Body slammed: ESPN and WWE forge relationship, but is it right fit?

10/15/15 by Rennie Detore



For years, professional wrestling never was considered a sport.
Even at the height of its popularity, when World Wrestling Entertainment and its weekly Monday night television program would outdraw Monday Night Football, the mainstream media wouldn't necessarily cover the happenings of what went on in and out of the ring. In the late 1990s, professional wrestling did get some publicity from a variety of media outlets, simply because you can't ignore an entity that draws close to 10 million viewers per week through television and thousands more as part of live events.
In 2015, with wrestling ratings down a bit, the company is trying to regain some sort of mainstream foothold again, and looks toward another brand that also in in the midst of a downturn in relevancy: ESPN.

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WWE and ESPN announced a deal that would have WWE highlights shown on the network. ESPN made the decision likely predicated on ratings that are also declining along with interest and advertising heading in the wrong direction.
And although WWE is not the draw it once was, it still does wonders in the highly coveted 18 to 35 year old demographic, not surprisingly one that ESPN wants to capture.
For both groups, this is a win win formula.
ESPN gains more visibility in front of WWE fans, and the wrestling conglomerate can get more eyes on what they do to sports fans that might not have a penchant for power bombs and athletically based story lines.
One criticism of the WWE and ESPN joining forces as a tag team of epic proportions potentially is that they live on opposite sides of the "sports world." ESPN deals directly in sports, outcomes that aren't predetermined and reporting on scores, stats and highlights that aren't rooted in more drama than actual winners and losers that matter. 
WWE is filled with elaborate story lines and superstars, all of whom are tremendous athletes and arguably just as athletic as those who compete in so called real sports. That said, the outcomes of matches are scripted and aren't sports in the sense that winning or losing is authentic.
So why would ESPN want to have a WWE presence on the air?
Well, quite frankly, money.
WWE is a brand that, even in a down time, has plenty of loyal fans. Millions in fact. Why wouldn't ESPN want to tap into a market that they don't have.
And this isn't the first time professional wrestling and ESPN have done business with one another. Wrestling aired on ESPN 20 years ago in the late afternoon, and WWE at peak of its popularity, had wrestlers featured on the network as part of commercials they would run to promote the flagship show, "Sportscenter."
This deal is like any other between two entities that want to gain ground on on slipping interest in the product. Mutual interest in what the other has is nothing new as reasons why brands, companies and other groups get together to further their exposure to a marketplace they ultimately want.

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