WWE is a 24/7 global phenomenon. At any given moment, you can access thousands of content on the WWE Network, watch (semi-)live episodic shows at least 3-4 days a week on network TV, and countless hours of digital content on social media. Perhaps the biggest downfall of the company isn’t the lack of content – but the need for an offseason.
It’s the one differentiating point when comparing sports and professional wrestling. The industry where 300+ working days a year is the norm, there is little to no downtime with family or alone time. There is almost no time to recoup, refresh, reenergize, unless of course you are injured or on special leave for Hollywood. Even those who aren’t on TV often, still work house shows, provide digital content for social media, and travel to events as a backup or as dark match-ups.
But if there is anything that the pandemic in 2020 is teaching everyone across the world is how to adapt in a new way. You may have noticed, but in almost every industry, the way we conduct business is shaping differently. We are in a search for a creative approach to transact with the world around us, and pro wrestling is no exception.
The one constant in sports entertainment is the continuous non-stop programming that allows fans to be immersed in action for 365 days a year. In any season throughout the year, there are heroes and there are villains, a story and a climax showdown that, oftentimes, settles the score. The world of professional wrestling has been the ultimate test of time for centuries, so it’s no wonder it’s never seen a major change in its business model.
While we could list all the benefits of the talent and the company to institute an offseason, the main question continues to be asked: “Just how would a WWE offseason work?“.
#1: Keep it consistent 365 days
For an offseason to work it must be kept going 365 days a year. Wait, what?
If you watch a television series, you know how most seasons work. For sitcoms and network TV, there’s typically 20-30 weeks and then a break for a similar amount of time.
For cable networks and OTT networks like Netflix or Hulu, those could see 10-20 episodes (sometimes all at once), and then an almost year break. But what does that do for the viewer? Netflix claims that their binging model keeps viewers from losing interest. Though it can be argued that the binge model sets up for a long period of waiting for the next season, thus losing viewer interest as well.
If you take away the consistent programming, its viewer base might lose interest. It’s something WWE isn’t willing to just take a risk on with such a large investment in viewership.
With sports, we know there’s an end game, literally. And we know there’s a starting game to begin fresh. With pro wrestling, there is no start and end game (some argue WrestleMania sorta does). We can alter this tradition (continue reading), but no need to completely break from what is working.
#2: Split the brands for real
RAW and SmackDown have always been up for debate on why a brand split is good or bad for the company. With the addition of NXT, NXT UK, and 205 Live, you now have a total of 5 unique brands with a large enough pool of talent to work with.
The brands should be their own entity. From the production crew, talent, and the writing team, the brands should be uniquely theirs. Mixing talent forces talent to continue working all year. In order for an offseason to be effective, you need to completely separate the brands and the people who make them work.
#3: A dedicated offseason developmental league
NXT is, at this point in 2020, its own brand. It has proven to be just as entertaining and compelling as “main roster” brands RAW and Friday Night SmackDown and provides weekly programming all year. NXT in 2012 was known as just a developmental league.
The glamour was making it to the main roster. Let’s face it, there are now three main rosters. In 2020, we need to reimagine how NXT is shot and produced, especially if WWE wants any chance to get ahead of AEW in 2020 and beyond.
The reason it’ll be necessary to have a developmental league that is different than the current NXT brand is strictly to follow the progression of a very early wrestler. Think of it like a WWE Breaking Ground or Tough Enough series each year that lasts 10-14 weeks, once a year.
Related Read: WWE Network Should Reboot WWE Breaking Ground
#4: SummerSlam begins the season
Interestingly enough, Monday Night Raw’s season begins in September each year. Audiences often wouldn’t know that because Raw is live for 52 weeks. However, there technically is a season start. WWE should start each beginning season in June. This gives enough time to build for SummerSlam, it’s first PPV back from the offseason.
June works as the season premiere for a few reasons:
- Kids are about to be out of school for the summer.
- Most traditional TV network series show reruns or mid-year replacements during this time, allowing for more viewers who might be elsewhere during the rest of the year.
- 3 of the 4 major league sports, NBA, NHL, NFL are all on an offseason.
The main factor in play is the way to grab the most attention from viewers and little competition as possible.
#5: WrestleMania ends the season
Every major sports league has its defining ending event. From the Super Bowl to the NBA Finals, there is always an event that culminated from a season’s worth of action, intrigue, and suspenseful drama.
WrestleMania is also that event for WWE. What better way to end the year than a WrestleMania weekend. It’s the most obvious from a traditional sports season. All the talent work so hard from June until March/April to get to this point. It makes it even more meaningful.
#6: The offseason from April-June
Give the talent and production staff 60 days to recharge. Give them their time off to live life, spend it with families, whatever it takes for them to prepare for next season. This isn’t a long time, and most sports leagues have a similar offseason of 2 months between seasons.
Rather during this time, focus on the new crop of talent. This is where the new NXT Developmental becomes the focus. RAW, SmackDown and NXT would all feature lower mid-card talent and developmental stars of the future.