Memo: To Vince McMahon
Chairman of the Board
World Wrestling Federation
At a recent Rule Breaker managers meeting, we discussed your company, World Wrestling Federation (NYSE: WWF).
A household name. A profitable company with sales. Breaks a lot of rules -- appropriate to our Rule Breaker investment approach. Owns its space -- there's a wide moat keeping competitors out of your business. All that and more for a market capitalization of $1 billion at the present price. Not bad. The WWF regularly communicates to ardent fans its own mass-market culture with its own heroes, its own myths that it creates. There's a lot of future repeat-purchase built into your business.
Now, whether WWF cuts it as a Rule Breaker in the complete sense of the term is in doubt. For me, I can't quite get over a few things, most notably the XFL fiasco, the offline equivalent of Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX) diworsification into Internet properties in 1999. And it's about this that I'm writing, because I've been thinking about the XFL.
I actually believe you have a good idea there, just with poor strategy. For the past few months, you have been attempting largely to recreate National Football League (NFL) football, but with inferior players and unknown brands. (The clearest differentiating point I have been able to pick up is that you seem to promise sexier cheerleaders.)
Here's the deal: You're the XFL. Don't try to be the NFL, because you'll always be just a half-pint version of it. Let's do something different, starting, quite literally, with Breaking the Rules -- the NFL's rules. You have an outstanding, high-profile opportunity to create something different, better, and special by correcting numerous crummy, flawed rules that the NFL has institutionalized. In seizing this opportunity, you will create a truly differentiated brand, a league that is unquestionably more entertaining to watch, and a helluva lot more fun to market.
Here's the strategic marketing concept, plain and simple:
The NFL is for wussies.
In marketing speak, this is called "outrageous positioning." But you know what? We're going to communicate its truth. Everything we do, everything we breathe, conveys that: The NFL is for wussies. It is! The NFL has wussy rules that you and I are going to demonstrate are wussy, and in our league we're going to fix that. Our marketing slogan will not be cute or subtle. I'm talking smash-mouth marketing for a smash-mouth game. Here it is:
The NFL is for wussies.(tm)
Later on, you can do a follow-on campaign entitled: "The XFL. Because we had to."(tm)
(Because the NFL is for wussies.)
When you have wussy rules, you create a wussy league that makes wussies out of the players in it. We don't play wussy ball in the XFL. We play smash-mouth. Here are four quick examples of wussy NFL rules that most Americans will come to see for their wussy nature once we reinvent a better game without them.
Holding in the NFL: It is often said that most every play from scrimmage in the NFL involves some form of holding that is usually not called. In rare instances it is, and sometimes in so doing a referee takes away a touchdown due to a rather inconsequential grasp of a jersey away from the ball. I guess if you're going to invent wussy rules and then have sissy referees enforce them, you naturally provide that sort of product to your fans. (And referees should not hold such sway over a game's outcome, either.)
Holding in the XFL: There isn't any holding penalty. If you want to grasp a jersey and throw a guy down, hold all you like. Just make sure you pounce on the guy after you've thrown him down, so he doesn't get up. And make sure you don't miss, or your quarterback will get sacked. We take away the power and the subjectivity from the refs, and we replace that with true macho. It's about freedom. Most of our rule changes are about freedom.
Pass interference in the NFL: Tweeeeeeet! Yellow flag. Instant replay shows the defender slightly jostled the receiver just before the ball reached them. TWEEEEEET! First down for the offensive guys. Wussies.
Pass interference in the XFL: We reject this rule outright. If a defensive back wants to chop a guy at scrimmage, go for it. If he wants to tug on his jersey or ride his back all the way down field, fine. The refs aren't going to get in his way. This is football... not the NFL... and not curling. Now some will think, "Hey, that ruins the passing game altogether." No it doesn't. Think about it. If you play an aggressive knockdown defense in the secondary, you're playing very high-risk because if your defender misses, he's toast. Touchdown. That's exciting either way. More exciting than the NFL, and more exciting than its present analog, curling. (In our ads, we may split-screen NFL play with shots of curling.)
Forward progress in the NFL: "Where did his forward progress take him?" asks the breathless announcer as the offensive player gets driven back seven yards and planted on his back. As if that should matter. Then the refs place the ball back up seven yards (!), measure, and "He gets the first down!" says the announcer. What a travesty. What matters more, forward progress or actual progress?
Forward progress in the XFL: In our league, we measure actual progress. We don't care if a guy breaks the goal line if he winds up on his duff back at the five-yard line. That is not a touchdown, and the ball is placed on the five-yard line. If three defenders want to pick up a running back and run him back 15 yards, let them, mark the ball there, give them credit. What will inevitably happen is that three offensive players will barrel into them to stop them from doing that. Not only is that great team play, it will be a lot of fun to watch, and much more satisfying than sissy refs using instant replay to decide whether some guy "broke the plane of the goal line" when he got dumped on his rear end on the four-yard line.
I can elaborate, but let me close with the essentials. You have an opportunity here. You can create a better version of this sport that is far more fun to watch and much more marketable. You can put the NFL back on its own duff with your marketing, built around showing refs throwing flags promoting sissy play. Make it clear that the NFL is not playing football... at least not real football the way we play it. Our athletes aren't as good. Yes, we admit that! We're not trying to convince anyone that they are. It's just our game that is better. Much better.
If you make these changes, I commit to investing a portion of my own money in the WWF. I am available for more consultation. Foolish best wishes on saving the XFL, and in so doing, enhancing WWF shareholder prospects.
Break the Rules. Stop playing by them.
David Gardner, April 3, 2001
Let Vince know how you feel about making the XFL less wussy in this poll: Should the XFL break the rules?
a) I basically agree with all these suggestions.
b) I don't know about the pass-interference thing, but...
c) I don't know about the holding thing, but...
d) I don't know about the forward-progress thing, but...
e) None of these suggestions would work.
David Gardner is co-founder of The Motley Fool. Since this portfolio is his money, he owns all the stocks in it, including Starbucks. He doesn't own shares of WWF. For a complete list of his holdings, see his profile. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.