You remember the World Wrestling Federation, right? How could you forget? Hulk Hogan, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, Andre the Giant; the list of famous names from the WWF’s storied history goes on-and-on. Over the decades the popularity of Vince McMahon’s professional wrestling company forced dozens of competing troupes to go out of business or be swallowed up, the most well known acquisition being World Championship Wrestling in 2001. The early 2000s also brought about major rebranding with—due to an uninteresting legal battle—the WWF transforming itself into World Wrestling Entertainment. That was about the time when I stopped watching wrestling. Not because of the new branding, moreover because of changes that came in the swell.
My favorite wrestling superstars were retiring or even worst—ahem, Ric Flair—working far past their prime. And the soap opera dramatics were becoming more obvious than ever. Leadership finally let go of the “wrestling is real” illusion. So myself, along with many other wrestling fans, changed the channel for so many years. But then, in early 2014, the WWE did something that brought back fans that had spent the better part of the 80s and 90s watching off-the-top-rope elbow drops, suplexes, steel chair matches and figure four leg locks.
World Wrestling Entertainment, under the thumb of CEO Vince McMahon, has done its part to evolve sports media using next generation technology to produce events for distribution on pay-per-view, cable networks and online. The media division bears heavy responsibility owning the company’s television, home entertainment, digital media and network segments. The television group produces several hours of original programming every week, including Monday Night Raw and Smackdown. The home video segment releases documentaries and best-of compilations on DVD. The company’s digital media segment manages WWE.com, handles online video syndication—think Hulu and YouTube—and deals with mobile services like the WWE App. But the newest group, WWE Network, is the game changer. It’s why long departed Generation X—not to be confused with D-Generation X—fans are watching squared circle action again and why Millennials are finally exploring the world’s most popular wrestling federation.
As a youngster, the extravaganza of professional wrestling fascinated me. Watching WWF and WCW events was appointment television. But even that wasn’t enough. Reading WWF Magazine, hoarding wrestler action figures and, most importantly, renting tapes from the video store of old pay-per-view events rounded out my obsession. The chance to watch historic matches with the likes of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Chief Jay Strongbow and the early years of Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan were priceless. Historic matches became my window to the world of bigger-and-better wrestling. WWE Network brings me back to the video store. It returns me to the hunt for past Survivor Series, Wrestlemanias, Royal Rumbles and SummerSlams. And it has helped so many former fans discover the new crop of wrestling talent—Seth Rollins, Ryback, Daniel Bryan, John Cena and more.
WWE Network is a streaming service much like Netflix and Hulu. Pay a monthly subscription and, using an Apple TV, Roku, XBox, Playstation or one of many other devices, tune into all the professional wrestling you could ever hope for. Watch all current pay-per-view and cable wrestling events on WWE Network instead of paying pay per view prices. Catch up on documentaries about your favorite wrestlers, past and present. And watch every single WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-view event from years past. MLB At Bat is an amazing piece of technology, allowing millions of baseball fans to stream games live while also catching up on old ones. But, in truth, most sports are in the moment making the opportunity to watch games of yore less of a thrill. We all remember the excitement of seeing DX stroll to the ring or watching Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage team up as the Mega Powers. You want to witness that again. Fans call it nostalgia. Business executives call it demand. WWE Network got it exactly right, working with MLB Advanced Media—the creators of MLB At Bat as well as HBO Now—to roll out a product that brings “everything WWE” to its fans. This kind of innovative thinking and bold decision making forces all of sports media to push the limit and up the value.