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Flair's Troubles, WWE Financials, WWE
Returning to NBC, and Lots More... 
December 2, 2005

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


Let's kick off this weekend with the unanticipated return of something that eventually has to happen at SOME point before the end of 2005.

I speak, of course, of the annual OO Pledge Drive. If you recall, we tried running this earlier in the year, because I was sick of having many people write in with the excuse "I'd donate, but you know, Christmas and everything; I'm tapped out." Two days later, Hurricane Katrina happened, and frankly not even I was a big enough dick to be asking for money at the same 

time the American Red Cross was buying ad space on the site, asking for money for something just slightly-less frivolous.

Then I was gonna re-launch the Pledge Drive earlier in November, around the traditional time frame for running the deal. The day before I intended to bring it up again, Eddie Guerrero died. And I'd have felt dirty "coincidentally" starting the annual beg-a-thon at the same time OO was doing record ratings and traffic for all the wrong reasons.

So that's how we end up entering the final month of 2005, only now starting the OO Pledge Drive in earnest. With holidays looming even closer than usual, I'm not anticipating record donations... but to help keep the OO wheels greased, to ensure another year of not having crippling or malicious pop-up ads while keeping the site free, I'll re-open the Pledge Drive, and cross my fingers. Cuz the hay made during two days in August simply ain't gonna cut it.

You know the drill: you like what you see, you can put a few pennies in the bucket. There's no set amount you have to give (and dammit, still no premiums like coffee mugs or tote bags, to reward larger donations), you're on the honor system. I'll say this, though: any jokers who donate "$3.16" or "$4.20" should be jettisoned into the sun. Who the hell is giving 14-year-olds credit cards to make online payments?

I keed, I keed. Donate whatever allegedly-comedic figure you want. It all spends the same when I go bandwidth shopping. Your payment options include Amazon, PayPal, and the US Mails. All the information on exactly how to donate is available right here. Thanks in advance for your support, folks.

And now, the news:

