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By Kendall Jenkins on 2024-05-17 07:23:00

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Even if you’re not a fan of wrestling, let alone WWE, you’ve likely heard of superstars like John Cena, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan if you grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s. That alone should show you just how famous the WWE brand is – or is it more appropriate to say “was” nowadays? With total viewership steadily declining, including among its target age range, the numbers aren’t looking too good. Take a look at ratings on WWE Monday Night Raw, and you’ll see that the audience feels like the former action-packed saga is losing its touch. Consider the rise of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), and we add in the dangerous component of competition. So, how did WWE get here? 

The Early Days of the WWE

Let’s first take a trip down memory lane. The WWE wasn’t always called the WWE – it was founded back in 1953 as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation and went through many name changes before landing on the coveted World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002. The company started off like any other – working hard to establish itself in the scene. Initially, it was a lot more focused on the art of wrestling itself, with famed wrestlers like Bruno Sammartino and “Superstar” Billy Graham being well-known for their championship titles.

The WWE’s Golden Era

During the 1980s, the WWE went through a transformation when Vincent K. McMahon, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc., which later became the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). His ambitions to make the federation the ultimate wrestling promotion globally changed wrestling forever.

He relentlessly broke down barriers and defied already-established standards by smartly selling WWF broadcasts to individual networks rather than a national one to cover more ground at different times. He signed the best talent (think Rowdy Roddy Piper and André the Giant) from rival promoters with money from media and advertising deals. His vision was fiercely intense, his business decisions bold, and they paid off.

To put it simply, the company became absolutely iconic. It dominated sports entertainment with its riveting matches, captivating storylines, once-in-a-lifetime moments, and highly-watched programs such as SmackDown and Raw. Although many would consider the WWE inherently American, these programs were aired and watched in over 150 countries. The more the income came in, the more superstars McMahon signed, and the bigger WWF became.

Shaking Things Up With the Steroid Scandal

The WWF enjoyed that success and reputation for just over two decades, until 1993 – the year of the Steroid Scandal. The gist? McMahon was accused of giving his talent anabolic steroids to achieve the look that coincided with the brand. He was facing jail time and other serious consequences, and bad press put a damper on business. 

Of course, it went on to recover and thrive over countless new eras, eventually becoming the WWE following a settled lawsuit from the World Wildlife Fund’s trademark. Despite its ups and downs, it retained its legendary status in pro wrestling.

Modern-Day WWE

So, what does the modern-day WWE look like? And why do people feel like the franchise has changed? Fans believe that WWE will never achieve the same level of acclaim it had in its glory days, mainly due to two factors: the WWE’s inability to create icons and its inability to craft a good storyline. Since the days of Ric Flair, Roman Reigns, and The Rock, the franchise hasn’t been able to produce a persona with the same appeal and fame as it used to. It also can’t recreate original storylines that capture the audience with those over-the-top surprises and creative depth.

It could also be that fans crave the rough-around-the-edges and less refined version of the WWE they used to know and love. Or maybe the PG Era led to an overly family-friendly aura that removed the intensity of matches in the past. Then there’s the factor of nostalgia that plays a huge role in the love of the WWE – how can anything measure up to the feeling of watching wrestling during its peak, especially if you were young then too?

The WWE also has to compete with the AEW, whereas it never had to truly compete with another pro wrestling entertainment company before. Some could say the AEW threatens the WWE by giving wrestlers another platform to consider and viewers another place to view this form of entertainment. The Wednesday Wars was just one way we saw AEW come out on top when it came to ratings and viewership.

As generations continue to replace one another, we’re also left with a potential crowd of young adults whom the WWE doesn’t appeal to. Alongside having to compete with other wrestling promotion companies, it is competing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), traditional sports leagues like the NFL, competitive esports, online gaming and gambling (based on the research they conducted), and, of course, the instant gratification of social media and streaming services.

Is There Potential for Revival?

The WWE has set the bar sky high over the past few decades, not just for the wrestling world but for itself as well. Is there potential for a complete revival and for the WWE to become what it once was in the ‘80s and ‘90s? It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. However, is there a chance for the WWE to grow and evolve to become a more dominant force in the entertainment world? Absolutely – especially if the company happened to employ a new Vince McMahon with the same business mind in the future. While the WWE brand may be dwindling in some ways, it’s entirely possible we’ll see a revival one day. When, however, is anyone’s guess.

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