As Live WWE Crowds Return, Creative Isn’t Ready For Fans’ Reactions
As exciting as it is that the biggest sports entertainment brand is finally going to put on live shows in front of a live crowd, WWE might be in for a bit of a surprise when they’re reminded the hard way that the WWE Universe has a mind of its own.
Considering the wrestling juggernaut has been producing shows for over a year now with piped in reactions and a few hundred fans watching from their computer monitors, the best WWE can do to gauge how the crowd is feeling about a Superstar from social media comments and television ratings. WWE really doesn’t know how the live audience is going to react when Vince trots out Drew McIntyre and expects fans to cheer. Nor does he know if someone like Roman Reigns is going to actually get booed, despite being the top heel in the company.
Hopefully they have a Plan B if what they expect to happen, doesn’t.
WWE Fans Are Fickle
We’ve heard it time and time again from talent who try to explain away jeers. Their first reaction is that WWE fans are fickle and they don’t want to be told who to cheer and who not to. The common response from wrestlers getting the reaction they aren’t intending to get is, ‘at least they’re reacting.’
It wasn’t long ago, when Seth Rollins was in front of a live crowd, WWE figured fans would root him on. That’s not exactly what happened. Knowing he was being pushed forward as the babyface of the company, the WWE Universe started to reject him.
By the time his feud and Hell In A Cell match with Bray Wyatt came around, fans were clearly not on his side. He said during an interview on the After the Bell podcast with Corey Graves, “It’s 2019 and I don’t know what wrestling looks like anymore, it’s a weird place, dude.”
While the crowd is going to be pleased as punch to have live shows back and things may go according to plan for a while, it might not even take until the end of the first night for the audience to turn on WWE’s top performers over the past year.
WWE Hasn’t Developed New Characters In Front Of Fans
One of the best ways to really sense how a character’s progression is going is by a live audience’s acceptance or rejection of that new gimmick. They bring signs, start chants and tell WWE who they’re into and who they’re not, almost immediately. The company has a lot of new performers who have changed directions and it’s not clear how the fans will feel about it.
Case in point, Roman Reigns was brought back as a heel and at a time that there were no fans to really react to his turn. The assumption was that the crowd would boo him because they did so mercilessly before he left. But, he’s done some of the best work of his career over the past year and savvy fans have jumped on the Head of the Table bandwagon and grown to respect how good his heel run has been.
Rhea Ripley is now a heel, Aleister Black is back with a new character, Alexa Bliss has gone to the dark side and Otis is no longer the loveable lug WWE was pushing before fans went away. These are just a few examples of how things have changed in the past year.
Speaking to Bleacher Report’s Graham Matthews last year, Braun Strowman said, “it’s hard to keep them happy. One minute, they wanted you to be champ. And the next minute, they hate you and don’t want you to be champ.”
We’re about to find out if the audience likes the new directions of these characters.
WWE Has A Lot Of Tweeners Coming Back
One of the big news items of the week is that WWE is thinking of bringing back some stars that have a polarizing past when it comes to fan reactions. John Cena is rumored to be back in July as events go back on the road. At best, he’s hated by half the crowd and loved by the other half. Paul Heyman teased that Brock Lesnar might return when crowds are present and there’s always a chance WWE calls on Bill Goldberg to fulfill part of his two-match obligation. There’s no telling how fans will react to these stars.
Even Becky Lynch was starting to lose some steam before she left to have her baby and McIntyre was projected to be one of the top babyfaces in WWE, but it’s hard to know if fans will be accepting of that or not. Edge last really got a live fan reaction at the Royal Rumble, but he’s light years away from that character now.
WWE Isn’t Thinking Long-Term
Part of the problem as WWE heads to live events is that too many of their regular roster stars are wrestling aren’t clearly heel or babyface. You have Elias and Jaxson Ryker wrestling AJ Styles and Omos. You have Kofi Kingston poking fun at The Scottish Warrior. You have The Fiend and Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton and Riddle. Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke, former members of Retribution and others teetering on the line between good and bad.
Perhaps WWE has done this on purpose so they can steer these characters one way or another when the crowd reacts, but do they have the storylines ready to roll for either situation? One would assume they don’t considering Raw and SmackDown seem to be rewritten on the fly from week to week.
Hopefully WWE Creative Has A Plan
The company is good at shifting gears but they’ve been criticized for not listening to the fans in the past. For over a year now, WWE has been doing what Vince wants, all in the name of producing what they think is a good television program. We’re about to find out if the WWE Universe agrees.
It would serve the creative team well to have a few big-name stars ready to roll with new programs if they come about the opposite of what the company expects to happen does. It’s more that possible these wrestlers have no clue how they’ve been received over the past 16 months.