  • Although Ric Flair's arrest on charges stemming from a seemingly-frivolous "road rage" incident last week did not, on the surface, seem like that big a deal, it has given the Charlotte media something to latch on to... and once they latched on, the result was the public airing of some dirty laundry that had been kept mostly under wraps.
    And now, the world is aware of the shambles that Ric Flair's personal life has been since the middle of 2005. Prior to Flair taking a roughly 2-month hiatus from WWE, his wife filed for divorce. Some of the reasons listed by his wife, Beth, probably wouldn't surprise any relatively well-schooled wrestling fan; Flair, afterall, is widely known for taking "Living the Gimmick" to all new levels. But what makes the public raking of this muck a bit more timely is the fact that Beth also alleges that Flair had become abusive towards her. Thus, so goes the theory, Flair's latest arrest represents a "pattern of violence."
    Beth's accusations also include claims of drug and alcohol abuse, including steroids. This is in contrast to Flair's friends, who always acknowledge Ric's heroic drinking ability, but say he was against any drug usage to the point of zealousness. So who the hell knows? 
    The papers uncovered by the media also paint Ric Flair as being borderline-retarded with his money. He's in the process of repaying nearly $1 million in back taxes, and has been ordered to pay his estranged wife $20,000 per month in support... all on a $500,000 annual salary. So after his wife gets half his paycheck, and after the IRS takes what they are owed for that paycheck, and then after the IRS takes ANOTHER chunk of money to make up for what Flair didn't pay years ago, what's Ric do? He spends almost $100,000 on a piece of jewelry for his new girlfriend. 
    That's just a big bowl of wrong. And it's not just Flair, it's the "system" that has him paying his wife $20,000 for living expenses. It'll probably make me a villain with the ladies out there, but nobody needs $20,000 per month to live comfortably; that's a fricking joke, and I don't care what the law says. The Law Of Common Sense (which is applied all too rarely in today's world) dictates that no matter how you are "accustomed" to living, no sane person NEEDS $20,000 per month to get by. Also, ladies: I don't care if I somehow became the Richest Man Alive, I would never (EVER!) spend $100,000 on a piece of jewelry for you. That's just dumb. For a hundred grand, you had better be able to live in it or drive it 180 mph. I just can't imagine ever being so out-of-ideas-for-a-cool-gift or so bored-with-money that I'd drop that kind of coin on fricking jewelry. Then again, I can't ever imagine being a 56 year old divorcee trying to win the affections of a 20-something trophy girlfriend who is shallow enough to think $100,000 pieces of jewelry are GREAT, so maybe I'm just coming at this from a different angle...
    But I digress. I'm trying, at least in part, to make a little bit light of the situation, since it largely falls into the category of "stuff that isn't really any of our business." In this case, it's been splattered all over the mainstream media, though, so there's no point keeping the lid on it here any longer.  What's important for fans to know is that since returning to TV in August, Flair's performed at his usual level, and it's unlikely that a frivolous "road rage" incident is going to change that. Flair's certainly going through some tough times, but in terms of what we fans see on TV, it's probably not going to be a concern to us.
    Things aren't going great for the Nature Boy just now... but if nothing else: a bloody-thirsty ex-wife, a gold-bricking girlfriend, and the IRS mean that Flair will probably keep on giving it his all in the ring for us. Probably for a bit longer than he ever intended to. Don't know if that's necessarily a good thing, but.... well, it is what it is. Any future "updates" on this type of news, you'll probably have to collect from someplace else.
  • WWE's announced its second quarter financial data, and held its usual conference call on Wednesday.
    The short version is this: despite being down in most "traditional" indicators of pro-wrestling success, WWE still managed to paint an excellent story because of ancillary operations (such as merchandise sales and a booming web business).
    The result: WWE stock is trading at an 18-month high (somewhere around $14.50 per share on Friday afternoon, it was), since investors care only about the bottom line. Not about the wrestling product. I'm outspoken about WWE's "misplaced priorities," and how it annoys me that they put so much emphasis on things other than fixing the core, on-screen wrestling product.... but right here is a big reason why -- no matter how many kindred spirits there might be out there and even in the WWE locker room -- WWE doesn't give a shit about what I or their own talent roster think.
    As long as the "primary audience" doesn't contract past a point of critical mass, WWE will focus their energy on squeezing every penny possible from that audience via all kinds of alternate methods (besides the traditional ticket sales or PPV buys). WWE doesn't care if fewer people are buying the wrestling product.... so long as lots of people are still buying all the other crap they can think of to sell.
