With pay per views being big business in wrestling today, you can’t blame WWE, TNA and ROH for putting out as many pay per views as possible to get the fans to tune in most months. Unfortunately, in recent years, this has been overdone to the point of exhaustion, as wrestling companies try to market too many events in very short spaces of time.
To any old school WWE fans out there, they may remember the days of the Big Four pay per views, being the Royal Rumble; WrestleMania; SummerSlam and Survivor Series, with King of the Ring being added to that list in 1993. With so few PPV’s each year pre-1995, more emphasis was put on building major storylines with the main event wrestlers, in order to get fans to buy any upcoming event.
Compared to today’s events, this resulted in higher buy rates for the pay per views when there were fewer events on offer. For example, Survivor Series 1990 achieved a buyrate of 3.00 (equivalent to 1.2m buys), while Survivor Series 2009 achieved a buyrate of 0.59 (equivalent to around 250,000 buys). This could be because of a decline in interest in the WWE over the years (especially after the attitude era), but also because of a huge rise in the number of pay per views in 2009. 1990 saw four pay per views, whilst 2009 saw fourteen pay per view events.
With WWE charging about $50 per event ($60 for WrestleMania), fans may not have the money for every event, they may only pick and choose the events they want to see. This would mean the stories need to be compelling to draw the fans in emotionally and convincingly. With the number of pay per views rising, this has had a poor effect on building up storylines effectively.
Take for example September to November 2011, when you had Night of Champions; Hell in a Cell; Vengeance and Survivor Series within a two month period. A vast majority of storylines were not given enough time to develop properly (see Cena/Rock v Miz/R-Truth for Survivor Series), resulting in poor buyrates for some of these events. Vengeance 2011 drew the second worst buyrate in WWE history, with only 130,000 buys (ECW December to Dismember has the worst buyrate I believe) worldwide, suggesting the fans were not interested in another pay per view mere weeks after the previous one. Chances are this was possibly because of financial and storyline reasons, with fans waiting for Survivor Series instead with about 260,000 buys (up from the same event buyrate in 2010).
Compare this to TNA, who only does one pay per view a month, meaning they have more potential to build their events up with more stellar stories. Although this has not always proved to be the case within the company, it allows opportunity for the fans to get emotionally invested in the product and tune in to see what happens next.
There has been a debate over the last few years about whether WWE should lower the number of pay per views they offer each year to around eight (the highest number of PPV’s in one year is sixteen in 2006). However, it’s unlikely WWE will do this anytime soon, as PPV revenue is their biggest market. If you were Vince McMahon, would you lower the number of pay per views you offer and lose revenue? I doubt it.
The key to building interest in pay per views is by building a great story that the fans want to see. WWE did this with Undertaker versus Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam ’98, by building their rivalry for over two months and getting the fans firmly invested into the rivalry. A bigger example is Hogan versus Sting at WCW Starrcade ’97, a rivalry that was built up over a EIGHTEEN MONTH period, since the formation of the NWO. A well built story can hook the crowd in and help boost the buyrate for a specific pay per view (or even a series of pay per views). This is the basis of how many wrestling companies survive today.
There may be too many pay per views today, at too high a price for what the companies are offering, but if they make them money then the number of events will remain high. A lot of this is aimed at the WWE, but only because they offer a ridiculous number of PPV’s in a short period of time. The only issue I have with them is the poor quality of storyline angles they offer.
Improve them and I may purchase their pay per views. Simple as that.