Brock Lesnar has provided some of the most entertaining WWE action since returning in 2012. Unfortunately a new shift in business strategy, poor timing, and disappointing Network numbers may bring the former champion’s reign of terror.
The landscape was different when Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE in 2012. The company was coming off of its most successful WrestleMania in event history, pay per view was still a major revenue source, and a new television contract was looming. Signing Brock Lesnar made sense in the ring and on the books. Yet the costs for the Beast Incarnate may not be all that cost prohibitive two and a half years later.
But great talent does not come cheap…especially when your name is Brock Lesnar. Lesnar returned to the WWE after a successful run as the biggest drawing card in UFC history. Taking Lesnar away from the UFC was going to cost a lot of money and Vince McMahon had no problem paying it. The riches for Lesnar also included a reduced schedule which amounts to about four matches a year and a handful of television appearances. A much easier way to earn a living than a lengthy MMA training camp and a fight to the finish with the toughest guys in the world. For Lesnar the return to the WWE made sense.
It also made sense to the WWE. The Rock was leaving, after finishing up a three-year program with John Cena. There were no new stars ready to ascend to the top spot and how do you sustain the record-setting business produced at WrestleMania 29? What carrot do you dangle to perspective suitors looking to pick up the rights to WWE television? Why not bring in the biggest drawing champion in UFC history and one of the most recognizable faces in combat sports? That was 2012. 2014 is a much different playing field.
The business model has completely changed two years later. The WWE Network has overtaken the priority that pay-per-views had in 2012. The television deal is signed. The ratings are steady and whether they go up or down doesn’t matter. The WWE is bleeding right now thanks to a Network which is not delivering the projected numbers. The priorities in Titan Towers are much different today which brings us back to Brock Lesnar.
Jim Ross recently questioned whether Brock was worth it? Ross noted that Brock’s contract is seven-figures and is set to expire after WrestleMania. He has two matches left which are likely to take place at the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 31.What do you do after Mania? Ross doesn’t know if Brock is worth re-signing under this current business model and quite frankly (and it pains me to say this) I have to agree with him.
I thought the move to make Lesnar WWE champion was brilliant. A few months later I can safely say that it has hardly paid off the way I (and probably Vince McMahon) thought it would. I thought Brock’s stardom would open up doors for the WWE, enhance brand equity, and bring back old fans. Unfortunately the championship has not only failed to do this, it also appears to have diminished Brock’s value as well as the entire company’s.
The Network numbers came out last week and they weren’t good. Subscribers left in droves while the company only closed a miniscule margin with new subs. Is it all Brock’s fault? No, but I do think he has something to do with it. Putting the title on Brock has backed the WWE into a corner in which they cannot book the world champion on every big event. Those big events are now marketed to attract new customers. Why would a fan want to re-subscribe or subscribe to see these events when the WWE title is dormant? I thought the idea of less is more was a great idea with the title, but there may be a little too much less in this case.
The television deal was a big disappointment and ratings have remained rather steady with minor increases and decreases over the last several months. Brock has meant nothing for anyone else but himself. Brock is enjoying a phenomenal schedule and great pay while the company is fighting to keep its head above water right now. Brock is bringing in no residual value for his price and that is just a fact.
The biggest red flag to me came when the WWE announced its numbers for Night of Champions. Night of Champions featured a big rematch between Brock and John Cena. It wasn’t going to do traditional numbers in this current business climate but the actual number was a shocker. Not only did N.O.C. only pull in 48,000 buys, it did worse than the 99,000 worldwide buys that Battleground (without Lesnar) did. Granted, N.O.C. was on Sky Sports for free, but 48,000 for a show headlined by Brock Lesnar is just an embarrassment.
This also proves that the old theory of a crossover audience between pro wrestling and the UFC is just nonsense. Lesnar was drawing over one million buys on UFC PPVs. He’s done nothing of the sort for the WWE. I don’t believe for a second that the difference in UFC numbers were WWE fans coming over. I just think that Brock tapped into the same kind of psychology that Mike Tyson did back in the 80s and 90s which was guys wanting to see this big, bad, dude knock someone out. It’s obvious that none of the UFC fans cared enough about Brock to follow him to the WWE and even if they did, they haven’t stuck around.
The WWE is at a real crossroads with Lesnar. They have invested so much money and time into him. Not only did he humiliate John Cena at SummerSlam, he also broke the streak. He has the WWE championship. The payoff of course would be for Brock to put over Roman Reigns and a few other guys through his next deal, yet that payoff doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. There is just no way that Brock’s price and schedule can be justified with the results he has (and hasn’t) produced for the WWE since coming back.
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