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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
McMahon + RAW = Ratings?... Plus: TNA
vs. Titans, PPV Business Sucks, More!
August 10, 2007

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

So... a couple nights ago, Barry Bonds broke the all time home run record. Maybe you heard?
 

I ended up staying up to watch the game, and then staying up even later to watch some of the coverage. Mostly because if you kept it on ESPN Classic (instead of on SportsCenter), they ran a ton of really cool, in-depth pieces instead of just having Steve Phillips once again challenging Tim McCarver for the title of "Dumbest Man in Baseball."

 
Not surprisingly, the ESPN Classic programming put things in a bit more historical perspective, and featured bits on Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. And after a few hours of that, I realized precisely why it was that I was sitting there, considering Bonds' achievement to be *important* (enough so to sacrifice hours of potential sleep to hash and rehash it), but why it was pretty much *joyless* for me.

What Babe and Hank did in the past was Bigger Than Baseball. Ruth pretty much single-handedly turned the Home Run into the defining statistic for all of baseball. One that even non-fans recognize and enjoy. Aaron almost single-handedly defined "perseverance," both in terms of his decades of steady (but rarely explosive) on field performance and in terms of the racial issues he faced while doing it.

On the other hand, the only thing Barry Bonds really did this past week is force baseball to prove it was bigger than him. The game as a whole and this one record in particular are so strong and so important that Bonds can't spoil them for us. Despite my general malaise towards the hype and the chase for the record, I still cared about the accomplishment in the end. And I cared about the accomplishment in spite of the man behind it, not because of him.

Bonds will, I daresay, be long remembered for 756 (or whatever number he eventually ends on). But he'll never transcend that number and be thought of as a mythical figure. Which is ironic, since by all accounts, it was a lust for that kind of glory that drove Bonds to (ahem) "rethink his conditioning program" following the frenzy of attention generated by McGwire and Sosa's chase of Maris' record.

Instead, Bonds will be remembered within the context of the game, as an athlete, as a participant... while his accomplishment isn't just remembered, but CELEBRATED, Bonds will remain in its shadow, never quite deemed worthy of unconditional adoration. 

None of which is to say that the Game Of Baseball has comported itself well in this situation. Because it hasn't. Under the incompetent and spineless management of Bud Selig, baseball is as much responsible for the lack of genuine joy over the breaking of this record as Bonds is. And I'm not talking about the media-invented "non-troversy" over Selig attending Bonds' games and all that horseshit.

No, I'm talking about baseball digging this hole for itself over the course of 15 years. Fifteen years in which most other sports at least TRIED to police drug use, but in which baseball just went merrily about its way without any sort of substantive testing program until 2004. We wouldn't have reached this oddly-historical-yet-oddly-joyless impasse if baseball had either been keeping its athletes clean such that Bonds can't increase his power production by 50% at an age when normal men are seeing theirs reduced incrementally every year (or such that he would have been caught and suspended if he did experiment with Better Hitting Through Chemistry).

And please note: the new little twist on the story that MLB is trying to get out there is that they have had a steroid policy in place since 1991, so please, they don't want people like me preaching up a storm about how they are part-responsible for this mess, and won't I please shut up? No, I won't. Because the 1991 "policy" consisted of a paragraph in a memo circulated to the front offices of each team saying "Major League Baseball does not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs. So please, keep an eye on your players and maybe let us know if you catch them red-handed and we'll figure out something to do with them." There is nothing enforceable there. No testing, no mandate to set punishment, no nothing. In fact, any team that attempted to require drug testing WAS FORBIDDEN TO DO SO. In the late 80s and early 90s, several teams wanted to make drug testing a mandatory part of their players' contracts, and were told they couldn't perform drug tests by the Players' Union. Violation of privacy, and all.

I'm making none of this up. Check it out on your own. Baseball had no legitimate policy until 2004, and anything you hear or read to the contrary is demonstrably false. What baseball had before 2004 was a vague fantasy about how things SHOULD be even if baseball knew they didn't have the stroke to pull it off. It was about as enforceable as if I circulated a memo in which I declared "Rick Scaia Enterprises does not condone Molly Holly not having constant hot sweaty monkey sex with Rick Scaia. So keep an eye out for Molly Holly, and if she's not having hot sweaty monkey sex with Rick Scaia, report her to us," and then I claimed I had a "policy." 

The difference, of course, is that Congress eventually got involved, and baseball finally grew a set and began enforcing its policy a few years ago. I doubt I'll get the benefit of hearings into the pressing Molly Holly/monkey sex matter. 

For this reason, I truly believe that the next time this record comes under assault, there will be joy in it again. The shadow of doubt will be limited to a 10 year span of accomplishments and the men behind them (most of whom are retired or will be soon). In 7 or 8 years, we'll be fairly certain that Alex Rodriguez hit the vast majority of his home runs cleanly (or at least, without poofing up into a hulk-like medical experiment in his later years). 

