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WWE still wrestling with their image

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The XFL successfully avoided "football" fans in favor of the niche "spring outdoor entertainment" crowd.

Just another shining example of how Vince McMahon & Co. desperately want the world to believe they aren’t in the rasslin’ business. (Must be why most former longtime pro-wrestling fans no longer watch his product.)

TVWeek blogger Chuck Ross found out the hard way from WWE publicist/corporate drone Kellie Baldyga that McMahon’s organization  is a “global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.” His recent telephone conversation with Baldyga sounds like an Abbott & Costello routine.

From Ross’ March 18 post:

I hadn’t given the WWE much thought lately when we here at TVWeek received a press release the other day that we wrote up and published as follows: Drew Carey Inducted Into Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Huh? Drew Carey??!!

Comedic actor and game show host Drew Carey is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame. According to the WWE, “Carey established his place in WWE history as a surprise entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. However, Carey’s fortunes quickly turned, when the massive WWE Superstar Kane entered the ring, prompting Carey to eliminate himself from the match.”

The announcement adds, “The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony…will take place at the Philips Arena [in Atlanta] on Saturday, April 2, and the one-hour TV special will air Monday, April 4, at 8/7c on USA Network.”

Next thing I know, I’ve received an email from one Kellie Baldyga, a publicist for WWE, DEMANDING that we correct the story. She also copied our owner, Rance Crain, on the email.

What had drawn her ire was the headline. Baldyga wrote in her email, “We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.”

No doubt WWE is into more things than just wrestling, which is its bread and butter, I thought, but this can’t really be a big deal. I was busy and emailed her I’d call her the next day, which was yesterday, March 17.

First thing yesterday morning I received this email from her: “Chuck, did you mean call me today (Thursday)? I apologize but I really need the correction made sooner than later if possible…”

As regular readers to this blog may recall, for most of my career as a journalist I haven’t gotten along with most publicists. Most of them don’t like me, and I don’t have patience for many publicists.

Baldyga was beginning to bother me. First, our headline was perfectly fine and accurate. Second, what was this “demand” about changing OUR headline?

I called her and introduced myself. The conversation then basically went as follows:

Me: Your release says that Carey is being recognized as being an entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. I believe that was a wrestling event.

Kellie: No, we don’t do wrestling events. They’re entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re superstars and divas.

I’m thinking to myself, is she kidding me? Is this woman mad? The company’s official name is World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Its crown jewel is an event called WrestleMania. In the best tradition of wrestling on TV since its earliest days, they put on terrific shows (and events), with athletes who are performers and they’ve got storylines that are far more elaborate than any Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie would have ever imagined. Why would they want to run away from who they are, from what’s made them wildly successful beyond most people’s dreams?

Me: Kellie, I really don’t have time for this. WWE presents wrestling events. I’m not going to change the headline or anything in the item. If you’d like, I’ll just remove it.

Kellie: Huh? What?

Me: Kellie, I don’t have time for this. What do you want me to do?

Kellie: Remove it.

So I did.

Kellie sent me a follow-up email saying “I hope nothing was contentious in our conversation…” She added, “I know the perception is that we are a wrestling company but we are actually much more than that–we are a global media company which is how our Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, positions us.”

Whatever. Take away wrestling from WWE and what do you basically have? I don’t think WWE is quite as diverse as global media companies such as News Corp. or Time Warner or Viacom, but what do I know.

Yikes. That was a rather sad exchange. Like it or not, Vince, you’ve built that company on wrestling–not your failed forays into bodybuilding federations, pro football leagues, nutritional products and, now, movies.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this year’s Entertain-A-Mania.

UPDATE (3/24): Last night, CM Punk tweeted, “No stupid coats. No pyro. No dancers. No bells, no whistles. Never needed it. I am a wrestler.” Somebody alert Baldyga.

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