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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: Don't Hit the Panic Button
By The Doc
Dec 5, 2012 - 10:55:20 PM

Although it was not always the case, I have become a pretty even-keeled professional wrestling columnist. Once a "to conclusion" jumper, I would see a guy that I like lose a match on TV; I'd read reports about attitude problems backstage, uproar over a locker room rant by Vince McMahon, an injury update, or a ratings breakdown and get flustered by it, worrying for the WWE and its fan base that something awful might happen. As priorities change and life happens, such issues take on new perspectives. So, when I read that CM Punk was injured and that the Raw rating from Monday was a pretty abysmal 2.5, it did not really bother me.

On the injury front, I actually see a lot of positives in CM Punk skipping TLC to heal a surgically repaired meniscus. That is not an overly complicated injury to rehab, especially when the repair was performed by a world-renowned surgeon. He should be back on the road by mid-January and certainly ready to go for the Royal Rumble showdown with The Rock, during which I predict he will retain the WWE Championship (that column will come soon). To be able to bypass the non-kayfabe most dangerous match in the WWE is a blessing in disguise. It was going to be brutal to be in the ring with a guy like Ryback for 20-minutes with tables, ladders, and chairs at that beast’s disposal. Increasing his risk for injury for a title match against a guy with no shot at winning going into the most important stretch of the WWE season had always seemed questionable to me. PPVs like Over the Limit or Night of Champions are better suited for the Road to Wrestlemania than Elimination Chamber and TLC. So, I think Punk lucked out. He’ll get a chance to rest.

Consider, for a moment, that CM Punk is not a prescription drug taker. Neither am I. I have not had one in seven years (since I learned of something called iatrogenic death that is responsible for, according to Harvard’s Medical School, the third most deaths in the United States every year). I don’t recommend them for my patients unless absolutely necessary (and there are few instances where that would be the case). Without heavy painkillers, I would imagine that the Chicago Made star is in a chronic state of super ache. Having been there once upon a time, it would behoove him to rest. He’s been a constant on the road for a long time as the reigning, defending WWE Champion for the last year. I have no issue whatsoever with seeing the Shield step in and use a match that has made several new stars in years past to showcase their fresh faces on a main-event stage. Punk can come back refreshed and ready for The Road (to WM).

As for the ratings, I read a candid interview several months back with an opinionated star who has his finger on the pulse of the inner workings of the WWE product these days. In said interview, this top star mentioned that ratings are not nearly as important to the WWE brass as one might think. Ratings were important when there was competition. As there is no competition, the WWE certainly needs ratings to back up their sponsors and investors, but it by no means places as high on the priority list as it did ten years ago. That is not to say that, by reading and interpreting that which I just paraphrased, I believe that the WWE cares little about ratings. I’m sure that they do. I just don’t think that they’re as concerned as some might lead you to believe. Ratings have been steadily declining for a long time; but this is not a problem that just plagues the WWE. This is the case for television programming (almost) across the board. DVR is rendering the traditional Nielsen rating less important and, while the recordings are taken into account, the general consensus is that other video avenues are stripping away a sizeable portion of the once amazingly strong nightly TV viewer.

Here’s why I don’t think the WWE is that concerned about the ratings decrease: they haven’t changed anything. Not a thing about their product has changed in the last few years since making the switch to “TV PG” and nothing new seems to be on the horizon. They’ve instead diversified to expand their business profile, focusing more attention on social media and web presence, in general. A drastic change in style would be the natural response to the ratings slump, but that has not happened. They continue to plod along, using the same old formula and just changing around a few of the moving parts from time to time. Big picture, I think the WWE is OK with domestic ratings slumping as long as they are still putting butts in the seats and as long as their biggest cash cow of the year still banks huge dollars. With Summerslam performing well this year, too, and the Royal Rumble continuing to do great business, the WWE can rely on the PPV market to make up the difference from what they’re not getting from American television.

Major League Baseball provides a good example of a national brand that is still quite relevant despite its ratings being nothing compared to what they used to be. They, like the WWE, over saturate the market with their product. Subsequently, their television profile is laughable compared to the thriving NBA and especially the NFL and college football. That does not mean that they should panic; it just means that they need to find other ways to stay viable until the next transcendent star comes about that piques peoples’ interest again. The WWE will have to wait until the product evolves to wherever it eventually does that would make it possible for another “boom.” Do not forget, however, that the WWE is a global brand. They have television deals in place worldwide, now, that they could only dream about during eras like the Attitude. That surely helps keep their financial nightmares at bay.

So, adjust your expectations is my suggestion. It’s fine to demand a lot, but we’ve seen some pretty badass things this year and there’s a whole host of new guys about to break out in the next six months to a year. It’s not as if it is 1993. WWE might not be where it has been when at its best, but we've seen far, far worse.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Overall, how would you describe the WWE in 2012? Remember to take into account more than the last three, predictably boring months.

Follow me @TheDocLOP on Twitter for wrestling/sports discussion or friend me on Facebook (TheDocLOP).

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