Seth Rollins was only half-right when talking about long-term storytelling in the WWE
Storytelling is an important part of professional wrestling. The anticipation of “what will happen next” is what keeps fans tuning in week after week. WWE has struggled with storytelling for years, but the issue has become more apparent as ratings across their main programming continues to decline. Seth Rollins is one of the most prominent personalities in the WWE and his take on the matter is that fans no longer have the patience for long term booking. While he does have the expertise to make such a stance, there’s key issues within WWE that he is missing which have attributed to this situation.
Rollins appeared on the Gorilla Position podcast with James Delow. While discussing the topic of his Monday Night Messiah character, the conversation turned to long term booking and it was then that Rollins offered his opinion on fans and their patience.
“In the age of instant gratification, audiences don’t have the patience for long term storytelling,” Rollins said during the interview. “When you can binge watch your favorite series in two days as opposed to two months, it creates a different precedent for how we intake our entertainment. We have to adapt as well, to keep up with our younger audience.”
Those are some interesting words with truth to them. Attention spans are down across the board as some data states that content holds an individual’s attention span for less than seven seconds. Content creators had to change strategies as consumers demanded more ease of consumption and the ability to consume on their own timetable. Rollins is right in those regards. But there is a lot that the WWE is doing that is damaging the trust that fans have in its ability or desire for long term booking.
The biggest issue is that storytelling in the WWE is centralized around Vince McMahon. McMahon, Bruce Pritchard and others in that circle are the same voices that have led creative in WWE for decades. Fans responded with excitement and intrigue when Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff were placed in lead creative positions, but both of them have been jettisoned since. Making the way for more of the same, which leads to the same, tired, directionless storytelling that has turned so many fans off.
The examples against the WWE are long
For example, let us use Rollins former stable mate, Roman Reigns. Remember when someone tried to drop a tower of boxes on Reigns, then followed it up by attempting to run him down with a car? The outcome of that was a singles match with Rowan after he split from Daniel Bryan. No big build up that had a positive impact on any of the individuals involved. The fans did not cause this misstep of booking, it was the lack of foresight and direction from within WWE Creative.
This is not the only example that could be used to point the finger back at the promotion. Look back to the marriage between Bobby Lashley and Lana. While most detested that entire angle, it was pushed as one of the feature segments each week. It led to the wedding segment, a segment that has nearly 10 million views on YouTube. The big moment came when Liv Morgan professed her love for Lana. How did that work out for all of those involved? That moment was mentioned once after that, and the marriage was split a few months later without any repercussions for Lana or Lashley. There are a laundry list of examples in which the WWE has dropped the ball when it comes to long term booking.
But look on the other hand. The continued saga between Sasha Banks and Bayley is the best example of long-term booking within the WWE in years. Many expected the major split to occur at this year’s SummerSlam, but the lack of fans due to COVID-19 makes that seem less and less likely. Still, these two ladies have been intertwined in angles around their breakup for years. Everyone knows the split is coming which will lead to a one-on-one match hopefully the caliber of their match at NXT TakeOver: Respect.
Still, if this is the best example of long-term booking that has worked under the WWE banner, it is easy to understand why fans are so frustrated with this promotion. Creative is stagnant as it sits within the purview or one individual and his core team of “Yes” men. Rollins is right that fans have shorter attention spans, but if new competitors in the industry are telling exceptional stories in their product with less television time, there is no excuse for the WWE’s inability to do the same.