Friday, May 29, 2015

Could WWE Revive the Territory System?

Welcome to a special discussion thread here at  My friends Travis and Jim each came up with scenarios whereby WWE could revive the territory system of old, but all under the WWE brand, in a way that would diversify the product and create a robust farm system for rising talent.  Without further ado, here's what they came up with.....

Travis: Watching the NXT crowd in Florida tells me that the possibility of regional territories remains surprisingly viable, in principle. I wonder if instead of taking a singular NXT brand on the road, Triple H has considered creating, say, up to half a dozen different shows like NXT, each with its own roster and local championships, with one traveling NXT World Champion, too. They could all air weekly shows on the Network, on different days and maybe even at different times, each with a different flavor. Pick cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Corpus Christi or Dallas, Montreal or Toronto, Atlanta or Charlotte, or wherever they have the most distinctive and reliable fan bases. Have them all be feeders for Raw and SmackDown, like the territories fed the WWF – but this time in a symbiotic rather than suicidal way.

The regional rosters would largely work like NXT already does. Each territorial roster would be relatively small. Contracts could be short term. Local enhancement talent could be used to make each show a little different, as well as for on-screen tryouts. They wouldn't have to do old-fashioned Barry O jobber squashes either; they could be encouraged to wrestle decent matches, even win occasionally to advance storylines, like the role Leva Bates gets to play on NXT as Blue Pants. And like they're doing with Samoa Joe, maybe they could give roster members the freedom to do other gigs on the side and abroad, too – within certain rules and limits, I'm sure.

One benefit of this concept would be that you wouldn't have the problem of so much unused talent on the main roster, where they keep featuring the same dozen or so guys on both big shows every week while so many others barely show up and hardly gain momentum. Instead, you could make the underused top talent serve as the main guys on the local shows, while still giving them regular work at events for the headline brand – a variation on, and expansion of, the way WWE main roster talent shows up on NXT occasionally. Meanwhile, territorial titleholders would fight for the secondary belts on Raw and SmackDown now and then, like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens accepting John Cena’s open challenge.

Such a system would enjoy the benefits of loyal regional fanbases and relatively cheaply produced shows run from the same fixed venues, without the freight costs of shipping sets and equipment cross-country. Although, the shows would, of course, still be sleeker than the typical Indy iPPV/VOD. Plus, you would have a national stage for televised broadcasts on the Network, with online streaming available, too – all of which is more affordable and convenient for fans than DVDs and downloads from Highspots or ClickWrestle. The regional shows could even be done as "seasons," and if they weren't working out so well in one city they could be moved to another for the next season. There would be ways of tapping into local attachments and nostalgia to draw fans to the live venue. (Regional advertisements for each new Maple Leaf Wrestling show would have the ghost of Billy Red Lyons telling fans, "Don'tcha dare miss it!") At the same time, by giving each show its own feel, fans across the country and around the world would identify more strongly with the style and content of some territories over the others. Just don’t give the territories overly explicit geographical names. No “Mid-South Wrestling” – even though one of the territories would totally, and obviously to those who remember, be Mid-South Wrestling.

Thirty years ago the WWF killed the territories by going national, and the downside of that has been the lack of varied promotions and styles in which talent can learn and grow, not to mention the ability to send stale talent elsewhere to be repackaged and rejuvenated. Jim Ross laments the death of the territories for sundry reasons on his each and every podcast. Now WWE could reinvent the territories under its own umbrella, regaining some of those lost benefits while reaping all of the profits currently unrealized by the existing Indy promotions lacking the resources to fully exploit the potential that is out there.

But I'm no businessman. I do not know if this form of vertical integration would be financially viable. It may be a complete non-starter. I'm guessing that replicating the Performance Center in multiple locations isn't feasible, if only for personnel reasons – unless they're going to start cloning Sara Del Rey.

I am also not saying that this proposal would be "good for wrestling." It may be "bad for wrestling," just like the drying up of the old territories was bad for wrestling, or the demise of WCW was bad for wrestling. I suspect that promotions like Beyond, Smash, and CZW wouldn't be thrilled if one of these shows set up shop down the road. I just wonder if something like this has been considered internally as a model for the future, as something possibly "best for business." That said, I suppose that something like this would only be possible if it were orchestrated by executives who actually liked and saw a future in pro wrestling, and not just sports-entertainment.

The WWE has often been accused of establishing an "empire," with all of the negative connotations that come with that label. But historically, for their own benefit, vast empires usually establish within themselves varied territories, each with their own subordinate governments, rather than attempting to rule over one homogeneous, monolithic state. Vince McMahon apparently had an inkling of this idea back after the buyout when reinventing the WCW brand with its own roster and shows was considered. NXT provides a newer model for something similar and potentially bigger and better. Heck, if Vince was anything like his old self, he’d see the way NJPW is trying to colonize North America these days and take the war to them and open up NXT Tokyo.

Jim: In my opinion the current culture of instant communication and data access, even from continent to continent, renders regionally-based territories irrelevant.  A "place" simply doesn't mean what it once did.  I used to have to wait six weeks to find out from Bill Apter what happened to Jerry Lawler in Memphis.  Now I could know similar stuff in six minutes.  (Editor's Note: "According to myth, the Earth was created in six days.  Now watch out!  Here comes Genesis.  We'll do it for ya in six minutes!")

I offer an alternative: style-based territories.  The WWE could have, for example, four touring companies:

1. A "WWF (I know I know, let's just ride this for now)" company, featuring really big and charismatic dudes being really big and charismatic.

2. A "Crockett NWA" company, featuring promo-heavy content from very strong, "mid-sized" workers, with very cleanly-defined faces and heels in melodramatic conflict.

3. A "NOAH" company, where a mix of v.1 and v.2 physical types, male and female, compete in contests which are essentially about who can take the most insane punishment and still be alive afterwards.

4. An "NXT" company featuring, in shorthand summary, lucha faces vs. New Japan heels.

All "big four" PPVs will feature one major internal match from each touring brand, a special-event crossover match or two, and the WWE singles and Tag Champions defending those titles.  All other PPVs would be main evented by the WWE men's, women's or Tag Team Champions facing their counterparts from one of the touring developmental companies.

Could be money in that....

Travis: I disagree with the point regarding the significance of technology. Human beings remain embodied creatures who enjoy having places to go where they feel like they belong and are a part of something special – physical spaces where they are immersed in a wide range of sensory stimuli, where friends can go together, and where friends can be made. Yes, we can get results from far away a lot faster. But to go back to my original premise, the NXT audience clearly loves to be there, revels in being a part of the show, and I bet a lot of them are regulars – like the ECW crowd used to be. If I lived anywhere near Winter Park, I'd be showing up at Full Sail as often as possible. I'd buy season tickets if they were available. As would you, I’m betting.

Justin: For the record I like aspects of both of these scenarios.  I'd love for either of them to become a reality.  What do you guys think?  Post your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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