If you haven’t heard the news, you’re probably better for it. Vince McMahon has sold Monday Night Raw to Donald Trump. That would make it the third consecutive summer that Vince and the WWE has tried to stave off the summer ratings slump by pulling a stunt that tries to get them mainstream attention.
If you recall, two years ago, Vince was “blown up” when somebody car bombed his limo and killed him. Despite the fact that the stunt was taped the day before Raw, at least one news agency ran with the story as if it was a real story and several people called the incident into the police. I’m sure the whole thing was going to run the course in the whole “Who Shot J.R.?” manner. Whether or not Vince would stay dead in the angle is kind of a moot point now. The story ended after the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide that was uncovered on the same night there was supposed to be a Vince McMahon memorial service. Was this an entirely crazy story? Well, when soldiers are getting killed by car bombs in Iraq, it might come off as tasteless but at least Vince ended the story when one of his performers actually died after actually killing his wife and son. However, I’m sure that WWE fans were happy to get Vince off their screens and stop being their star attraction for a short period.
Last year was the WWE’s game show attempt. They were giving away $1 million each week on Raw in Vince McMahon’s Million Dollar Spectacular. I guess giving away millions of dollars for just watching Raw would have been enough to get people watching. That didn’t fade into the sunset with a $1 million dollar winner on a big show. Instead, Vince was crushed by a falling part of his set which also got a bit of media attention. I’m sure this was going to end with a Vince getting revenge on his attempted murderer storyline eventually.
This summer’s attempt to generate mainstream attention is a case of going back to the well too many times. This summer is the summer of Donald Trump. On Monday’s Raw, Vince announced that he had sold Monday Night Raw to Trump. WWE has gone to Trump for some mainstream attention again. The last time the billionaire and almost billionaire hooked up was at WrestleMania 23 when Vince and Donald were managers in a hair vs. hair match.
Now, the wrestling mogul and the real estate mogul get together for what I’m sure will end in another confrontation for control of Raw. For the sake of speculating, Vince will take control at the Survivor Series after gathering forces from SmackDown and ECW to face Raw superstars in an elimination tag match. Anyway, I’m trying to figure out what the purpose of getting Trump on Raw. He’s likely to appear by satellite most of the time or appoint someone to be an on-site authority figure. Also, coverage of Trump owning Raw will extend as far as next Tuesday and likely no farther.
So where will the continuing benefit of having Trump on Raw come from? I doubt there will be much mainstream attention outside of next week’s show which is conveniently the last show before a pay-per-view. It should be noted that next week’s Raw is commercial free and will have a WWE title match to make it seem like a big event. They can’t do that every week (though next week’s Raw would be the third consecutive with a world title match). The only thing I could think of working to keep interest over the summer is have Vince shift his focus and appearances to ECW and SmackDown in order to oust Trump.
Is my idea the best one that could be used? Probably not but a pseudo-invasion storyline would likely be the best at holding the attention of wrestling fans. That’s what I’ve overlooked through the whole column: the wrestling fan. In my defence, that’s what Vince and the WWE creative staff have overlooked too. Between the Lakers/Nuggets episode of Raw a few weeks back and Donald Trump buying Raw, Vince appears to be looking for some ratings spikes as opposed to writing quality wrestling programming to draw in more fans. Interesting storylines helped bring WWE Raw and WCW Nitro combined ratings in the double digits at the height of the Monday Night Wars. From watching the Lakers/Nuggets show, the WWE doesn’t seem interested in writing a good wrestling show but in writing comedy and moving merchandise. Hell, giving away three world title matches in as many weeks (bookended by pay-per-views), isn’t sound business strategy when you have to sell pay-per-views.
So has Vince actually lost it? Well, he’s definitely off the top of his game. I don’t seem to think he has much of a long-term direction in mind with Raw. For that matter, I don’t think he really knows his audience. He seems to think he can tap the same audience of tens of millions that watch network television instead of Raw every Monday. Vince keeps looking for the headlines but in doing so tosses his fan base aside. At WrestleMania, he finds the balance between compelling angles, good matches, and celebrity involvement. More importantly, he doesn’t let the drive for a headline from the entertainment news corrupt the show as a whole. With Trump as the owner and main authority, and likely becoming the focus of more than a few of the upcoming episodes of Raw, there seems to be nothing in this move for the wrestling fan. How is this going to help sell pay-per-views? I don’t think it will. Then again, I don’t see how this has anything to do with wrestling in the first place.
Check back on Monday at 9:00 PM Eastern for a Monday Night Raw live blog as I examine the initial results of the Trump Experiment.