subscribers by the end of FY 2014. They are barely breaking 800,000 (if that, now.) The last thing WWE needs right now is hosting an event that encourages subscriber cancellations. And that is what they have wrought. Investors are going to look at two numbers come WrestleMania 31 when it comes to the Network; not just the amount of subscribers the Network has netted overall, but the number of subscribers WWE has RETAINED since Day 1 of the Network launch. If that retention number, which reflects the cancellation number is below 500,000…I am not saying there will be panic at Titan Towers, but – let’s just say CM Punk’s whole speech about Vince McMahon being a millionaire who should be a billionaire will be playing in a loop in a lot of heads of those who pump their hard earned money into WWE, and may be advised that it may be wiser to stake their financial future in something that is a little more stable.


Irony: stability has been the mantra for WWE over the past 10 years when it comes to their business model. It is actually been a very strange backwards way of doing business. Creatively, WWE is extremely conservative; John Cena, Triple H, Edge Randy Orton and The Undertaker has been the mainstays with a new face here and there just to keep things “fresh” every so often. But financially, WWE has taken some bold risks – a new movie studio, an entire network, even dabbling in television and music production. The payoffs to these new risks have been few and far between, while the flat-lined creative barometer has not yielded many new dividends. I will be the first to admit that many doors have been opened for WWE to diversify their company and they should take advantage of them – the issue is not that. The issue is that we are now staring at the face of a company that for whatever reason has completely ignored exactly WHY and HOW those doors were opened for them in the first place. A compelling and entertaining product, that catered to its audience and expanded because the product served tropes the paying audience wanted to see: larger than life characters, engaging stories, and world-class athleticism. The WWE of 2001 is a pipe dream compared to the WWE of 2015, simply because more people paid for the product at a higher premium than what they are now. Less people are watching WWE, and with the network being NINE-NINETY-NINE, they are paying less to watch. Sponsors and ad sales are nice, but those sponsors and advertisers need paying customers to watch the programs and consume the product they sponsor – or how will they consume those other products being advertised if no one is watching – or even worse, flat out exiling themselves from the product altogether.

Customers leaving a sponsored product winds up being a reflection on the sponsors as well. Some people say “well, they’re being talked about” and “any publicity is good publicity” – except when it comes to consumer goods because the only factor apart from sales that matters is a little thing called trust. When the consumer no longer trusts your product, you are DEAD in the water. Trust is a near impossible thing to get back, especially from a customer who has been burned several times. Sponsors and advertisers do not want that albatross, and will only take so much “goodwill” and “market-based faith” before realizing the financial investment does not meet the audience reach they hope to get.

Fans are now at a cross roads. Several have completely lost trust in Vince McMahon. Once hailed a creative genius, he is now widely considered by those who bowed to him when he entered an arena as a fossil, an Emperor with No Clothes and a senile, petty man who would rather cater to his own amusement to spite the very audience that helped make him a powerful and rich man than to actually take the time to listen to them and consider their criticisms. It is time for WWE to stop taking the criticism of their product so personally and play on the defensive and learn to offensively engage their fanbase. Not through Twitter handles and WWE App polls, but true engagement with those who have supported the product from when they were children and have grown up and consider WWE as a vital part of their culture and personal identity. Because that identity is fading fast, and that core fanbase is being alienated in droves.

It is a harsh reality – and I did not want to be the bearer of bad news. I love WWE. I want WWE to succeed in a way that more performers are able to follow the path The Rock took to mainstream stardom. He has openly paved the way for those after him to move up and become more vital pieces of pop culture. I want WrestleMania 32 to hold 100,000 people. I want to see all types of fans finding all sorts of different tropes to enjoy – instead, the Royal Rumble has become the straw that has broken the camel’s back and effectively divided an already divided fanbase: WWE Fan and Wrestling Fan. Neither point of view is right or wrong; it should not be hard for the company to release a product that caters to both, and WWE has proven that they are perfectly capable of doing so. Last night, though – appealed to a very few select fans who will support WWE no matter what. That is fine, except for the one small notion that the base of fans who will do so is shrinking. And the fans who pay for the large financial risk that WWE has gambled on is making their voices heard by simply saying, “No.”


Finally – I will touch on the creative ineptitude that was the Rumble. Even though I could write entire paragraphs of the handling of Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan, Ryback and Dean Ambrose – along with the baffling idea of keeping Kane and The Big Show in there – this is not about those performers. They have their fans and they have vocalized loudly (and in the case of Bryan, emphatically) how they feel about this. No, the creative ineptitude rests on the shoulders of those who thought it was a great idea to basically cut Roman Reigns’ balls off for the world to see.

