PWTorch editor Wade Keller presents a special Thursday Flagship edition of the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast featuring a WrestleMania 36 Preview with ex-WWE Creative Team member and professional stand-up comedian Matt McCarthy.
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WWE is looking to overhaul its image heading into WrestleMania 32, where the company hopes to set attendance records at AT&T Stadium.
Whether it’s John Cena on NBC’s “Today Show,” a weekly segment on ESPNews, or new partnerships with the likes of Coca-Cola, WWE is trying to make inroads in the corporate world.
This is a long-term play, as TV Ratings have remained one or two stairsteps below 2014/beginning of 2015 and domestic house show attendance is soft based on higher ticket prices mixed with lower star power. Just because WWE has a presence on ESPN’s third-tier channel does not mean people are all of a sudden going to flock to Raw or Smackdown or buy a ticket.
The goal is hammering home a new, softer side of WWE that will impact decision-makers family-by-family. Whether it’s a dad, mom, or other gatekeeper in the home, WWE is going after heads of families who might be leery of letting their kids watch wrestling or taking them to a live show.
Enter Stephanie McMahon, the on-air villain by night and advocate, mom, wife, and WWE Chief Brand Officer by day.
Stephanie is the centerpiece of this year’s WrestleMania. Not necessarily from an in-ring standpoint, unless WWE swings a major special attraction match for Mania, but from a corporate reinforcement perspective. It’s why WWE accepts the trade-off of undercutting their own product showing Stephanie being nice and friendly at a B.A. Star rally one segment after showing her being mean and power-hungry in a backstage interview.
Therefore, WWE booked Stephanie in a coveted “Good Morning America” interview segment on ABC. While dads and moms were getting ready for work or taking their kids to school, there was Stephanie representing a new image for WWE. And, getting across a narrative of Stephanie as an underdog fighting for respect within WWE.
“I think not only because I’m a woman, but because I’m the boss’s daughter, there is a perspective that everything’s been handed to me. So that makes me have to work and fight that much harder to prove why I belong,” she said.
Stephanie’s interview was with GMA’s Amy Robach, who talked to shunned WWE legend Hulk Hogan over the summer when Hogan needed to rehab his image following the racism revelations from several years ago.
WWE did not have a scandal to address or an image to repair. This is about presenting a new image, complete with Stephanie acknowledging that WWE’s product is theatrics.
“I think that there’s nothing more fun than what I get to do. WWE’s mission is to put smiles on people’s faces. Now, those smiles are usually at my expense in my character role, because I play a villain. I’m mean. I am really hateful,” she laughed. “So it’s good if you don’t like me when you’re watching the show, it means I’m doing my job.”
Stephanie also acknowledged the difficult balance of executive and family life, something viewers watching at home could resonate with as they prepared for work or school. It’s about connecting with the top decision-makers family-by-family.
“Absolutely I struggle with it,” Stephanie said of work/home balance. “I’m no different than anybody else. And it’s never going to be perfect. Sacrifices have to happen along the way, whether it’s a sacrifice at work or a sacrifice, you know, at home. But, where I think women can be better at home is allowing our husbands to do more.”
The GMA piece looped in Stephanie’s husband, Triple H, as the next leading male executive as they “pave a new path” for WWE performers, including female wrestlers through the marketed “Divas Revolution.”
Monday’s Raw seemed to be a step backwards with the latest edition of WWE presenting the Divas as catty, combative, and untrusting of each other. However, WWE is presenting a different version of what unfolds week after week on TV.
“Even when we aren’t aware that we’re having an impact, we are. Little girls who see, you know, women in the ring, or they see strong female characters, that’s just the way it is. There’s no reason why they can’t be like that. You know, I think that us just having that presence means more than we even realize,” Stephanie said.
WWE would argue that giving the Divas division two full segments on Monday’s Raw is the “presence” that Stephanie talking about, but the nature of the content is still stuck in the pre-“Divas Revolution” era.
Stephanie acknowledged an uphill battle in that area: “They’re not just eye candy, we want more. And we are doing everything we can to super serve that need.”
The overall marketing is that WWE – through Stephanie and Triple H via NXT – is listening to the audience and trying to connect with fans and family decision-makers. It’s even something that Stephanie lets her nine-year-old daughter be part of.
“It is an unbelievable feeling of connection,” Stephanie told Scott Fishman for the “American Way” Magazine feature WWE highlighted on Raw. “Having my children being a part of it is special. Because I remember how I felt when I was their age, sitting in the stands watching the show, knowing my family was such a big part of it, cheering and booing and having the greatest time. Just like everyone else.”
WWE hopes this new image led by Stephanie, as well as Hunter whenever he takes Vince McMahon’s seat, will pay off down the road when families have a better image of WWE in their head. As a publicly-traded company, that means spending money, subscribing to the Network, and being comfortable watching Raw and Smackdown. It’s part of the future of marketing.
[ Stephanie McMahon’s full GMA Interview at ABCNews.com ]
Don't miss @StephMcMahon on @GMA with @arobach this morning at 8:30am ET. https://t.co/V1oVdUcny0 pic.twitter.com/Lw590ciDk4
— WWE (@WWE) February 2, 2016