WrestleMania 32: Wrestling Through Injury
The same way someone might struggle to mount a comeback after getting knocked around by Brock Lesnar, World Wrestling Entertainment, more commonly referred to as the WWE, has had to dust itself off in recent years. Fighting lackluster television ratings, the company has had to reshuffle storylines and established WWE Superstars of bygone eras, like the Undertaker, to fill a 105,000-person capacity stadium in Arlington, Texas this past Sunday for WrestleMania 32.
One would expect to see names like Randy Orton, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Sting, headlining the WWE's biggest, annual event, however injuries have taken each one of those players out of action in recent months. These injuries resulted in a major threat to the event's spectacle, putting the WWE's goal of breaking its own attendance record from WrestleMania 3, with 93,173 fans, at risk.
Breaking the record may have been considered an extremely likely task with the likes of John Cena, the face of the company for over a decade and wrestler-turned-mainstream-actor showing off his comedy chops with small but memorable roles in 2015's films Trainwreck and Sisters, as well as with Daniel Bryan, who is now retired after suffering injuries and concussions that ended his career. With so many of its top stars on the sidelines, WWE has had to improvise and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances to ensure that tickets continue to be sold, and that its monthly subscriber service, the WWE Network, sees a boost in users.
Similar to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or the UFC, the WWE is a vertically integrated company with a business model based on a calendar of regular Pay-Per-View events that serve as monthly storyline landmarks between its weekly cable offerings. Tickets for WrestleMania, the biggest of these events, went on sale in October 2015, before many of the major injuries that had derailed the company's plan to fill seats occurred.
Reports note that 84,000 tickets to WrestleMania 32 have been sold as of early March, almost enough to break the 93,173 record, an impressive feat considering the diminished roster and star power of the current lineup. However, this also puts an enormous amount of pressure on the company to perform in a way that retains and grows their customer base, but with fewer resources at its disposal.
WWE has partially reacted to this pressure by reactivating brands under its umbrella that casual and hardcore fans alike trust for entertainment. By teasing appearances from megastars Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin through social media and offering a live-stream of WrestleMania for free to new subscribers of the WWE Network for a month, the WWE hopes to gain a new client base that will continue to pay the $9.99 monthly fee. It has also partnered with ESPN to broadcast a WrestleMania-focused edition of SportsCenter live from Dallas before the show.
Brand activation combined with proven methods of social media engagement is important in building long-term trust and confidence in a product. For the past 31 years, WWE has strived to brand WrestleMania as a spectacle that sells itself regardless of the card and as of the result yesterday they have clearly succeeded. Kicking out under the weight of injuries to its main attractions, the WWE put on a show to boost ratings to its network and broke their attendance record goal just barely falling short of filling out the stadium with 101, 763 tickets sold. Becoming the number one trending topic on Twitter for the night, continuing to keep up a strong social media campaign, with the help of their contracted wrestlers, and pushing strong brand activation, we may be able to see the likes of the WWE growing in ways that we have seen similar to the UFC. "Finally, The Rock has come back to WrestleMania..." as well as with a few other surprises, pushing the WWE to grow to new lengths.
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