For Your Consideration Cross-Brand Pay-Per-Views Are a Bad Idea

Welcome back to Week 5. Before I begin, I want to clarify something I mentioned at the top of last week’s column. Last week, I hyped my new and exciting graphic, beaming with pride over the fact that now some people might not mistake this for a news story and skip over it. Then, as I was uploading the column, I took the appropriate steps to link the new graphic. Unfortunately, due to my severe lack of computer skills in this area, I was unable to get the damn thing to upload. I tried a few more times-unsuccessfully-and ultimately a picture of Jeff Jarrett went up instead. In hindsight, I’m glad it was a picture of Jarrett, because last week I talked about all the problems in TNA and I think his mug sums it up. The buck stops with that guy. This week, however, I think I’ve got all the kinks out, and there should be my shiny new graphic.

I hope everyone that suffered through the nor’easter is doing well, and it makes me glad that hurricane season is still a little ways off. Also, I know it isn’t wrestling related, but I wanted to quickly say something about Don Imus. In my opinion, Imus got a raw deal. Yes, he said something that he probably shouldn’t say, but he was more a victim of circumstance than anything else. Don Imus is a “shock jock”, but he’s a “shock jock” from yesteryear. He comes from a time when it didn’t take much to shock the public, and I believe his war with Howard Stern had something to do with the fact that he could see that Howard was working diligently to make Don less relevant. It reminds me of a great Simpsons quote when Bart was talking about how unscary Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” was and that it was about as frightening as the first Nightmare on Elm Street, which was tame by today’s standards. Imus is a victim of not being shocking enough on a daily basis, which is why this caused such an uproar. Combine that with the current rash of celebrity racial comments and you have the perfect storm. Imus wasn’t fired because CBS disagreed with his comments. Imus was fired because the advertisers got terrified at the thought of a boycott. This is not unlike when the Parent Television Council lobbied Coke to pull their ads from Smackdown. There was a fear that Smackdown was going to be pulled, but thankfully R/C Cola stepped up and took Coke’s spot. Don Imus was fired because of business, and if you think that it was because of racism, then careful climbing down off that high horse.

This was a relatively uneventful week in terms of wrestling. TNA had their PPV, and the results really didn’t surprise me all that much. I think the only match that I didn’t predict correctly was the Jackie/Gail Kim match which I will blame on the coin that I flipped. The rest of the show looks to be standard paint-by-numbers. If I wind up reading something that says that this was the “best PPV of the year”, then maybe I’ll search for it online. In reality, I probably won’t.

Well, it looks like 2 of my columns might be coming to fruition. In my first week, I wrote about CM Punk turning heel. I said that he would be the perfect fit for the New Breed and could feud nicely with the Originals until it’s time for him to be fed to Lashley. Well, now it’s put-up or shut-up time for ECW. Unless this is going to be a double-swerve (which it just might be), I think we’ll see a fresh program that should be fun for a few months. (Note to Eric: we might just see Elijah/Punk because Punk’s first move might be to drum out the de-facto leader of the group) Then, in week 2, I wrote that Chris Benoit should be kept on Smackdown. It now looks like Benoit is going to be kept on Smackdown. The universal praise that is being heaped on MVP might be a little nauseating, but at least people see that it is because he’s in there with Chris Benoit. Week 3 was kind of a throw-away column because it dealt with the post-Mania RAW, and we still have about 50 weeks to go to see if they heed my advise. Now last week’s column seemed to catch Pulse Glazer in a negative way, so I want to clarify my point to him,