Granted, many among us will still not entirely cotton to A-Rod, as he's a total metrosexual douchebag. [Seriously, the guy shows up on the field to hang out at the Home Run Derby this year, and everybody else is hanging out in, you know, baseball jerseys. Because they are, you know, BALLPLAYERS. But here comes A-Rod to consort with the rank and file, and he's all glossed up in Bravo Network Finery. Tool.] But the great thing about baseball is that it's got no problem celebrating guys who you'd kinda like to punch. Ty Cobb: miserable racist. Pete Rose: pathological dumbass. But they're some of the greatest heroes of the game. So I think in a few years, we'll be able to find room in the Pantheon Of Legends for a mincing ladyboy like A-Rod.

See, Barry: if only you'd limited your poor behavior to your abrasive and drama-queen-ish ways, we'd have been fine with all this. As it stands: we're pretty sure you're a cheater, too. And that's what sticks in most people's craws.

Anyway, I think I've set a new personal record for Length of PreRamble. But that's OK. Today's wrestling news isn't particularly earth-shattering stuff, so I enjoyed flexing my (not pharmaceutically enhanced) Writery Muscles on something that's been bubbling up in me for a few days. Here's the obligatory Sports Entertainment Content:

  • With ratings in a free-fall, and with pressure coming from the USA Network, WWE decided the solution to what ails them is... More Vince McMahon!
     
    Typical "WWE Think." Although, in this case, WWF management could point to the fact that ratings were a half-point higher for two weeks of the "Death of Vince McMahon" storyline than they were during the entire month of July. Of course, this fails to acknowledge the fact that ratings were higher still back in January and February when RAW was, you know?, actually quite good.
     
    For whatever it's worth, the return of Vince did bring ratings up to a 3.8 on Monday. This comes after a month straight of miserable 3.4 ratings (the worst since Project Orton in the late summer/early fall of 2004), and a disputed rating last week (it now appears the much-discussed 2.5 rating was -- as I presaged -- a Nielsen glitch, and not an accurate number). So, yes, 3.8 is "better." But with zero competition during the summer months and football season looming, it's still far from "good" considering RAW was drawing low-4's earlier this year.
     
    In addition to seeing a mild upswing in viewership, Monday's RAW also seemed to showcase yet another Change In Creative Direction. In: lots of skits of varying entertainment value, sure-to-be-awful McMahon Family Melodrama, and ultra-fast pacing for the benefit of those with ADD. Out: anything resembling wrestling.
     
    Unlike most Internet Wankers, I don't consider this inherently bad, as long as the emphasis on "entertainment" is actually entertaining, and we get at least one "anchor" match most weeks. But Monday, as a one-off Pure Entertainment Show, wasn't too hateful. William Regal as GM is guaranteed gold, and he already showed why during his first 2 hours on the job, effectively pulling off both comedy and intensity in different appearances.
     
    And what can I say about The Dating Game? One benefit of ultra-fast-paced, over-written shows is that no single segment can overstay its welcome. In the past, a segment like this would have had 5 minutes worth of funny, but been wrapped up in a 15 minute package. On this night: the funny matched the duration, and the result is me having a smile on my face the whole time. A secondary result: for the first time, I'm convinced there might be a little spark of something with this Sonny Marella guy.
     
    Predictably enough, the parts of the show that were just eyeball-rollingly stupid all involved Vince. Starting with an (in character?) "fuck you" to Congress, and ending with him being served paternity papers, Vince did nothing interesting all night. Not in my book, anyway.
     
    I guess some might disagree, as there were some fans who got into the mind-numbing silliness of the "who killed Vince?" storyline... I can only assume you'd be as amenable to a "who's Vince's son?" storyline. Note: all the talk of "DNA evidence" after Vince's limo exploded was eventually going to lead to a similar storyline, involving unexpected DNA matches, and the word on the street was that Ken Kennedy would be involved.
     
    Of course, that might still be in the pipeline, or now that the cat's out of the bag, the writer monkeys might have altogether other ideas. It was revealed in the "McMahon" DVD that Vince has long had a desire to do an Incest Storyline, but that Stephanie (displaying unMcMahonlike restraint) nixed it. Might Vince's idea for distracting people from murders, suicide, and congressional investigations involve inbreeding? I don't think you have to worry about Vince writing himself in as the father of Stephanie's baby or anything like that. But what if Triple H is Vince's illegitimate son. And now he's married to his half-sister!
     
    The particularly dimwitted might argue that that would be a tragic tale of near Shakespearean proportions. I'd counter that it'd just be really, really lame.
     
