WWE PPV Explained

No Way Out did a disappointing buyrate, with a first company estimate of just under 200,000 buys. WWE were expecting an above-average buyrate on the back of the ‘dream team’ main event of John Cena & Shawn Michaels vs. Batista & The Undertaker. The card also had Bobby Lashley vs. Ken Kennedy, so the main stars from all three brands were represented in keeping with the recent decision to feature Raw, Smackdown and ECW on all 16 PPVs.

That decision had arisen from Vince McMahon’s recent concern over the success or lack thereof from the single-brand PPVs, which he began to express after Cyber Sunday and increased tenfold after December to Dismember. The ‘big nine’ stars, listed as Cena, Michaels, Batista, Undertaker, Triple H, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton and Lashley will now be on virtually every PPV, supplemented by workers on the level of Kane, Booker and Kennedy, while those on the level of Paul London & Brian Kendrick will be featured less on PPV, subsequently pushed less on TV, and be in line for fewer bonuses as a result. As well as the wrestling talent, all three announce teams are expected to work every PPV show too.

Rather ironically, the change in direction for PPVs came on the back of the plan to expand the product into international brands. However, as WWE now wants to use their ‘big nine’ for their existing PPVs any new territories would be extremely limited in their use of these names. Only Mysterio would definitely be moved from the USA market to headline the planned Latin brand, while one of Batista, Lashley, Edge or Orton would likely be moved elsewhere on anything approaching a permanent basis. The other headliners could potentially work limited dates overseas whilst flying back to perform on North American PPVs too, although this is all preliminary as nothing would happen on the international front until 2008 at the earliest.

Still, the idea seems to be that most of the international promotions’ stars would be current stars from Japan and Mexico, current WWE midcarders moved up to the main event level, current developmental talent and some rehired ’80s and ’90s stars. WWE would also like to launch PPVs in each international territory exclusive to that territory, which raises logistical questions about production values and buyrates. Current PPVs do a maximum of around 50,000 buys in Europe and that alone would not cover the expense of producing such a show at the existing level of quality. Meanwhile, domestic buyrates without the international market would fall to around 140,000 maximum, again making them far less profitable.

WWE’s concern over their PPV business comes at a time when their house show numbers are way up on recent years. That has been largely attributed to the presence of Cena and Mysterio and how they are drawing in a new generation of kids to the product. The drawback is that while parents might be convinced to take their children to a live event to see these superstars, or even to purchase their DVDs or T-shirts, they are far less likely to agree to spend $40 on a PPV when Cena or Mysterio could be seen on TV for free at least once a week. Whether this pays off in the long-run when younger fans become old enough to purchase PPVs themselves remains to be seen, as by then the entire landscape of WWE’s product could have changed drastically.

In the WWE January business comparisons, they made about $4.4 million in domestic house shows and $12.25 million in worldwide PPV events, reinforcing how important PPV is to their finances. The house show numbers were up from $3.8 million last year but the PPV numbers were down from $13.83 million. New Year’s Revolution fell badly, from 345,000 buys earning $4.7 million with an Elimination Chamber main event to 220,000 buys earning $3.4 million headlined by Cena/Umaga. Meanwhile, the Royal Rumble decreased from 564,000 buys earning $7.7 million last year to 490,000 buys earning $7.81 million this year, with the PPV price increase sustaining profits.

On TV, Raw averaged 5.36 million viewers in January. That’s the best number of viewers in a month for years, largely attributed to college dorms now being included in ratings and an increased availability of the USA Network. Raw did better ratings last year but had slightly less viewers overall. Smackdown averaged 4.4 million viewers, way down from 4.9 million last year in spite of the dorms factor and the CW network having more exposure than UPN did.

Credit: Wrestling Observer newsletter (click here for subscription information)

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