Paul 'Triple H' Levesque answers questions following WWE's Backlash Premium Live Event. Screen grab: WWE

WWE has a media problem.

That much has evident in the aftermath of the WWE Backlash Premium Live Event in Lyon, France, last week.

While the show was one of WWE’s best reviewed of the year, the biggest story to come out of it — at least in media circles — was Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s response to a question at the post-show press conference. After freelance reporter Lucas Charpiot asked WWE’s chief content officer whether Drew Gulak’s departure from the company had anything to do with allegations made by Ronda Rousey, Levesque responded by taking a shot at the two media outlets — Fightful and PWInsider — the reporter cited before clarifying that Gulak hadn’t been released, his contract just hadn’t been renewed. He didn’t address the portion of the question regarding Rousey.

The fallout from Levesque’s press conference performance has been vast.

WWE quickly did its best to mend fences with Fightful and PWInsider, while Charpiot revealed to POST Wrestling that a WWE P.R. staffer had told him, “what a dumb thing to do” immediately after he asked his question. Over the weekend, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter‘s Dave Meltzer — arguably the most prominent pro wrestling journalist — commented on the current “sad” state of the wrestling media.

“I watch the WWE pressers, and when they had the pre-show conference calls I was on a lot of them,” Meltzer said on Wrestling Observer Radio. “As soon as they said who the person was, there were seven or eight people that I knew it would be a good question, and if it wasn’t one of them there would be these questions that made me gag.”

Meltzer’s comment isn’t necessarily unique, as the backlash to Backlash has resulted in multiple meta conversations about the role of the wrestling media. Ultimately, such conversations typically boil down to the belief from traditional journalists — such as Meltzer — that press conferences should focus on hard-hitting questions about business dealings and controversies, with others — let’s call them “content creators” — defending their more fan-friendly (and WWE-friendly) approaches.

This is where these conversations miss the mark. On both sides.

The problem with WWE press conferences isn’t the questions being asked, per se. Rather it’s the limited opportunities media members get to ask them.

Currently, the pro wrestling giant only holds press conferences after its PLEs, which typically occur once a month. They usually feature wrestlers (or “superstars”) who had big moments in the show and are capped by a question and answer session with Levesque, which last roughly 15-20 minutes.

That means that members of the wrestling media — at least those who are credentialed — get less than a half-hour each month to talk to WWE’s most public-facing executive about both on and off-screen matters. To put that number in perspective, a college football coach typically holds a 20-30 minute press conference to start the week before providing a mid-week update and then taking questions after each game. In the NFL, head coaches talk on a nearly daily basis — as is the case in the NBA, where head coaches address the media both immediately before and after games.

The wrestling media actually isn’t that different from the general sports media in that it consists of a variety of outlets with different goals and audiences to serve. A football press conference can contain a tried and true journalist asking about a player’s suspension and a writer from a fan blog curious about how the third-string running back is performing in practice. Similarly, a wrestling press conference can include a a business-based reporter asking about the latest Vince McMahon lawsuit and a content creator eager to give Levesque the opportunity to praise an up-and-coming talent.

The only difference is that in the sports press conference, the reporters know there will be opportunities for both of their questions to be asked.

When Levesque was asked about McMahon’s ouster from the company following allegations of sexual misconduct in January, the former WWE champion said he was choosing to focus on the positives of  the Royal Rumble event — a response he was understandably criticized for. But even though I thought Levesque’s performance at the press conference was tone deaf, I also understood where he was coming from. After all, you likely wouldn’t bombard a football coach with questions about off-field controversies in the moments after his team just won the Super Bowl.

But that also doesn’t mean those questions shouldn’t be asked, period. And the reason why reporters are more likely to focus on the game itself in a postgame press conference is because they know they’ll have the opportunity to ask their other questions during a weekly press conferences.

The wrestling media isn’t as fortunate, as their only access to Levesque — or any WWE executive, for that matter — is typically limited to the 15-20-minute Q&A session following each PLE. That means such sessions are often filled with a mismatch of reporters asking hard-hitting questions and others asking questions that sound like they were fed from WWE P.R. — the latter certainly outweighs the former — creating a disjointed experience for all involved.

Of course, the biggest question in all of this might be what’s the point of a pro wrestling press conference anyways? It wasn’t until a few years ago that they became commonplace, with Levesque hosting pre-NXT conference calls, AEW’s Tony Khan holding post-show press conferences and Levesque later doing the same after succeeding McMahon as the public face of WWE.

The answer — beyond WWE now getting the pressers sponsored — can likely be traced to their desire to be treated like a real sport. Throughout most of its history, pro wrestling has operated in this weird space between sports and entertainment. And considering Tony Khan’s links to the NFL and EPL and WWE president Nick Khan’s (no relation) background as a sports media agent, it would make sense that both companies would lean into the sports-related aspects of the industry.

But if you’re going to open yourself up to media access, you can’t just expect all of the good and none of the bad. Andy Reid doesn’t only answer questions after the Chiefs win the Super Bowl — he also does so during losing streaks, suspensions and worse.

Having said all that, I don’t expect WWE to change its ways or for Levesque to start having weekly press conferences where he can be asked more questions about the company’s controversies and business dealings. After all, even the response to the Backlash press conference is a minor blip for WWE during what’s otherwise been a modern boom period for the company.

But unless something does change, you can count on more of the same when it comes to the awkward nature of these press conferences, which still feel just as kayfabe (fake) as they do authentic. And that means that despite its efforts, WWE will likely remain in the same weird space between sports and entertainment that these press conferences are seemingly designed to help it escape.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.