    Anyway, we'll just have to wait and see what happens, won't we? And wait and see how many people will stick around to wait and see after the one week "bump" in the ratings. I'm cautiously optimistic about certain elements of Monday's "new direction," but you'll have to pardon me if I'm concerned the McMahon Soap Opera may soon overwhelm the good.
     
  • As we discussed last time, RAW reshuffled its roster a bit (repushing Carlito, turning Umaga babyface) to cover for the losses of Bobby Lashley and Jeff Hardy.
     
    Lashley underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday, and will be out of action until at least November. Depending on how he responds to rehab, his recovery could take until January, however.
     
    And much as I suspected, there was more to Jeff Hardy's disappearance from RAW than met the eye. After spreading word through the Hardys' MySpace/message board/whatever that Jeff was injured, it was confirmed that Jeff had, in fact, been suspended for behavioral issues.
     
    No less a luminary than Jim Ross wrote about it in his blog, hoping (in the vaguest terms possible) that Jeff will get his act together in time to come back to work in 30 days. Which struck me as meaning that 30 days is the starting point of the suspension, but that it could be open-ended.
     
    How very Orton-like of Jeffrey. Maybe if he'd start treating women poorly, throwing expensive hissy fits in hotel rooms, and putting fruit in his beer, he'd be main eventing SummerSlam this year instead of sitting at home?
     
  • TNA made a splash this week, officially announcing that disgraced football player Adam "Pacman" Jones had signed a contract to perform for the company.
     
    Pacman, in case you don't know, has had his suspension from the NFL extended to cover the entirety of the coming season. This stems from Jones' involvement in a shooting in Vegas last year.
     
    Unfortunately for TNA, the publicity wasn't exactly the greatest kind, as a lot of sports pundits took the stance that an (alleged) accomplice to manslaughter would tarnish his reputation (and thus, his chances for re-instatement to the NFL) by participating in fake rasslin'. Wow, and here I thought it was TnA that was tarnishing ITS reputation by going into business with Pacman?
     
    Whichever way you look at it, it may turn out to be a moot point. The Tennessee Titans continue to have Pacman under contract, and can continue to enforce that contract even while Jones is suspended.
     
    Last week, when this story first started taking shape, it was presumed that the Titans would prevent Jones from actively wrestling, per a standard clause in NFL contracts that prohibits players from engaging in dangerous off-field activities. Pacman as a manager or something seemed like the limit.
     
    Then, Pacman signed the deal, and announced that he plans on wrestling, focusing especially on tag teaming, to prove that despite his reputation as a total fucktard, he is "The Greatest Team Player In All Of Sports." Huh. A vignette appeared on last night's edition of "Impact," and promised that Pacman would appear live in the ring at this Sunday's TNA Hard Justice PPV.
     
    "Not so fast," say the Tennessee Titans, who today filed for an emergency restraining order to prevent Jones from appearing in ANY capacity at the TNA PPV or subsequent TV tapings. They apparently want to block him from any involvement in wrestling, especially now that Jones has publicly stated an intent to get physically involved in a TNA ring, regardless of the clause in his contract. As long as Jones remains under contract, it seems like Tennessee may be within their rights to "protect their investment."
     
    The motion for the restraining order was covered by ESPN and other outlets earlier this afternoon. I don't know when you'd expect a ruling, but I'd imagine it'd have to be by the close of business hours later today. So if, for some reason, your decision about whether or not to purchase "Hard Justice" is predicated solely on the involvement of Adam Pacman Jones, keep your eye on ESPNews' ticker.
     
  • If your decision about the TNA Hard Justice PPV doesn't involve Pacman in any way, then the things you care about are the two top matches set for Sunday night.
     
    Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe are writing another chapter in their lengthy rivalry. On one hand, it's a match where the winner will take all, and become a Quadruple Champion (Angle's TNA and IWGP titles are on the line, as are Joe's X Division and Tag Team titles), which is historically unprecedented. On the other hand, they decided that this chapter required the involvement of Angle's wife, Karen, which has not exactly buttered my corncob.
     
    And then, you've got the long-awaited and once-delayed Tag Team Showdown For The Ages. The Steiners vs. the Dudleys. And as much as I rail against the ImpactZone Wankers, it's been a blast the last month or so watching the Dudleys embrace the misplaced boos from the fans. I'm not sure this is one that I'd ever put down as a real "dream match" for myself (in reality, the Steiners peaked in 1991-2, and the Dudleys a decade later, meaning they weren't even really ever doing their best work at the same time, and certainly aren't doing it today), but the atmosphere is guaranteed to make this one fun to watch.
     
