WWE Network Is Vince McMahon’s Biggest Gamble Yet

The WWE Network is coming…finally. After months of teases and promises the long awaited network devoted entirely to WWE programming is on the way. Early details of the network indicate that the entire way you view the WWE will be changing shortly.

Numerous reports appear to indicate that the WWE Network will be launching on February 24. The timing shortly before WrestleMania is no coincidence. Here is a rundown of the important details, all rumors until confirmed mind you, of the big network.

– The network will launch February 24
– The network will be available on the Internet only
– The network will have an extensive library of WWE videos that will be available immediately on-demand, including every single Monday Night RAW.
– WrestleMania 30 will stream live on the network and will be included in the subscription.
– The cost of the network will be $10. Subscribers will have to sign up for 6-months at the start to get Mania.
– All of the B-level pay-per-views will air live on the network.

That is a whole lot of information right there. The biggest takeaway at first glance is that WrestleMania will air live on the network for free (well with a six-month subscription). That is huge! I have to think that the news will greatly impact the stock price right off the bat (I’d sell immediately). That is a lot of lost revenue right there. The cable companies cannot be happy about this. I am sure it will still do well internationally but I can’t imagine anyone paying to watch Mania over just signing up for six months of the network for a few dollars less.

I can also tell you as someone that has tried to buy the stream of the last two WrestleMania events from WWE.com that the company is biting off way more than they can chew here. They had major issues last year to the point where fans couldn’t even buy the stream. The year before that I was able to get the stream but it was slow, clunky, and choppy. Trying to not only get it right this year but now get it right for a bigger audience is a huge gamble for the company. What happens if the stream craps out again or is clunky like 28 was? Will fans demand a refund? Can they get one? Are they guaranteed to lose all of those disgruntled fans in four and a half months?

The second but probably bigger story here is the access to live B-show events. Now this has been reported for awhile but the story changes a bit now that the network will be online-only. At this point I have to question why the WWE would even do the B-shows. Quite frankly I am not sure legally how they can still charge a fee on cable and air these on the network at the same time. I believe there are rules in the contracts with cable companies that prohibit them from doing this yet there is probably some loophole with the Internet here. Fans are subscribing to the network whether they get the B shows or not. There are a lot of expenses in the production, in addition to the man hours of having to write and book the shows. If you thought you got screwjob finishes on B shows now, imagine the creative liberties that will be taken when you aren’t paying for them? Why bother at this point, especially when most of the better matches wind up airing for free on RAW or SmackDown anyway?

What about the pay structure? If the WWE takes away those B shows from pay per view that will greatly impact the WWE superstars get paid. They get paid a bonus on these B shows which is taken from the buyrate. If the WWE has no or little buyrate for these shows how will that impact overall pay? A lot of the talent have low guarantees and rely on the bonuses. I don’t know how the WWE can continue the bonus structure under those circumstances. I also don’t know how they can address this in terms of pay. This goes back to the stock price. As a shareholder you are now looking at losing a ton of money on WrestleMania, no network on cable or dish networks, and now higher guaranteed deals to the talent. Sell now!

This should eventually trickle down to RAW and SmackDown. If RAW and SmackDown aren’t being used to push these B shows, what is the purpose of the show? They can just throw anything and everything on RAW with no real logic to it. Theoretically it could be used to elevate talent as opposed to elevating storylines but I can’t see that happening under this regime. The entire face of these of shows will change and that can be a good thing or a very bad thing. I don’t have a lot of confidence that this creative regime can put together an entertaining three-hour show without any structure or guidelines.

The network has a lot of promise. I just wonder how many people will stick with it after their six-month Mania package expires. By that point you have probably sifted through most of the old footage that you wanted to see. The B shows certainly haven’t been must-see events lately. The company will need to invest some money into original programming to keep viewers past that six-month expiration date. Right now there aren’t a whole lot of plans from original programming from what I have read.

An easy fix would be to work out a deal with Podcast One and start airing the Steve Austin and Chris Jericho podcasts, the way that E used to air the Howard Stern Show. Another program that could be cheap to produce would be a live daily webcast of some sort, talking about news, interviewing talent, etc. Taping a house show once a month and putting it on the network on delay is also another thought that comes to mind when it comes to cheap, original programming.

The only thing I can confirm here is that the entire business of the WWE will change. With no incentive to heavily promote B shows, television programming will look much different over time. The network sounded like a great idea but the opportunity costs here could outweigh any potential benefit to fans over the course of the long run.

Vince McMahon has always been a bit of a gambler. XFL was a biggie but he wasn’t completely changing the face of his core business. Completely changing your revenue stream and the way you produce television is as big as it gets. This may be his biggest gamble yet.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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Welcome to the Camel Clutch Blog. The CCB was born in 2007 and features blogs from over 50 different writers. Articles from the Camel Clutch Blog have been featured by some of the world's most respected websites including; CNNSI.com, Foxsports.com, Yahoo News, Business Insider, MSNBC, NBCsports.com, and more.

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