Publicity stunt? Yes. Guaranteed to make money? Yes. Chance of bringing the TV show Arrow and WWE to a larger audience? Absolutely.
On the face of it, Stephen Amell turning up on WWE Raw and brawling with the wrestler Stardust – then actually wrestling him at the upcoming Summerslam – is just another one of a long line of celebrity cameos, but for the company, and Amell himself, it represents so much more. Both stand to benefit immensely, in terms of notoriety and financially – and while detractors of professional wrestling and “serious” comic book fans may decry his appearance in the ring, it actually makes perfect sense.
Let’s look at why going from Starling City to the Squared Circle is a good idea.
Superhero TV is thriving – but needs to reach new audiences
There’s no doubt Arrow spearheaded the rise of costumed heroes on TV. The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Constantine, Daredevil, and Gotham have all popped up post-Oliver Queen. Their popularity outstrips most other serialised and syndicated shows on US television, and shows (we’re looking at you, Agents of SHIELD), that TV programmes with actual superheroes in them are, at the moment, a license to print cash.
But that won’t always be the case.
Arrow’s third season was arguably weaker than its first two, and if the others don’t take off with their inaugural or second series, there’s a danger that people’s attention will wane. Add to that the plethora of comic book movies on the horizon over the next four to five years, and you’re in danger of oversaturation if a few of them turn out to be stinkers (hello Fant4stic).
WWE gives Arrow a whole new audience, ripe for dramatic storylines, colourful characters, good looking men and women and the battle between good and evil. How many 10-15 year olds are going to see Stephen Amell in the ring (more than likely in some form of Arrow costume), think he’s cool, and then go off and start watching his alter ego Oliver Queen’s continuing adventures? Amell will more than likely win the match, having vanquished the pantomime villain that is Stardust, and that will make him a hero to the people in the crowd, drawing in a whole new audience that may then follow Arrow to The Flash, then to Legends of Tomorrow, then to Supergirl etc.
WWE craves mainstream acceptance
If the above point works for TV programmes themselves, then the flipside of this is what it’ll do for World Wrestling Entertainment. The owner, Vince McMahon, has for years, craved acceptance in the mainstream media and overall consciousness. He yearns for his product to be recognised in the same way boxing, the NFL and even MMA has been by the mass American (and worldwide) public.
He’s tried numerous experiments over the years: The XFL, his own American football league populated with original teams and players, bombed after just one season, losing him and partner NBC a whopping $35m each. The WBF, a bodybuilding organisation that lasted just over a year after a first show failed financially, and last but not least, WWE Studios, which is admittedly now turning a modest profit, but only after forging tie ups with the likes of 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, and Universal Pictures. Its initial, solo outings, reaped heavy losses.
McMahon has also gone to great lengths to incorporate Hollywood stars into his wrestling programmes, as Floyd Mayweather, Hugh Jackman, Seth Green, Mickey Rourke and Mike Tyson all appeared or even wrestled in matches over the past decade or so. Wrestling lends itself to the world of the movie star, as their work – scripted, dramatic, comedic, storytelling – mirrors wrestling to the extent you wonder why crossovers don’t happen more often.
That said, many of these appearance often come as a result of the celebrity wanting to market themselves. Often a star will appear at Raw or WrestleMania because they have a new movie, book or TV show to plug, or, in some cases, because they’ve found time in their schedule when McMahon has offered them a lot of money. No doubt he would have liked Jackman to appear at a major Pay-Per-View during WWE’s peak time, rather than to coincide with his publicity work around 2011’s Real Steel.
McMahon has thus gone back to the only real major mainstream star he helped create: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. After his phenomenal success in the ring, he’s gone on to be one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars – more so than any of his grappling brethren. McMahon has managed to get Johnson back to wrestle no less than four times in the last five years, each one attracting huge buyrates for his major shows.
Arrow’s success on the small screen, and Amell’s flourishing career, means McMahon has an opportunity to tap into a ready made audience, and win over a star whose light is only going to rise higher in the sky over the coming years. Unlike the Mayweathers and Jackmans, Amell is actually a wrestling fan, so that should hopefully keep him coming back year after year and lending his legitimacy to a genre that sometimes sorely lacks it.