Aaron disagreed with a statement that I made about ROH being TNA’s ECW. First off, I’m a fan of ROH and have a lot of respect for their desire to give fans quality wrestling matches. My point, however, was that there are a lot of guys on the TNA roster who have an association with ROH, just like WWE used to have a lot of ECW guys. Now, not every guy that was an “ECW guy” started in ECW, just like every “ROH guy” didn’t start in ROH. Take Christopher Daniels. I know he was a big independent guy, but I equate him (though not in wrestling) to Chris Candido. Chris was an independent guy who did some great work in Smokey Mountain Wrestling (if anyone remembers when he killed Boots the Cat, that might be the best moment in SMW’s history) and was in the WWE as Skip, but he became an ECW guy. Even when he wound up in WCW, he was there as an “ECW guy”. What I meant by the ROH/TNA/ECW thing was that a lot of TNA’s roster is made up of ROH guys. Hell, TNA guys still pop up on ROH programming. That blurred line between companies was not unlike the ECW/WWE relationship. It wasn’t until recently that ROH has been getting the respect that it deserves from the WWE, and CM Punk and the recent signing of Colt Cabana demonstrates that. However, TNA has traditionally been the place for ROH guys to go. Lastly, I’m a fan of Aaron’s column and I don’t want anyone to mistake this for bad blood at all. In fact, I couldn’t be happier that someone took the time to disagree with something that I said. I’ve encouraged since week one for people to shoot me feedback and either concur or dissent from what I say. Hell, right now’s just as good a time as any to get that plug in: if you want to comment about something you read here this week (or any prior week, handily available for your consumption in the archives section), please e-mail me at awheeler316@yahoo.com or post on our forum (a link is conveniently available at the bottom of the page). Sixty percent of the time it works every time.

Moving on from my shameless plug, I think it’s time to get to the core of today’s column. This topic is even more shameless than my weekly plea for feedback. I’m talking about the major company shift that the WWE is taking regarding its monthly pay-per-views. With that

For Your Consideration Cross-Brand Pay-Per-Views Are a Bad Idea

Let me begin by clarifying my statement and narrow my focus. I am all in favor of the big 4 cross-brand shows of the year (Wrestlemania, Rumble, Survivor Series and Summerslam), but what I am not as gung-ho about is the concept of integrating the lesser PPVs. Why, you ask? Good question.

As usual, I will try to look at this as logically as I can from all of the angles. First, I’m going to break this down as far as storylines go. Second, I will look at the impact that this has on the roster. Finally, I will examine how this hurts you, the consumer.

First, combining the pay-per-views is going to do damage to the storylines. I was not the world’s largest fan of the brand extension when it first happened. I was living in a city that didn’t have its own UPN affiliate, which meant that they only way I could catch Smackdown was to tape it off of the local CBS station that would air it Saturday night at 1 am (assuming it wasn’t pre-empted). Yes, back before the days of torrents, people did have to use VCRs. Thanks to this schedule conflict, I was by default forced to watch only RAW on a regular basis.

Eventually, I grew to accept the new vision that the WWE had (maybe because we finally got a UPN station?) and saw what they were trying to accomplish. Yes, there was money to be made in splitting the roster, but it was also allowing more guys to have a shot at the top. You could have two champions each be “the man”, and you could have two challengers chasing their respective champion. It made more main-eventers, which can only help in the long run. The brand extension gave us the surprisingly entertaining lotteries, the highly entertaining Eric Bischoff on a weekly basis, only being subjected to Stephanie “Hootie McBoob” McMahon once a week and the great moment at Wrestlemania 20 when Benoit and Guerrero embraced as co-champions. The brand extension prevented over-exposure of guys like Triple H and allowed a guy like Rey Mysterio step up to the main event.

In its current form, the brand extension has given us more main event superstars. John Cena, Batista, Rey Mysterio, Undertaker, Edge, Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, The Big Show, Triple H, Umaga, Booker T, Rob Van Dam and Bobby Lashley have all been either world champion or in the hunt, something that couldn’t happen with just one world title. The brand extension keeps guys fresh in the fans minds, reminding the casual viewer who the main event players are. If there was just one belt and one brand, as soon as Edge lost his title, he would fall behind roughly 10 guys until he gets his shot at the main event again. Now, the cycle is shorter and there’s less of a chance that a guy falls out of the top slot.

The monthly single-brand pay-per-views meant that the writing staff could create longer storylines to support the matches. This meant that they didn’t have to rush a title match in just 4 weeks, but rather stretch a story to 7 or 8 weeks because it had an inevitable conclusion. Since the next pay-per-view after Wrestlemania is always Backlash, that meant that Smackdown had a good 2 months to build to a Batista/Taker rematch. That could have led to a more nuanced storyline that could add a new level to the inevitable rematch. Instead, we’re getting the simple, “Hey Undertaker, I want a rematch in a few weeks.” There’s no added intrigue and for the second straight time, the World Heavyweight Championship is being promoted as the lesser title.

