Triple H talks at Leaders Week about Talent, Storytelling and Listening to the Fans

This year Stamford Bridge, the historic home of Chelsea FC, hosted Leaders Sport Business Summit as part of Leaders Week, a yearly meeting for some of the best and brightest minds in the corporate world of sport. VultureHound Magazine was lucky enough to be in the audience as WWE’s EVP of Talent, Live Events & Creative, Paul Levesque – otherwise known by his character name of Triple H – dropped in to give a rare, candid talk on WWE’s creative process to a crowd packed full of potential sponsors and partners. He talked about how the fan’s influence creative decisions, the keys to WWE’s success and what they look for in a potential wrestler; and without trying to sound too much like clickbait, the answer to that last question may surprise you.

On trying to pinpoint the key to WWE’s success Paul talked of the importance legacy had to play. “One of the things WWE does across the board is it resonates generationally. It’s a family event. More co-viewing happens with WWE than almost every other sporting event, and then it resonates through generations. Now with the WWE Network fans that are watching John Cena can sit with your dad and your dad can go, ‘Yeah, yeah. Now let me show you Hulk Hogan.’ Then his dad can say, ‘Yeah? Let me show you Bruno Sammartino.’”

Then the Triple H gave us something WWE don’t do very often, gave us a peek at their creative process. “It starts with a large team – although not as large as you would think; for as big as we are there’s only 800 employees – basically we start at the beginning. Creating the characters, character archetypes, backstories and who these characters are. Those characters are designed to resonate with all different levels. From the kids, to the teenagers that take things more seriously, to the mom or dad that are looking for role models for their children. Something for everybody.

“We have an entire writing team and we’re looking at creating arcs and storylines that take you through not only a week-to-week basis, but through the arc of a character’s entire career. We work with the talent to create what’s right for their characters. A lot of the time people ask ‘If you’re asking the talent what they want, why don’t they just ask to be champion?’ Being the champion doesn’t work because if you’re the underdog, then you’ve ruined the underdog part. You have to be conscious of who the character is and how it resonates.”

Paul was then asked how a live show in front of a participating audience has to adapt to fan feedback, even as the show is happening. “We call our fan base the WWE Universe because we’re the first product that was inclusive to its fan base, where they really dictate to us what they want. They told us they wanted more out of our female performers. It wasn’t that long ago that they were tertiary characters – but when our fan base got tired of it they started a trend online through social media on Twitter, #givedivasachance. It trended at number one, globally, for three straight days. We then rebranded our Divas Division to the Women’s Division, started calling them Superstars just like the men, we increased their match time, storyline time, character depth to where now our women are main-eventing PPVs, and on October 28th in Long Island, we’ll have an event called Evolution, the company’s first ever women’s only PPV.

“Every night of the year fans are telling us who they want to be good guys, who they want to be bad guys. Sometimes we go in the opposite direction because we can sense where they want to go and we take the long way around to make it be a better story. The secret to our success, is our audience guides where everything goes. Imagine you had a sporting event you could control. You’re not going to get the first round knock-out. You’re going to get the great event every time.”

One of the big revelations came from how WWE recruits its newest Superstars. “We’ve changed a lot of how we recruit. A lot of people think we’re looking for the best athletes, but we’re really breaking them down – looking for different traits. We break them down physically because you see how people really react when they’re exhausted. Also, charisma is king. Who can be the best character? But bigger than that, first and foremost, I look for the human being. I don’t want to see the person that pushes the other person down. I’m looking for emergent leaders. For the person that wants to do this for the right reasons. To put smiles on people’s faces. Our talent are trained at every level from media training to community service but none of our performers are contractually obligated to do any charity work, but they all do. We have a 30-year relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The most humbling thing in the world is to be a kid’s wish.”