Comparing promotions and their booking styles is something overdone, especially on social media. But when you see AEW tell a 3-year long story and having a payoff (the right one too), we however don’t see that with WWE anymore.
When was the last time AEW told a successful long term story? The best examples people try to mention are Kofi and Bryan Danielson’s wins as world champions at WrestleMania. Both stories were great, but they were not part of WWE’s plan from the start, WWE should great credit for pivoting to this stories, but still, they were not part of their plans. In AEW for example, Hangman beating Omega for the title was the plan and Tony Khan has mentioned he knew who he’s first four world champions would be and their were hints to it, if you paid close enough attention.
The last long term WWE tried to tell was that of Roman Reigns and he’s rise as the face of WWE. That story FAILED. Fans rejected Roman, it was not his fault but Vince’s and his stubbornness. It took WWE way too long to realize that turning Roman heel was the way to go and even then Vince McMahon was hesitant to do.
Wrestling fans nowadays don’t have the patience for long term stories, but if you present the right story they’ll be hooked. Like we’ve seen in NJPW with Okada and his long feud with Tanahashi or Naito and his journey to become IWGP Heavyweight Champion again.
Promotions with TV time, know that they have limited time to tell stories, especially with AEW and their 3 hours of TV. WWE has the advantage of having 5 hours of TV (RAW- 3H & SD-2H) for their main roster. WWE has more TV time to tell any story they want and you also have tools like social media that can help tell your stories, AEW has shown the potential of using social media in your favor. WWE doesn’t use it much.
Vince McMahon and WWE have their structure of a 4 week build for PPV matches and stories have to be fast and not waste time, even though WWE has all the time in the world to tell any long term story they want. The main issue is, and you guess it right, Vince McMahon. Vince McMahon’s booking is not long term driving since forever and he doesn’t really need it, especially with the money deals they have. WWE doesn’t need to tell a good long term story, they just need to deliver hours of content, it’s actually quality is not important.
NXT was for a time the best example of WWE still being able to tell long term stories, like the Gargano-Ciampa feud. The problem is that the feud lost momentum along the way but Paul Levesque continued the feud until no one wanted to see both wrestlers share a ring ever again. Another problem is that got too overdramatic, but that was more of an issue with NXT overall during the Wednesday Night Wars.
So, to go back to the original question, can WWE tell long term stories? The answer is no, Vince McMahon and his creative team don’t have the capacity to tell long term stories promotions like NJPW or AEW can tell their audiences because they have trust in them and that down the line they’ll get the result they want of the story they are watching.