    A quick couple of numbers to underscore this point: as compared to the same fiscal quarter a year ago, PPV revenues were flat (and would have been down if not for a huge audience for SummerSlam's Hogan/Michaels "stunt casting"), live event revenue was down $7 million (WWE's explanation is that they didn't tour as much overseas this quarter as they did last year; not addressed is why fewer US fans care about going to house shows), and TV ratings were down slightly (the quarter includes one month of RAW's ratings on USA Network, but that's off-set by including two months of SD!'s reduced Friday ratings).
    But none of that matters because WWE upped its revenues in merchandising by $12 million for the quarter. The lion's share of those gains? In the home video market. Further proving that WWE's having better success selling wrestling from years ago than they seem to be having selling the current product. A savvy analyst might look at that and wonder if it bodes well... but in so far as I can tell in my reading, all financial analysts care about is that WWE roughly tripled it's bottom line income this quarter as opposed to the same quarter last year, so BUY, BUY, BUY!
    Rather than cause my pounding headache to become even worse by pondering how diabolically crafty Vince McMahon must be to have created a monstrosity that can be profitable even as the actual core product suffers, I'll just tell you that if you want further details about WWE's financial performance, you can find it here.
  • As part of the accompanying conference call with investors, Linda McMahon largely avoided saying anything of interest to fans. Unless you really care about when Kane and Cena's crap-fests are going to limp into theaters, and then limp out two weeks later. [The answers: Kane's in May 2006, Cena's in September 2006.]
    One thing I did latch onto was her gloss-over on discussing ratings. Although admitting that RAW would not score 4.7 ratings (which is what WWE claims for the Homecoming episode on USA), Linda claimed that ratings were pretty much "holding steady" and that numbers for RAW would hover around 4.0. I believe both those claims are demonstrably false.
    Since July 1, WWE's ratings trend has been significantly downward. A bump in viewership upon returning to USA Network seemed to evaporate inside of a month, leaving WWE "holding steady" again, but nowhere near a 4.0. Linda and Vince did the exact same thing during a TV appearance 2 months or so back.... isn't there some kind of law that should force them to be, you know?, actually HONEST about things like this. I mean, this is cold, hard data, not some nebulous thing like assessing the creative direction of the company... and data says that RAW's ratings are roughly a third of a point lower in the second half of 2005 as they were in the first half, and would be more accurately said to hover around 3.5 than around 4.0. Crazy that you can apparently outright lie to investors, and get away with it. 
    Unless this is, again, a deal where they weren't necessarily talking about 2005 trends, but just talking about this fiscal quarter as compared to the same one last year. Because in that light, I guess Linda had reason to be positive... this same fiscal quarter last year was, pretty unanimously, one of the worst since WWE went public, and covered the majority of Project Orton's babyface title reign and other ass-hatted moves. WWE would have had to try pretty damned hard to duplicate that level of suck again a year later....
  • Whatever ratings might indicate, it's not stopping WWE from returning to network TV -- REAL network TV, cuz UPN doesn't count, dammit -- for the first time in about 13 years. Saturday Night's Main Event will return to NBC in March, roughly 2 weeks prior to WrestleMania 22. Airing in Saturday Night Live's timeslot, it'll feature both RAW and SD! stars.
    SNME became a minor phenomenon on NBC in the mid-80s, frequently out-drawing SNL back before the show re-loaded with the Hartman/Lovitz/etc. cast. Then wrestling began to wane, and SNL got funny again, and I believe SNME finished its run on NBC in 1989. There might have been a few additional taped prime-time specials done for NBC, but SNME was dead and -- except for maybe 1-2 episodes on FOX, in prime time, during the early 90s -- stayed that way, even through wrestling's remarkable late 90s boom phase.
    But now it's gonna come back. I have a lot of fond grade school memories of SNME, starting with not even being allowed to stay up late enough to watch, but waking up early on Sunday to watch a tape before going to church... somehow, I think that magic will be gone, and piggy-backing on the rant I did Wednesday about how WWE goes on tilt any time they think they are playing to a different audience, I'm actually having nightmares of SNME returning and trying to be something other than a good wrestling show.
    In other words: trying to be more like SNME, circa 1988 (with "theme shows" that featured cowboy motifs or Gene Okerlund on Safari), instead of like the SNME's I remember from 1986 and focused on things like Hulk Hogan actually having good wrestling matches (against Terry Funk, in the case of the first SNME I ever got to see, and which remained a favorite of mine for a long time, even after Hogan's matches became parodies of themselves).
    We'll see.
  • WWE has re-signed Jamal (real name, Something Fatu, but you remember his as Jamal from 3 Minute Warning). With Rosey being invisible since Gregory Helms' heel turn, and with the current shitty state of WWE's tag division, I would not discourage anybody from contemplating the likely return of 3MW.
  • I guess the flap over Tuesday's low-rider/Orton/Taker segment isn't dying down. WWE even had Chavo Guerrero address the issue on Byte This (where he largely parroted the OO Party Line, which is that this was just a wrestling angle, and a low-rider is just a prop, and that he wasn't personally offended)... but I guess people aren't buying it. 
