Niche Please: WWE’s Limited Marketing Hurts
Part 1: The Cruiserweight Division
Over the years WWE has clearly done something right in terms of marketing and brand expansion. They’re often seen as the number one wrestling program (excuse me, sports entertainment) sheerly for their dominance over professional wrestling in the entertainment world. WWE breeds star power, with forces such as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Dave ‘The Animal’ Batista, and now John ‘U Can’t C Me’ Cena. Are there other, very successful wrestling programs? Of course, but for today we’ll focus on WWE programming. More specifically, how formulaic their shows can be, and how that hinders them; while competitors seem to flourish without said formula.
It seems silly to decree how an entertainment titan such as WWE should run their show. Yet one can’t help but to notice that WWE seems to dig themselves into a hole with supposedly good intentions ,yet at the same time buries all of their talent alive in it. This refers to the Cruiserweight Division. What started as an incredible tournament on the WWE Network has now led to a subpar division with usually mediocre segments on Monday Night Raw.
Now why might that be? Why would some of the contenders from such a widely well received tournament be stuck in this rut on WWE television? One would assume that their matches and segments would be pure fire, given the level of talent these wrestlers have garnered while on the independent circuit. Yet it seems that whenever such segments air live on the show, they’re met with silence, or the occasional beach ball party. So how does something that was once so incredibly popular which had viewers foaming at the mouth, become the new designated restroom break?
Quite simply, WWE places their performers in these little niches and keeps them there, without any possibility of escape. With the induction of the specialized division and a championship belt, one thought that meant we were going to see the new signees go toe to toe with some of the main event staples of Monday Night Raw. In contrast, what we saw was complete isolation. By being a cruiserweight, that meant that you didn’t interact with anyone outside of the division, save for the short-term stint of Alicia Fox as a manager to Cedric Alexander, then Noam Dar. It’s as though the division has a deadly plague, and having them interact with other superstars would leave to the complete decimation of the show. It’s a very odd tactic to do, to isolate the cruiserweight division from everyone and keep them completely self-involved; especially when that wasn’t always the case.
Sure, one could see this as WWE trying to make things fair and equal: guys going against similar weight classes so as not to provide an unfair advantage. Yet doesn’t WWE thrive on such feuds built upon this? It’s a classic David and Goliath scenario, one that does well for the likes of people like Braun Strowman and Sami Zayn: yet somehow can’t be used for the cruiserweight division. In addition to that, they’re doing this to competitors who have never been relegated to competing against only one type of opponent before stepping into WWE. Take for example: Kalisto and Neville. Even before this division, such competitors were competing amongst everyone else in WWE. Much like their independent circuit friends, there was no weight limit that classified who they could and could not wrestle against. Size was just an element of the story, meant to play up the hero’s hopeful triumph or heartbreaking downfall. It did not indicate their skill level or capability to defeat a large opponent.
It never stopped people like Rey Mysterio.
Yet WWE continues to have the cruiserweight division in this niche. Story evolution is at a halt, for they show two, maybe four competitors per week on Monday Night Raw. Of course, there’s 205 live, but for the casual fan that’s not willing to, or doesn’t have, the Network: they’re at a complete loss. Usually it’s just a throwaway match for them to hit the concessions or evacuate their bowels.
If you’re going to have a division isolated by itself with a generous amount of athletes (see also: Women’s Division); then you may as well go all the way with it. Why not add a secondary belt? Something for the other, forgotten members to fight for seeing as how all anything has ever been about is the chase for the purple belt. Wrestlers that were esteemed and revered for their talent now look like complete and utter jokes (sorry, TJP). Almost as though someone doesn’t want them to be seen as a top tier talent that can take away from the big guys.
After all, if we look at this from a more cynical level: it’s pretty disheartening. Signing the cruiserweight could be seen as a money trap where all the favor goes to Vince McMahon. These wrestlers being signed means that they’re not wrestling for any other promotion; likely drawing their fans to watch WWE instead. That of course, means more viewers, which usually means more money in some capacity, no? It also keeps from the program’s competitors from making their shows as entertaining as possible. Losing some talent can be a big blow to suffer, and it’s a way for McMahon to keep the control and the eyes on his product. Why worry about other promotions when you’re snatching up and signing all the best that there are out there? These performers weren’t cruiserweight outside of WWE, they were just incredible and talented.
Yet now they’re brushed off to the side. They’re signed, they’re not out there performing incredible stunts and drawing attention away from the WWE with their highly publicized and talked about matches. They’re no longer a threat; not only to the company as a whole, but to those that Vince has deemed to be top tier talent as well. Having the cruiserweight in this niche that they cannot escape only hurts them as performers, and makes it all the more likely that the division could fall from sheer lack of morale, hope, and intentional neglect.