Like it or not, social media has changed the very landscape of pro wrestling. The business has had to change-up how it functions to keep up in an age where fans can make or break a promotion on their cell phones. But it isn’t all bad. So, let’s check out 5 ways social media has ruined WWE and 5 reasons it hasn’t.
Has: The death of kayfabe
Kayfabe has always been an extremely important part of wrestling. Even if the fact that pro wrestling is scripted is an open secret, promotions usually go to great lengths to keep kayfabe. Vince McMahon in particular, is reported to be a stickler for keeping kayfabe, but in the world of social media, kayfabe is pretty much dead. A legend like The Undertaker, notorious for going to extreme lengths to keep kayfabe alive, is perhaps one of the few wrestlers who has actually managed to maintain the aura surrounding his character to an extent. But even The Phenom is not completely immune, because we have all seen videos of him working out on Michelle McCool’s Instagram account. It is rare to see to man behind the gimmick of The Deadman, but with social media, we all know Mark Callaway, and that just feels a little weird, you know? It isn’t like The Undertaker has his own Instagram, posting selfies by the beach, but the odds of us knowing literally anything about Mark Callaway without social media would have been impossible.
Wrestlers will post pictures online with people they are supposed to be feuding with, and it is a peek behind the curtain that does nothing to enrich fans’ enjoyment of the product. Ask yourself, whether you got more or less invested in the feud between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman when you saw pictures of them touring Europe together. These two men were practically trying to kill each other on Raw, but were best buds online. Kayfabe is dead and social media is to blame for it.
Hasn’t: It has made stars more relatable and fun
Before the dawn of the social media age, all fans new about their favorite wrestlers was what the product told them. There was literally no other avenue of information for fans to learn about members of the roster. Back in the 80s, Hulk Hogan was the resident superhero in pro wrestling and that was pretty much it. You could say the same about wrestlers like the Macho Man or the Ultimate Warrior. They were literally just their characters and fans loved them for it, but we also knew very little about the men behind the gimmick.
All of that has changed now. WWE’s top wrestlers use social media platforms like Twitter to great effect. Kevin Owens’ twitter is absolute gold, and just backs up everything he says and does in the ring. Becky Lynch, one of WWE’s toughest character, recently took to her Twitter to share a heart-warming story about a fan she met who lost priceless wrestling memorabilia. She spoke to fans not as The Man, but as Rebecca Quin. It was a beautiful moment and immediately endeared her to audiences that were not already in love with her. Social media has made wrestlers way more relatable and accessible than ever before. It is fun for the stars and the fans. Sure, it doesn’t always work out that way, and social media use can actually turn fans against a wrestler, just ask Seth Rollins. But these situations are few and far between.
Has: The past can come back to haunt wrestlers
Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because wrestlers getting called out for sketchy behavior in the past isn’t the worst thing. But from a purely business point of view, it isn’t the best thing for WWE. People always say that once it’s online, it’s there forever, and wrestlers like Lars Sullivan or Zahra Schreiber will agree that the past has come back to haunt them in a professional capacity. Lars Sullivan was once in line for a massive push, but an anxiety attack and then a long-term injury has put those plans on hold. Regardless of all of that, Sullivan got into a ton of trouble when a number of racist comments he made on message boards back in 2007. As a result of his actions, The Freak was made to issue apologies to a number of his colleagues backstage, in addition to releasing a statement, Sullivan was also fined by the company. WWE took a firmer stance with Zahra Schreiber though, after Instagram posts she made back in 2012 prominently featured Swastikas. WWE acted swiftly in both situations, but the company could still not escape bad PR when these stories first broke. No one is going to remember how WWE dealt with these situations, just that wrestlers on their roster behaved a certain way, and social media never forgets.
Hasn’t: Stories can be built online
Social media has allowed WWE to take its stories outside the ring. In the past, feuds and storylines were always constrained to what the company could cram into a show, but that isn’t the case anymore. When WWE announced that Vince McMahon would be appearing on Raw, Roman Reigns retweeted and referenced his last encounter with the Chairman, which ended with a Superman Punch. In one move, WWE created excitement for the Chairman’s appearance and also referenced a moment that took place, which is uncharacteristic for a company that often forgets its own history.
But more recently, WWE has been using social media to provide updates on the ridiculously popular 24/7 Championship. Championship changes happen and are captured online, famous figures get mixed up in everything and fans don’t miss out on a second all thanks to social media. Still not convinced? Well, then just take a look at Bray Wyatt. The Fiend is already a massive success and will be competing for the Universal Championship at Hell in a Cell. But way before the Firefly Fun House was even a thing, Wyatt was keeping fans interested in him with cryptic tweets that suggested a massive transformation. Now that he has been taking out people as The Fiend, his social media now acts as a means for fans to understand his new character better. It is all awesome and would not have been possible without social media.