    I kept getting e-mail about it even after I explained my stance, and even after Chavo's words got out there, the e-mails KEPT coming in, and with the added theory that Chavo only said that stuff to keep his job or something. Christ, people, you think WWE intentionally disrespected the memory of Eddie Guerrero and ON TOP OF THAT, your theories involve WWE forcing Eddie's nephew to go on the internet and lie, lest he be fired a month after his uncle's death? Really?
    Look, I'm telling you people: WWE is frequently dumb and negligent and stubborn. But you gotta quit formulating theories based on the notion that they are actively evil. They aren't.
    Hate Tuesday's angle because it was bad, cheesy, and lame. Don't cloud the issue by trying to make it be about Eddie Guerrero.
  • Speaking of Tuesday's angle, OO Reader Matt In Savannah had an observation so brilliantly asinine that I honestly wish I had thought of it first. Matt's theory:
    WWE had planned to do a low-rider crash at the pre-Survivor Series Super Show tapings in Minnesota (for the Orton/Eddie/Batista three-way match); they had already paid to plan the stunt and for the pyro and props. And they didn't want that money or their Awesome Idea to go to waste... so two weeks later, they come up with some flimsy excuse to bring a low-rider to the ring, and they do the stunt, anyway.
    Oh man.... I wish I could say that's wrong.... but doesn't it just sound so magnificently retarded that you can envision WWE's though process working this way? Eddie passes away, but who cares, WWE ALREADY PLANNED A STUNT INVOLVING A LOW RIDER AND THAT STUNT MUST BE EXECUTED~! Yeah. Genius.
    I hope that's wrong. But I'm not betting against Matt's theory, either... WWE still wouldn't be actively evil. But you could definitely add "cheap" and "uncreative" to the list of adjectives if this happens to resemble the real genesis of Tuesday's shitty Hollywood-style anti-climax.
  • Last thing I want to mention is kind of in response to a disorganized class of e-mails from people who think there is something internally inconsistent in my (1) praising/endorsement of WWE fans who boo John Cena and cheer a heel Kurt Angle and (2) mocking of TNA fans who cheer heels.
    The opinion, held by at least a few people out there, seems to be that if I think TNA fans are obnoxious wankers for cheering heels, then me and anybody who likes Angle more than Cena and vocalizes that thought is Just As Big Of A Wanker, because it's the exact same thing.
    Ummmm: nice try, but I'm gonna have to dispute you. I think the key issue here is that you're misunderstanding my point about the TNA fans.
    I don't care so much about heels being cheered... what I care about is that TNA fans respond identically to almost every single wrestler not named Jeff Jarrett, and it creates this Complete Lack of Drama and Tension. Part of this is TNA's fault for not creating Compelling Characters for their performers... but a lot of it really does strike me as TNA's Orlando fans being weenies who think they are a part of the show and want to make sure that everybody realizes they are Smart And Discerning Fans, so they simply can't boo anybody capable of hitting a moonsault. They aren't cheering heels because they like the heel more than the babyface, they are cheering the heels because they sorta like everybody the same.
    WWE's current fans are booing Cena and cheering Angle with an agenda: they aren't doing it because it proves they are smart or out of "respect." They are doing it because they do not like John Cena's current character, and find Kurt Angle to be a preferable alternative, no matter how many Ay-rabs he consorts with or how many women he body slams.
    And taking fan motivation out of the equation: the situation with TNA's audience has the net effect of removing drama and tension, because it creates the sensation that it doesn't matter who wins or loses, cuz fans are going to be roughly as happy either way. Cheering "for a good match" is something that you can do effectively maybe one match per PPV card (call it the ROH Factor), but other than that, you aren't gonna impress many fans if there isn't a reason to care about winners and losers.
    But WWE's current Cena Situation is totally different: the heel-cheering fans are actually ADDING to the drama and tension, because they will ONLY be happy if Kurt wins and will be upset if Cena wins. It's not the same thing at all. These fans not only care about who wins, but they're vocal about it, and (at least at Sunday's PPV match) it added to an overall sense that it MATTERED who won the match. There's nothing wrong with that.
    So point taken, you fine readers who have raised this issue with some consistency over the last month or so.... but hopefully this explanation/amplification of my stance helps you understand that the two situations are different, and that my analyses still hold together with a pretty tight internal logic.
  • I think that's all for today. And all for this week. Tis the last pre-holiday-party-season weekend... hope you enjoy the hell out of it so that you're not too miserable once you embark upon the chore of trying to make nice with people you see roughly once a year at various obligatory functions!
    I know I will. See you kids again on Monday....

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PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28



Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.




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