Thursday Morning Backlash on WWE vs. UFC Buy-Rates and What They Tell Us

Okay, I promised the top 25 talkers in WWE History. I lied. Those are on my other computer (which isn’t where I now am) and, well, I’m not re-writing the list. Tomorrow is the Bragging Rights preview, so you’ll all be waiting until Monday for the top 25 wrestler talkers, which works, since Monday is usually my report card on a PPV, but I’ll be missing the show to watch the Packers kill Judas. But… since we’re discussing me missing a WWE PPV, and I’d never dream of missing Brock Lesnar’s fight Saturday… it’s time to look at WWE vs. UFC’s buy-rates and what they tell us.

In the WWE, the majority of the company’s focus is to up television ratings, which are regularly in the 3.5 to 3.8 range. This increases advertising for that show and, in (partially disproved by UFC) theory, more people watching means a greater potential range for buyers, whether in merchandising or Pay Per Views. Top wrestlers, as such, appear and wrestle almost every week, leading fans the ability to see their favorites regularly should they tune in and supporting a soap opera, weekly story format. In the WWE, there are two real champions that are expected to draw money to see people face them and everyone is working towards getting a shot at one of those two, who often remain in place for years, if not decades, on Raw or Smackdown, no matter how far down the card they are.

UFC goes almost entirely the opposite way. Their television show ratings are around TNA’s (the secondary wrestling promotion in America) at 1.1 or so, at best, but their buyrates are through the roof. Advertising for television can’t be great, but a nearly gratuitous use of sponsors all over the ring and often even on some fighters makes up for much of that. Fighters almost never fight on regular television, making each time big names match up an event. There are different divisions, meaning multiple champions who each have numerous challengers lined up at a time and that no one needs to fight every month, let alone every week, meaning not only is anticipation to see a top guy fight insane, but there is plenty of time between fights to build new challengers. Champions and other top guys over time are replaced as their skills fade, allowing new challengers to make their name against top level or former top level opponents who have marquee value.

With UFC absolutely slaughtering WWE’s very best buyrates, there is clearly a lot the WWE can learn from UFC’s business model. First and foremost is that separate, equally treated divisions on each show would add a lot of variety to shows, making more people draws and more people matter. Eventually open-weight dream matches could occur between divisions that would draw huge, but that’s after long-term build and establishment of the concept.

Along with this, champions shouldn’t wrestle on regular television. Let television be used to establish challengers and create new draws. With two, perhaps three if you count tag titles, divisions per show, that’s more than enough to fill a show. Television ratings might go down initially, but with the use of tournaments and appearances, but not matches of top guys, they won’t go down terribly, while fans needing to pay to see a John Cena or Triple H should send Pay Per View and house show business up a great deal.

Another WWE could learn from MMA is that new top guys need to be regularly created. There’s no rule that there can only be a few on top at a time. Multiple top wrestlers can be sustained, so long as there are interesting things for them to do. First, whoever dethrones the top champion is a star. Then, whoever faces that former top champion is in a major program that can draw and if the new guy wins, you have three stars where you just had one.

The final concept WWE should take from UFC is to use rankings and other statistics. Far and away a great group of fans and former wrestling fans enjoy minor tweaks like this. They allow for greater study and going in depth on the product beyond the superficial, digging into history in an objective way.

Of course, most of these changes are simply not going to happen in the WWE. Beyond being a publicly traded company that’s got a great aversion to financial risk, Vince McMahon, who’s ultimately in charge of WWE’s creative vision, is a stubborn man who will continue to do what has worked for him in the past, even when it’s apparent that he’s beating a dead horse. Because of this, UFC will continue to earn its fans hard earned money for their Pay Per View events, while WWE will get a far smaller percentage of their fans cash.

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