Again, I will not fault Roman Reigns for anything that happened. He is simply performing to the best of his abilities and is doing what he is told to do by the company that employs him. But, if WWE is not outright trying to sabotage his career before it even gets off the ground, they could have fooled me. Watch every single Royal Rumble since its inception in 1988. No Babyface character has EVER needed outside help to win the Royal Rumble. Ever. Those who won did it on their own terms through their own will and power. Roman Reigns is slated to compete against – in kayfabe terms – the most DOMINANT WWE Champion of all time. Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. He obliterated John Cena for the WWE Title in less than 20 minutes. He practically destroys whatever is in his path. He defeated TWO WWE Superstars on Sunday handily with “a broken rib.” Reigns entered the Rumble, eliminated a few people, then got beat up and disappeared on his back for a good while. There was no repeat of last year’s performance where he handily tossed competitors left and right and stood like a god, daring anyone to take his spot. The Big Show and Kane (and earlier, Bray Wyatt) were the dominating forces in the match. Reigns was treated more of an afterthought until it became convenient for him to make his presence known.

On top of it all, Reigns needed help from The Rock to win his shot. He could not do it on his own. On top of all that, during the post-Rumble interview, Reigns just kind of stood there – strangely aloof – as Rock stumbled through insults and made some half-hearted mentions of “family” to promote his cousin. Reigns could not even speak for himself. He had a busted lip and whined that he needed to see the trainer. Brock Lesnar in the same situation would have been licking his own blood while Paul Heyman exclaimed that not only does he love the taste of it, but now he’s a shark hungry for the next feeding. Why The Rock never brought up how much of a BEAST Lesnar is, how he knows firsthand what it is like to face him and LOSE, but is confident that his cousin is in better in ring shape NOW than The Rock was THEN, escapes my mind. Reigns, in no way, shape or form put on a performance, kayfabe or otherwise – convincing enough that he could defeat Brock Lesnar even on Lesnar’s worst day. Lesnar took shots that most mortal human beings would have flat out crumpled under. He kicked out of John Cena’s Attitude Adjustment at a one count. It was taking repeated AA’s, curb stomps, shots to the head from a steel briefcase, being speared through a barricade and multiple doubleteams to take him out – and Lesnar STILL won…ON HIS OWN. Poor Reigns complained about a busted lip. Lesnar dominated with a broken hip. At this stage of the game, Lesnar vs. Reigns is a mismatch that Daniel Bryan is right jealous of.

The WWE Network is supposed to change the way we watch television. More importantly for the company, it is supposed to be a financial boon, with a price tag WWE mentions so often during its audience has learned to chant it on cue. But that $9.99 tag is becoming a meme and a punchline, and not a course of action to turn profits. The WrestleMania XXX launch was a raving success story, but since then, rollouts in Canada and the UK have been total disasters. Again, this boils down to a factor that I am not sure WWE understands anymore: consumer trust. Couple that with a fanbase that is ready to vocally revolt on live television because of the creative decisions the company makes that insults and mocks them and new options opening up for fans to get their wrestling fix from other companies that have shown they can create programming and events on WWE’s level and even outshine them at times makes for a perfect storm that will define WWE’s legacy in 2015. And this is their first pay per view – or “Special Event” of the year.

We are on the Road to WrestleMania, and WWE has effectively shot themselves in the foot and are limping out of the gate. They have a couple of months to stop the bleeding. I desperately want them to. The most frustrating thing about what is occurring is that this all could have been prevented and they still have the capability of making amends with a fanbase that may be willing to go with them all the way. WWE just needs to do one thing – one simple thing that they seemed to start doing and practically abandoned after WrestleMania last year: listen to their customers. If they don’t, #CancelWWENetwork will become more than a twitter handle; it will become a deathblow to an entire network and we will effectively lose the one major idea that WWE has outside of their wrestling portfolio that would have satisfied all – the company, investors and fans alike. We all know the saying: “Money talks…Bullshit walks”; fans are now tired of bullshit on legs.

Len Archibald is the former Executive Director of the Northwest Ohio Independent Film Festival, and is a current movie reviewer for WLIO in Lima, Ohio.

Agree or disagree with me? Let me know on Twitter!
Follow @THELenArchibald


Clint Eastwood’s AMERICAN SNIPER surprised all with six Oscar nominations and the highest box office take ever for a film opening in January; how does the Bradley Cooper-led character study on real-life sniper Chris Kyle fare with Adams & Archibald?

Adams & Archibald at the Movies on Facebook