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Building The Roman Empire



Last year, the stage was seemingly set for Roman Reigns to defeat Brock Lesnar to win the WWE Heavyweight title and take the John Cena spot, which was the plan since Roman made his WWE debut. As I’ve said many times before, the fans don’t want to be told who they should want to cheer or who they should want to see in the main event because it essentially tells the audience that their opinion is irrelevant to the WWE brass. The crowd could support a talent in the hopes that the competitor would move up the card and reach the main event, but when management decides to anoint the next star prior to the actual angle, the audience resents that their opinion is being ignored. The audience knew that Roman Reigns was chosen to go to WrestleMania 31 to win the title long before they had a chance to voice their opinion on that particular scenario and when they saw cheers for other performers being discarded, they directed the heat for management at Roman Reigns. As history will show, Roman didn’t get over and that led to Seth Rollins cashing in to win the belt.

I don’t want to sound repetitive here, but lack of competition continues to be the direct reason behind why these less than over angles continue to get pushed. In 1997, Nitro was winning the ratings war and the WWF was very much on the ropes, even close to going out of business. When the audience decided they wanted to see Stone Cold Steve Austin in the title picture, the WWF booked him as the top guy because WCW pushed them to do whatever they had to do to survive the ratings war. Granted, the industry has changed, but with WWE dominating the pro wrestling market, if the general public wants to watch wrestling then they will watch WWE and until revenue drops, (which it hasn’t) management will continue to book their vision of sports entertainment, despite the demands of the live audience.

During a recent conference call, Vince McMahon touted record-setting revenue and explained the decline of ratings as a result of people watching less TV. The public watching less TV might be true for a general basis, but the fact remains, if you have a show people want to watch then viewers will tune in to watch it. For example, sporting events still draw major ratings and several current shows such as The Walking Dead garner major numbers, even with the use of DVR so again, if you have a product viewers want to see, they will tune in for it. The argument could be made that it’s difficult to book a ” must see” program for a three-hour format, but the exponential increase in ad revenue allowed the decision makers to overlook that aspect of the product.

It’s 2016 and according to a report from The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer last week, Vince McMahon has plans to make WM 32 the start of the Reigns era and he will have the top spot going forward. The rational behind this is supposedly that even if the fans boo Roman, the WWE is at a point where the company isn’t built around a particular star, but rather fans will find something on the shows that makes them watch the product. While it is true that the WWE brand is the draw for the WWE audience, it would seem more difficult to get the audience to emotionally invest in the product without identifying with the top stars.

For example, the WrestleMania brand sells itself because the audience is emotionally invested in the history and the perception of the event. The problem is, will the crowd want to pay for events where Roman is supposed to be the draw? I’ve stated previously that it’s disappointing that Reigns is getting flak from the crowd when the WWE hasn’t done him any favors with its booking direction and considering recent crowd reactions, it’s very possible he gets booed when he wins the title at WrestleMania. A few weeks ago when Triple H “bloodied” Roman, the crowd cheered and as recent as this past week on Raw during their in ring confrontation, the audience booed him again.

So, what’s it going to take to get Roman Reigns some actual crowd support?

I know some have compared the reaction to Reigns to John Cena’s polarizing popularity, but I don’t think that’s the case. In many scenarios, Cena had the crowd at 50/50 in terms of his fan support, but the same ratio doesn’t apply to Roman as his cheers as in the minority during live events. The other key factor with the Cena comparison is that no matter of the opinion, John Cena is undoubtedly a draw. The fans either pay to cheer him or pay to boo him, but from a business prospective, the only thing that matters is that they pay to see him. Plus, the demographic that supports Cena buys his red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and purple t-shirts along with all the accessories. Merchandise is a key revenue source for the WWE and from a historical prospective, it’s one of the reasons they’ve remained the top company in the world. Also, according to Meltzer, 84,000 tickets have already been sold for Cowboy stadium, which is somewhat surprising, considering the relatively weak card because of key injuries in recent months. The amount of sales seems to indicate two key aspects of the WWE business model, the WrestleMania brand can sell tickets for a major venue and secondly, obviously the WWE fan base isn’t as disgusted as they sound at live events. If fans are that against Reigns as the top guy, why spend the money on expensive WrestleMania tickets? The WWE wants Reigns as the next star because he’s their type of champion and essentially they would rather have the stereotypical wrestler to help bring sponsors to the company than Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler, both of whom were pushed aside during the original Roman main event run. Unless tickets don’t sale or network subscriptions drop, why wouldn’t WWE management book what they want? It seems as though more live crowds look for the opportunity to “hijack” a show or view it as an accomplishment to boo Roman Reigns, but if the fans are paying to be there, does Vince McMahon really care if they cheer or not?

It’s common knowledge that Reigns is winning the belt at WM 32 and if I had to guess, I would say that he will get booed at the conclusion of the show. I find the Roman situation comparable to The Rock’s early days in the WWF when the fans initially rejected him. Rocky Maivia was getting a push because the booking team thought he should, but the fans hadn’t seen him earn his stripes. In many ways, the audience today doesn’t think Roman “earned” his spot on the card because he was recruited to be a top guy since day one. It’s an unfair reality of the situation because obviously Reigns has worked hard to improve on his weaknesses and the way he continues to be booked only adds fuel to the criticism. For example, the overused move set and the super man come back during the number one contender match at Fastlane. As I’ve said previously, if Rocky Maivia didn’t turn heel, would the The Rock have become one of the biggest stars in the business? A Roman Reigns will turn might be a way for him to evolve his character and eventually get over as a baby face, but it seems like the generic win is going to be booked for WrestleMania. In my opinion, without a major angle, Roman won’t suddenly get over as the top baby face. With WM 32 weak on paper and the result of the main event obvious, there appears to be more intrigue as to the reaction to Reigns at the event than the actual match. As mentioned, the way Roman has been portrayed hasn’t done him any favors and the process of pushing him as the next top star continues to be an uphill battle. However, if it doesn’t affect revenue, does it really matter?

-Jim LaMotta