Has: Fans can derail stories
Again, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, because fans have the power to bring about real change in the product, but it isn’t the best thing for WWE as a business. Fan resentment and a massive surge in support for Daniel Bryan both at live shows and online forced the company to find a way to shoehorn the Beard into the main event of WrestleMania 30. Sure, it was a great moment and an awesome conclusion to a wonderful story, but it forced the company to hastily course correct after giving Batista the win at the Royal Rumble. Then the next year, ‘Cancel WWE Network’ was trending worldwide after Reigns won the Rumble. On the Road to WrestleMania 32, WWE again had to go out of its way to try and get Reigns over with fans, even putting him in a triple threat with Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar. Fans making a stink at shows is one thing, when things go online, there’s no stopping it.
Hasn’t: Instantaneous feedback for the company
When fan unrest or support ends up derailing a story, you can look at it one of two ones. You could say that it is unfair to WWE because it has to figure out a plan to right this ship before it sinks, or you can say that it is a great way for WWE to get instantaneous feedback on what it gets wrong and what it gets right. Social media is usually riddled with negativity, especially when it comes to WWE, but when things go right, those same platforms act as validation for the promotion. It is proof that it gets things right. There was a ton of fan support for John Cena’s United States Championship reign and his Open Challenges, which gave underutilized stars to go a full 20 to 30 minutes with the biggest star in pro wrestling. Everything with The Fiend has told WWE to go all in with the new character, and through the use of hashtags, the company also knows how fans receive literally every angle, storyline or match.
Has: Real surprises are in short supply
WWE likes playing its cards close to its chest, but sometimes secrets slip out as ‘rumors’ and just like that, the surprise element is gone. From The Undertaker returning for his pound of flesh after his WrestleMania defeat at the hands of Brock Lesnar, or even rumors circulating that Brock Lesnar was in contract negotiations ahead of his return to WWE on the Raw after WrestleMania 28. WWE makes mistakes, like advertising that Daniel Bryan would be returning to WWE after being fired while he was a part of Nexus back in 2010. These mistakes could easily be brushed under the carpet or rectified, but not in the world of social media. Screenshots are taken and uploaded and just like that, all the mystery is gone. Real surprises are in short supply in WWE, all thanks to social media.
Hasn’t: It is an alternate revenue stream for stars
Regardless of the fact that WWE wrestlers are not allowed to compete for other promotions while under contract with Vince McMahon’s company, they are all still independent contractors. They all get a decent payday, but between paying for their own gear, medical and accommodation, and the possibility of their careers ending tomorrow, it would be better for these stars to have a means to generate an alternate revenue stream for themselves.
Wrestlers often fall on hard times when their careers come to an end, but with social media, things don’t have to stay that way. Just take a look at Paige, after a tumultuous couple of years that ended with her announcing her retirement, Paige could no longer do the only thing she had done her entire life. But after her career came to an end, she launched her own makeup line, called the Saraya Store. Paige continues using her Instagram to market her own products, while encouraging thousands of her fans to go check out the products. But it doesn’t just end there. Most wrestlers are celebrities in their own right, and sponsored posts made on these social media platforms can help them bring in the big bucks.
Has: Literally everything is under a microscope
This is pretty self-explanatory. WWE makes a lot of mistakes, that’s just the way things are, but now, those mistakes are magnified a million times and dissected for days on end. Whether it is someone accidentally cussing on live TV or a wardrobe malfunction, everything finds its way online, and eventually onto social media platforms. There has always been little room for error in the world of pro wrestling, but with social media, that margin for error is even more razor thin that it was before.
Hasn’t: The work of other promotions has a bigger spotlight
Regardless of the fact that promotions usually end up competing with each other in some shape or form, the wrestlers in these promotions are usually pretty friendly with each other. There is an unspoken camaraderie between the wrestlers that goes beyond the promotion they are wrestler for. Unless of course, you’re Seth Rollins who thinks Jon Moxley will take food off his plate. Wrestlers in WWE could appreciate Kenny Omega’s great work while he was in New Japan, and fans could always compare the Bullet Club in NJPW to the OC in WWE. Jon Moxley’s appearance at the G1 climax got the world buzzing, and John Cena posting a picture of Kenny Omega on his Instagram doubled the Cleaner’s net worth. Social media has made all of this possible and has brought the pro wrestling world closer.