Allowing storylines to progress over longer periods of time could be a negative in the hands of creative. There’s always a chance that they could botch the program when given too much time, but that seems to be more the exception than the rule. Also, since there would be about 2 months between PPVs for that specific brand, it meant that the brand that didn’t have a show coming up would put on a PPV-worthy match on live TV to compensate (more on that in a minute). By not forcing creative to rush a match, the WWE was giving the fans a chance to care about the main event instead of just accept whatever is slapped together haphazardly in 3 weeks.

Next, the cross-brand PPVs will hurt morale among the wrestlers. Yeah, wrestlers are supposed to be big boys and learn to suck it up, but this is ridiculous. By taking up more slots on a PPV with “high level” matches, this is going to undercut talent that is already struggling to get on television. Guys like Chavo Guerrero, Kendrick & London, Kenny Dykstra and Super Crazy now have even less of a chance of making it to a PPV and getting that pay bonus. Appearing on a PPV gives a nice little bump to the paycheck, and the guys that could use it the most are getting the short end of the stick. Vince has made it no secret that RAW is the flagship show and that Smackdown will always be the second fiddle along with ECW as the retarded red-headed stepchild. What this means is that we are not going to see more integration. Instead, we’re going to see more RAW. Namely, more John Cena and more DX. Also, this allows Vince to wheel out his pet project Lashley on a monthly basis. Stop the pain. Poor Smackdown has been making the best use of the talent that they have and has established pretty much everyone on their roster in one way or the other. Smackdown has been able to have main events with guys like MVP and the Miz and still not make the show seem weak. RAW has infinitely more star power, yet it is not always the better show. The guys on Smackdown aren’t as flashy, but they deserve their slots on their own PPVs. The undercard of RAW is so disparate to the main event that having a RAW-only PPV would allow guys like Benjamin and Haas to get more face time on a bigger stage.

Now, the response to this would be something along the lines of survival of the fittest. With fewer spots available on monthly PPVs, this should mean that there will be guys working twice as hard to get on TV. Well, yes and no. Sure, this means that everyone will step it up in an attempt to get noticed, but even the guys that deserve to be out there because of their skills are still going to get screwed. When the Great Khali is making it onto Wrestlemania and Ric Flair isn’t, you know you’ve got a colossal problem on your hands. There is nothing that seems to encourage guys to bust their asses in the first place when you see something like that, and now that there is even less of a chance of getting the PPV payday, one has to question what’s getting these guys out of bed every day.

In the end, the fans will suffer from this idea. Not only are we going to get weaker storylines but we’re also going to be flooded with the same few superstars every month. There’s less of a chance of a breakout star now. Get used to seeing Triple H every month, John Cena every month and the Undertaker every month.

The WWE cited the reasoning behind this was that there were softening sales of the single-brand shows. They referenced Armageddon, No Way Out and Cyber Sunday as underperforming this past year. If you look at those 3 shows, they were all headlined by cross-brand matches. Worse, they were all headlined by meaningless cross-brand matches. None of those shows featured a heavyweight title match (with the exception of the ECW title match at NWO) and none of those shows featured a “dream match”.

The great part about the brand extension was that there still were dream matches that fans wanted to see. We’d never seen Batista/Cena or HBK/Mysterio, matches that surely would have been throw-aways if there wasn’t the separation. Now, when they tear down the wall, nothing will stop Vince from throwing away “dream matches” for the sake of spiking the rating of the Great American Bash, even though it probably won’t work. Combine this with the loss of the “supershow” that I mentioned earlier, and the fans are not going to get the best value.

Probably the biggest loser in this is going to be ECW. Yes, December to Dismember was a disaster, but One Night Stand is still an unblemished show. It was a PPV that I was looking forward to when it happened. Now, it’ll be interchangeable with No Mercy or Judgment Day.

This takes away the luster of the big 4 shows and will drag the WWE back into the cyclical problems that has plagued the company for years. The answer isn’t combining the brands for PPVs, the answer is giving us quality matches with capable brand-specific superstars on PPVs. Give the fans what they want, because what they don’t want is 16 PPVs a year featuring Snitsky.

This has been for your consideration.

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