Opinion: Crown Jewel main event shows WWE still has at least one dictator

On the Sept. 19 edition of Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer revealed something quite notable about why Drew McIntyre did not defeat Roman Reigns at Clash at the Castle–saying that the move was likely done because the Saudi Arabian government dictated that Logan Paul vs. Roman Reigns needed to happen at their upcoming Crown Jewel show.

“It’s a completely different situation when it comes to matchmaking in Saudi Arabia. It’s all about something that will get publicity for an event in Saudi Arabia. It’s not about selling tickets,” Meltzer said. “It does explain why Roman Reigns had to beat Drew McIntyre. Because they had this match [Logan Paul vs Roman Reigns] going on and that is why they had to have Drew lose.”

When WOR co-host Bryan Alvarez asked why the Reigns vs. Paul match had to be for the title, and why couldn’t McIntyre win the title at Clash anyway, Meltzer speculated that the Saudi Arabian government likely pressed for Reigns to retain the title.

“It probably matters to the Saudis that it’s a world championship match, and they don’t want to have a non-title match in the main event of their show. They want celebrities, that is why they had Cain Velasques and Tyson Fury. That is what the show is about. They are essentially booking for him [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman],” Meltzer said.

While this conversation will likely fly under the radar in favor of juicier breaking news, the reality is that it is one of the most revealing tidbits of information we have gotten about WWE’s key decision-making and the company’s broader motivations all year. 

For WWE today, unlike the company in the past, the business model is not about servicing its own fanbase. The business model is about serving their biggest corporate partners, one of which is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who (according to Wrestlenomics) pay the company somewhere in the ballpark of $50 million per event, and will have paid the company around $400 million in total by the time Crown Jewel takes place on Nov. 5.

The chart below demonstrates how over the years, WWE’s business profile has shifted from being primarily direct-to-consumer revenue (selling tickets, selling pay-per-views, merchandise, etc.) to business-to-business revenue, which is the large TV deals, the Peacock streaming agreement, and the lucrative KSA deal.

For those reasons, WWE can afford to not be invested in servicing their own fanbase. The reason Drew McIntyre didn’t win the world title at Clash at the Castle, something that would have delighted the 48,000 paid fans who spent millions on tickets for the first major PPV event in Europe in 30 years, was because WWE had a more important customer in mind. 

That customer was Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. According to Meltzer, MBS wanted to have Roman Reigns vs. Logan Paul on his paid show, because a match featuring Reigns and a celebrity like Paul for the world title, would get a lot of mainstream publicity, which is the main motivation for the government paying for a WWE show. 

The point of the WWE shows, like their aim with LIV Golf and Formula 1, is for the Saudi government to host global events that attract attention across the world, and show people that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a place where cool things happen. This is largely done to distract people from the fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does a lot of uncool things, including the murdering of journalists, where being gay is punishable by death, and a prolonged war in Yemen.

So WWE accepted the whims of the Saudi Arabia government because their money is more important to them than the interest of their hardcore fans, who traveled to Clash at the Castle that they want to see gets put on the back burner because not only are they not as valuable to WWE as a partner like MBS and the Saudi government, the hardcore fans will continue to support the product in large numbers even if they are constantly dismissed by WWE and left disappointed. The Saudi interest is likely less durable; WWE needs to continue to satisfy the government, or else the business relationship could be terminated. Or the talent could be held hostage on an airplane trying to leave the country. 

While WWE will presumably always be able to hold on to a portion of their hardcore audience, that audience has been diminishing over the years. The sham of booking the promotion and the world title around the interests of business partners like MBS breeds resentment from the fanbase, and over time those fans have watched their interest in WWE wane. Since the company first started promoting shows in Saudi Arabia in 2018, Raw’s total viewership is down by roughly 35%, going from an average of 2.8 million viewers per week in 2018 to 1.8 million viewers in 2022. 

WWE’s allegiance to Saudi Arabia and booking shows around those interests is not the sole reason for that decline. There are plenty of other reasons, including Vince McMahon’s longstanding war with the fans in pushing Roman Reigns as the top star in the company, and the refusal to push new talent adequately. What those things have in common, though, is that it all comes from a place of WWE not feeling like they have to satisfy their fanbase with rewarding stories and the triumphs of their favorite wrestlers. Instead, the company can force-feed stories that play to the whims of a few key people, often Vince McMahon and as we see here, MBS, and they will make more money than ever thanks to the security of their business-to-business relationships with media conglomerates and despotic governments.

From a raw business perspective, it’s a great strategy and the company has never been more profitable. The issue (beyond the fact that WWE is selling itself to be used as a propaganda tool by an autocratic government) is that the average wrestling fan gets left behind. The company abandons the hopes of fans like the ones at Clash at the Castle, who were given a boring, interference-laden finish to the world title match and saw Drew McIntyre defeated because they need to make the Saudi Crown Prince happy by putting on a celebrity match for the world title at a future show. 

As a fan, it becomes very difficult to get emotionally invested in the major aspects of the product, such as the world championship and who is going to be presented as a top star, when those decisions are being influenced not by fan support, and not even by the egos of the wrestlers or key decision makers, but by the powerful business partnerships with a regime like Saudi Arabia. The dismissal of Drew McIntyre in favor of a vanity celebrity match that typical WWE fans really aren’t interested in seeing, all for the purpose of an attempt to spread the word further that Saudi Arabia is a hip, happening place, makes it very hard to feel engaged in a truly invested capacity. 

With the dismissal of Vince McMahon from WWE, the idealized future by fans was that the company would start listening to its fanbase again and no longer be controlled by the narrow-minded view of one man. However, as the Logan Paul vs. Roman Reigns match and decision-making around it shows, WWE is still being influenced by at least one other dictator.