The match will live up to the hype
Amell is in prime physical condition, anyone who has watched Arrow knows that. He’s not going to be slow, awkward or laborious in the ring – all momentum killers when it comes to professional wrestling. Crucially, any weaknesses he may have will be disguised by the man he’s facing. Stardust – real name Cody Runnels – is one of three other competitors in the tag team match Amell will be involved in, but arguably the one he will have most interaction with. In matches like this, with a celebrity, or someone with little or no wrestling experience, the more seasoned contestant will coach the other through the match. It’ll have been rehearsed to a tee beforehand, with each man knowing their role, when they need to be in and out of the ring, when each move is coming and how to either roll with that move or use one themselves.
Putting Amell into a singles contest would have put a huge amount of pressure on him, and any mistake would have been easy to spot and highlighted. In this scenario, Amell will spend only limited time in the ring (more than likely a contractual agreement because of his TV work – the last thing Arrow producers would want is their star waylaid by a serious injury), but you can guarantee that Runnels will do everything to protect Amell throughout their confrontation. Runnels is a second generation wrestler, having been mentored by his hugely experienced father, the late Dusty Rhodes, and his elder brother Dustin, better known by his ring name Goldust. He’ll be talking to him all the way through from start to finish, and making sure Amell knows what’s happening at all times and, crucially, making him look good. It’s happened before when the likes of The Big Show wrestled Floyd Mayweather and Mr. T and Roddy Piper went head to head. The wrestler will guide the other man through the match, and it’ll look all the better for it.
Both are invested in the feud
Amell is, by his own confession, a huge WWE fan – and for that reason, he will want the match to be held in high regard. He won’t want to be remembered for a couple of meek punches and a finish to the match that doesn’t live up to expectations. Similarly, Stardust will be under pressure by the WWE management to ensure that Amell is treated well during his time in the ring, and he comes out looking strong. WWE is nothing if not protective of its potential investments, and as we’ve mentioned above, if Amell is to keep returning year on year, it’s important that he has a good experience, and feels like he’s been included in the huge machine of hype that goes with every event Vince McMahon promotes. It’ll be down to Stardust to ensure Amell comes out of the ring unscathed and looking like a winner – for that he’ll make sure he’s at the top of his game.
Outside of the ring, both have engaged in a “kayfabe” (wrestling speak for scripted events meant to look real) arguments on social media, ramping up the animosity and talking big ahead of their match. This started nearly a year ago when Amell declared he wanted to guest host an edition of WWE Raw, the group’s prime time Monday night TV show. The back and forth started from there and as such, anyone following both on Twitter has seen their war of words unfold to the extent they haven’t actually needed to be seen on television together up until a few weeks ago. With both now ready to climb into the ring, WWE can easily point to their 140 character assassinations as proof of their burgeoning hatred, and build up the event more so than it would if Amell was simply parachuted in for an appearance, and then zipped off with his green hood trailing behind him.
It will light up social media
That leads us on to the final point, demonstrating how promoting both television and professional wrestling has changed. Amell reaches over a million people worldwide with his Tweets, and more with his Facebook videos. That WWE has been able to tap into that resource gives them the popularity they crave, and while Amell is no slouch on social media himself, his content is now being shared by WWE’s official account, followed by over five million people. In an age where viral marketing takes more precedence over film trailers, where stars of movies are revealing exclusive details on their personal social media accounts and user generated content has never been bigger, both parties have tapped into the ideal way to promote this match.
It helps that both Amell and Stardust have bought into it, and are having as much fun deriding each other on Twitter – like here – as they will be when they meet in the ring. Fans of the Arrow star relish the chance to interact with him, and to be fair, he interacts himself as much as he can. That type of publicity puts the fan much closer to the celebrity than ever before, and by harnessing that intimacy, WWE, so often sterile and apart from it’s audience, is gaining new credibility in the eyes of a non wrestling audience. They’re suddenly interested in what Stardust or WWE has to say on Twitter, and that provokes an even bigger reaction. For the company, they will hope this also increases the buyrate for their Pay-Per-View.
With all that in mind, will the match be seen as a success? Both parties will be keen to do so, Amell for his popularity outside of his traditional audience, and WWE for wanting to tap into the comic book crowd. If it doesn’t come off? Well, Oliver Queen might well have failed his city for the first time…