Why Wrestlemania was an experiment in Product Life Management

Since early Monday morning, my social media feed has been filled with images of Mark Calloway (aka The Undertaker) taking his final bow from sports entertainment. People are talking about how their childhood has ended, that TV will not be the same again, death of WWE’s attitude era etc.

All of this social media outing of emotions has a far stronger marketing subtext to it. Specifically, how does a market leader deal with nostalgia about legendary products?

WWE had unprecedented success with performers of the attitude era — Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, HHH, Stone Cold, The Rock, Hardy Boyz etc. These men salvaged WWE from the WCW and ECW onslaught, and ensured that the coffers of the McMahon family continued to swell, well into the 21st century. However, the same men became an albatross around the neck of the company. As nature started to catch up with them and they fell by the wayside, it became increasingly apparent that the company had to move it’s offering away from these legends.

However, it was easier said than done. No matter how much hoopla was created around John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista or any of the dozen or so other superstars that held the championship post the attitude era, their popularity never touched that of their predecessors. The audiences have kept pining for a return to the attitude era and to recall the stars of the past.

Because of this, WWE has been facing a unique problem — it’s success has become a millstone around it’s neck and has been threatening to drown it.

It is in this context that the results from the recently concluded Wrestlemania should be read. We saw Seth Rollins defeating Triple H in a pretty insipid affair, Lesnar defeating Goldberg in another quickfire match and then a thoroughly underwhelming Roman Reigns defeating The Undertaker, in a match which will always be remembered more for the aftermath then the action. However, all of these matches had something important in common — they had tired and fading stars of the attitude era losing emphatically to those, who WWE is counting on to take the company ahead. The matches were an indirect shout-out to the audiences that those whom you have pined for weren’t really better and are now totally washed-up and past their prime, so it’s time for you let go of the nostalgia and start cheering the new talent.

In order to let go of it’s past, WWE has in effect turned this Wrestlemania, it’s annual extravaganza, into a scapegoat. All the brickbats that are being thrown at the company post the event, are in effect the cost that it has agreed to incur in an effort to wean away the audiences from the nostalgia of the past.

It is a costly gamble indeed. The interpretation of the WWE that it is not the new offerings that are substandard, but the nostalgia and audience’s love for the old offerings that is making it difficult for the company to move beyond on is an unprecedented move in product life-cycle management. Whether, it pays off will only be revealed over the next year or two, but from business perspective, it is an interesting experiment indeed.