There have always been many misconceptions surrounding the reason WWE officially changed its name from World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2001. For many this change in name symbolised the transitioning of a new era.
Gone were the days of the bloody & violent Attitude Era and in came the more streamlined & clean-cut Ruthless Aggression era. WWE slowly began to transition out the full-time top stars like Stone Cold & The Rock and in came a new batch of guys to lead the way.
The reality is, the name did unconsciously signify a new era but that wasn't the reason it was changed.
In 1980, Vince McMahon Jr. founded the company Titan Sports and attributed it the acronym "WWF". This is where the initial conflict arose as another organisation in the U.S was using the same initials.
World Wide Fund for Nature is a British organisation that deals with conservation issues, they seek to preserve wildlife and reduce the human race's ecological footprint. The charity was founded in 1961 and adopted the initials for a trademark the same year.
The charity used the 'WWF' initials in the US but used their full name of World Wide Fund for Nature outside the U.S from 1989 onwards. In 1994, Vince's Titan Sports entered a law-binding agreement with World Wide Fund for Nature that Titan Sports would stop using the WWF acronym in relation to wrestling and would limit its spoken use on live broadcasts.
In turn, Titan Sports would be allowed to use the words "World Wrestling Federation" on their logo. In 2000, WWFN claimed that the terms of this agreement were violated and responded with legal action.
The charity took Vince McMahon and his company to court and got an injunction approved to take away WWE's rights to the 'WWF' initials. A few months later, the London Court Appeal denied WWE to challenge the injunction put in place in 2001, to give the company rights to the initials in the United States.
Once it was official, the change of name was announced on an episode of Monday Night Raw. The last ever WWE televised event to use the WWF logo was the UK-based pay-per-view Insurrextion in 2002.
In 2003, WWE won a minor decision in court that allowed to market their video games with THQ, with the original WWF logo for a short period of time. A decision that saved them thousands of dollars in repackaging and distribution.
The reason the wildlife charity were so adamant to be given sole rights to the 'WWF' initials is because they felt it was hurting their company's image to be associated with the wrestling industry in any way.
WWFN claimed they used the law to help because they wanted to protect their brand and create distance between themselves and Vince McMahon's antics.
The massive rebranding overhaul the WWE had to embark upon, reportedly cost the company millions through the rebranding of merchandise stocks that were already ready to ship. This included all shirts, souvenirs, hats and posters.
Despite the massive change in business they were about to face, the company put on a brave face and instead embraced the change. The decision caused many a sleepless night in the WWE HQ in Stamford, Connecticut as the company began to frantically think of ways to positively spin the news to their audience.
In 2001, Linda McMahon stated: "Our new name puts the emphasis on the 'E' for entertainment, what our company does best." From a PR standpoint, there was a shift in focus from athletic ability to live entertainment.
The whole ordeal of a name change, essentially a new identity, can be stressful for any corporation on several levels, not only at face value in terms of logos and merchandise but also in terms of the modification of legal documentation and identification on the stock market.
The WWE has fought long and hard to re-establish itself over the past 15 years, the change facilitated a shift in programming and eventually signified a new era for professional wrestling.
Casual viewers today often still refer to 'WWF' when talking about wrestling, which is understandable due to it being the most popular era of the industry, which may always be a negative connotation of the WWE era.
However, wrestling fans should never view the name change as a bad thing, it's just something that had to be done for legal reasons and to ensure the future of professional wrestling was secured.
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