    In standard TNA fashion, there is also one match featuring a bunch of guys who I should generally care about, but who've just been thrown together in a storyline that hasn't been worth my time to follow. Christian, AJ Styles, and Sting are all involved. Probably Abyss, too. And I think Test is in there. And it's a cage with blood. Or maybe a chamber. I dunno. Sometimes, I get the distinct impression TNA is putting way too much effort into being different, and not enough into being interesting.
     
    There will be other matches, too. But the only other thing that intrigues me is precisely what Dustin Rhodes is gonna do. His stated goal is to try to be as close to Goldust as he can without getting sued. The new "Black Reign" gimmick will debut on Sunday.
     
    I'll fill you in on pertinent results next week, folks.
     
  • Speaking of PPVs, just about the only interesting numbers from WWE's latest Quarterly Financial Report (covering April through June) were the PPV buyrates.
     
    Despite launching the new Joint Brand PPV Model effective in April, every single WWE PPV except for WrestleMania underperformed versus the same PPV in last year's second quarter.
     
    WrestleMania did 1.2 million buys this year, up nearly 300,000 from the year before. [However, as we noted 3 months ago, this number is distorted by major improvements in WWE's international distribution of WrestleMania, and not driven by any increase in domestic buys.]
     
    However, four co-branded PPVs -- Backlash (which was RAW only in 2006), Judgment Day (which was SmackDown! only in 2006), One Night Stand (which was ECW branded in 2006), and Vengeance (which was another RAW-only PPV last year) -- combined to do only 865,000 buys (an average of 218,000 per event). Last year, the same four single-branded PPVs totalled 1,108,000 buys (or 277,000 per event).
     
    So: WWE's attempts to increase PPV buys by tripling the star power available for each event has, instead, resulted in a 20% decrease in PPV buys so far. Bravo?
     
    These numbers are really quite stunning to me, and leave me dreading yet another "re-imagining" of the PPV Model by WWE's front office. Brand extension this, pricing models that, frequency and saturation studies the other.... and they'll probably micromanage their way into another model that won't work. Because the REAL problem, put quite simply, is that they aren't putting together shows that people want to pay to see. And that's a really complicated and tough one. Not nearly as much fun as pushing a few numbers around in a marketing report to indicate a possible paradigm shift vis a vis certain actionable items.
     
    Dumdums.
     
    Nothing else particularly illuminating or relevant in the latest financials. Just the same old thing, where WWE continues to make money, but is making less and less of it from a thriving core wrestling show business. The only numbers that told a good story pertinent to the current core product is that SmackDown's ratings were up versus the same quarter last year. But it's less of a good story when you recall that from the middle of May onward, last year, UPN was (at best) half a network, and SD!'s ratings nosedived until the CW Network was launched in September. So of course the numbers are better this year.
     
  • Continuing a recent flurry of "next generation" developmental signings -- which have included Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase Jr., and pretty much an entire new Hart Foundation (Teddy Hart, Harry Smith, and Nattie Neidhart, who are now officially working together as a unit in OVW) -- WWE has signed Kerry von Erich's daughter Lacey to a developmental deal.
     
  • In less interesting news regarding the fairer sex's involvement in WWE... the 2007 Diva Search will be returning to our televisions very soon. Expect introductory/casting segments within the next couple weeks, and then the competitions/voting will take place throughout September.
     
    On the upside, WWE has at least PARTIALLY realized the sheer uselessness and stupidity of this contest. The "competitions" will be pre-taped in batches inside a studio, and edited to air on TV. Presumably, somebody finally realized that arenas full of wrestling fans booing and chanting "boring" was sending the wrong message, so they'll take our voices away by going the pre-tape route.
     
    Then, if you're among the mentally enfeebled, you call in and vote, and then the next week, the loser is edited out of the next pre-taped bit, and so things continue for several weeks until they finally let the final 3-4 out in front of a live audience.
     
    Also, there is no $250,000 grand prize. I forget what the guaranteed prize money was (maybe $50,000?), but it's significantly less, and the real reward for competing is now the WWE Contract. Yippee. Making matters even dumber: history has shown us that at least half the losing finalists get contracts, too, so really, what's the fricking point?
     
    By the way, don't be expecting to be blown away by the caliber of contestants this year. WWE's cattle call was explicitly worded to attract models and whatnot. My Hollywood Brother just so happened to be attending a meeting with [Major Hollywood Bigwig's Name Redacted] regarding the top secret [Name Of TV Project Redacted] in a temporary office space that was simultaneously hosting the Diva Search L.A. casting. I am assured that WWE had the veritable pick of the litter of dolled-up, plastic stripper-types who have difficulty mustering up an answer to the perennial brain teaser "How's it goin'?". Yippee again.
     
  • I think that's all I got for today. Enjoy the weekend, and I'll see you again next week.


  
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E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

BROWSE THE OO ARCHIVES

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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