Austin turning heel was a cosmetic mistake that had no real effect on the downward trend that WWE and professional wrestling as a whole was going in. Mainly what happened was that Austin and Rock were barely around after 01, no new stars emerged until Cena and to a lesser extent Batista, and creatively the WWE had gone as far as they were going to go with the Attitude Era. They had to change their philosophy and head in a new direction as a company. It took them long enough because the Ruthless Aggression era was just an extension of the Attitude Era.
Originally Posted by SSJPhenom
As far as when the Attitude Era ended, that's WM 17. Why did interest suddenly decline around this point in time? It was many things, but the biggest were WCW folded and injuries.
When WCW folded and the invasion angle started, a lot of fans, including myself, were expecting the WCW team to be led by Sting, Goldberg, Hall, Nash, Flair, Hogan, DDP, etc. Instead we got Booker T and others. Could you imagine if those guys had of participated in the Invasion. It would've been bigger than the Attitude Era for a time. Also, everyone was gone after WM 17. Well, not everyone, but a lot of people were gone. Trips was gone, the Rock was gone, and others. Plus Austin turned heel. So the biggest face we had was probably Angle. I would say 'Taker but people were still getting acclimated to his American Bad Ass gimmick. Sure, he was the Undertaker, but he wasn't The Undertaker. If that makes sense.
All in all, WCW folded and we had very few top guys on the product at the time. Sure, these guys would come in, incrementally from time to time, but if they had of been there for that angle, it would've been the biggest thing wrestling had ever done.
Couple of issues I have with this belief. First off, paying off your competitions Turner contracts to the last day then reworking a new deal with them does not send a great message to your employees who stayed loyal to you when you were floundering. What would have an Austin, Undertaker, Kane, Rock, HHH thought? What would the guys who jumped from WCW to WWE thought of that these guys were not only getting their contracts paid out, but were now getting to work in WWE again?
Which leads me to my next point; WCW was a trainwreck from 99-01 and no one wanted it. They pissed people off, and that brand wasn't worth bringing in. WWE tried an angle that would have been major in 1998. In 2001, people hated WCW and that infamous Bagwell/Booker T match proves it.