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September 20, 2006

Mr. McMahon Says, "This Site Sucks!"

When it comes to World Wrestling Entertainment, the line between fiction and fantasy is always blurred. There are economic incentives to blurring this line, especially as it deepens fan relationships with the product through spoiling communities as fans attempt to discern "real" rivalries from scripted ones.

That's why, when a wrestler's girlfriend (who is a female wrestler) actually cheats on him with another wrestler, it eventually becomes a storyline for their characters as well, with fans trying to decide how much is show and how much is real.

And Vince McMahon is a master at this, to both his benefit and detriment. It's to his benefit when fans want to know who the real CEO of the company is, versus the over-the-top Mr. McMahon character, and are willing to buy the McMahon DVD, one of the company's top sellers, to examine just this question. It's to his detriment when he can't escape his wrestling character in public appearances for the company, especially on news programs.

Nevertheless, the WWE has blurred that line again in relation to its decision to continue revamping its Web site, turning their plans for further innovation on the Web site into a mini-rivalry between McMahon and a WWE announcer. Although this rivalry has not come out on the air, the intention on the site is to again blur the lines. Is WWE announcer Michael Cole, who also serves as editor of the Web site in addition to being the play-by-play man for Friday Night Smackdown, really upset with Mr. McMahon's comments?

To give you a little bit of background, McMahon said at an investor's conference last Thursday that "this site sucks." And, if you don't believe it, the WWE has provided the link to a video proving it. An investor is actually praising the WWE for their work in transmedia and their expanding profit through the site, to which McMahon responds that his "people" still thinks the site "sucks."

A defensive Cole then retorts, emphasizing that the WWE is releasing a new broadband network in October, complete with Webisodes, new mobile offerings in addition to their mobile alert system, as well as "a re-vamped subscription site and more exclusive videos and photos than ever before."

Cole finishes it out by saying "the web site does suck, compared to where we are going to take it, but it won't suck for long. Wish I could say the same for the boss" and then resorts to a sophomoric reference to Vince and roosters that plays into a current storyline.

This strikes me as a unique way to handle several issues, both acknowledging McMahon's public comment about the Web site while also using it as a Web-only mini-storyline that explains and promotes improvements to the sites in an innovative way. Fans may have never bothered to read "exciting news about updates to the WWE site," but the controversy over Mr. McMahon criticizing his own site at an investor's conference is more likely to capture a fan's attention.

And now fans can wonder if there really is some hostility in Cole's words, why McMahon would make such a crude statement about his site at an investor's conference, where he is not supposed to be in character as "Mr. McMahon," etc.

In the meantime, the WWE continues to demonstrate its potential as an immersive narrative universe to really explore transmedia storytelling in a way few other companies can or will be able to.

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