Despite pay-per-view being less important to WWE’s bottom line than it was a decade ago, it’s still one of the most profitable revenue streams the company has, and it’s the one WWE’s wrestlers and writers have immediate, direct impact on than any other. It’s not a test of corporate’s skills in negotiating a new television contract or beholden to the zeitgeist of the television advertising world. It’s a great, nearly instant indicator of who (and what) is clicking with the audience. Its money coming directly out of fans’ pockets for something they want to pay to see.
Back in January, I looked at which PPV main events did the best in 2012. Now, with WWE submitting its latest financial report on August 2, we have a clear picture of how this year’s WrestleMania season stacked up historically in terms of what got people excited enough to part with their money. I’ve tweaked the way in which I calculate the scores you see below. A detailed breakdown of where these scores came from is available at the bottom of this post. The brief explanation is that domestic PPV buys for each event were compared against similar PPVs from the past seven years, with extra weight given to PPVs from the past three years and equivalent PPVs. The suggested retail price of each PPV was factored in, adjusted for inflation. The big three PPVs were not compared against other PPVs.
The score was meant to reveal how a PPV did relative to how similar shows have done in the recent past, or, “did this PPV perform better or worse than it ought to have?”
The average score for PPVs in the twelve-month period was +1,208, indicating that WWE slightly over-performed over the twelve-month period.
Pay-per-views with special guests The Rock and/or Brock Lesnar averaged a score of +14,324 indicating they did better than their historical equivalents.
Over the past year, WWE continued their trend of relying on guest stars to pump up their PPV business. It’s a strategy that, since WrestleMania XXVII in 2010, has helped to revive a lagging PPV business. The top three PPVs that over-performed were all anchored by main events featuring either The Rock or Brock Lesnar.
What we see, though, is that rematch fatigue when it comes to major match-ups with those special guests is starting to creep in. The rematches of Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H over the twelve month period and John Cena vs. The Rock at WrestleMania have resulted in diminishing returns. In terms of domestic buys, WrestleMania 29’s 623,000 was actually lower than WrestleMania 27, where The Rock was simply the guest host — not even wrestling in a match. With The Rock’s future in WWE questionable and Brock Lesnar becoming less and less “special” of a guest, the question becomes how WWE deals with its special guests either leaving or becoming standard fare. Do they dig deep to bring back aging stars such as Austin, Goldberg, or Sting; or do they try and forge ahead with their flagship PPVs being headlined by regulars? Rock and Brock aren’t cheap, and one has to wonder what the tipping point is for it making financial sense to not bring them back.
Bucking that trend of rematch fatigue was The Rock vs. CM Punk. No doubt that the Elimination Chamber itself is a draw on some level, but 2013’s Elimination Chamber match was to determine the number one contender for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania… certainly less prestigious than in past years which featured two Elimination Chamber matches — often being championship matches. The difference was that the immediate rematch continued the existing feud. Trying to reheat Punk vs. Rock months later like they tried to reheat Brock vs. Triple H and Rock vs. Cena would likely result in a similar, less successful outcome.
Pay-per-views without special guests averaged a score of -6,077, indicating they historically under-performed.
Of PPVs not featuring a part-time wrestler, Hell in a Cell 2012 featuring CM Punk vs. Ryback was the only one to over-perform. As I wrote last January, the damage done to Ryback losing his first outing, and going on to continue to lose in his big matches, is readily apparent. He went from headlining the most successful PPV featuring regular wrestlers, to headlining PPVs, which were just another show. If anyone tries to tell you that wins and losses don’t matter in modern WWE, simply point to the fall of Ryback as a PPV draw.
As far as John Cena on PPV goes, it’s a tricky situation to try to analyze. He was in the most heavily promoted match in seven PPVs and every PPV he headlined under-performed. In fact, every PPV he wasn’t headlining did better in terms of how similar shows have done historically. Is the PPV-purchasing crowd sick of Cena? Are people just generally buying fewer PPVs? It’s a hard question to answer because, outside of Hell in a Cell 2012, John Cena headlined every PPV that didn’t feature a special guest. All Cena-headlined shows, including WrestleMania, scored an average of -9,967. Shows without Cena in the main event averaged a score of +16,852. All of those featured a special guest, except for Hell in a Cell 2012. The question is–especially if you aren’t fond of Cena — is what, say, a PPV featuring CM Punk and Randy Orton in the main event would do. (Which we might be finding out here soon enough.) Ryback at Hell in a Cell was a special situation. With two “regular” upper-carders like Punk and Orton we can get a glimpse into what a Cena-less business would be out of the gate.
For fans of Ziggler, TLC 2012 was the only PPV he headlined, and it was the worst performing PPV of the year both in terms of how the show did historically and in terms of gross domestic buys. Feel free the parse through what factors you think caused TLC to come in so low, but Ziggler haters will likely use the poor performance as ammunition in their case against the guy getting back near the top.
- Rock and Lesnar often boosted buys quite a bit, but who they faced was important in that a rematch after several months did considerably worse
- WrestleMania 29 did worse than WrestleMania 28 and 27 domestically, even adjusting for the price increase and inflation
- Cena may be cooling off as a PPV draw, but there’s no way to tell if he’s the reason for the drop off when there was only one other PPV he didn’t headline that didn’t include Rock or Lesnar
- Analyzing business in wrestling is as much art as it is science, and there are a million little factors you could attribute to the success or failure of each show.
Lastly, here’s a comparison of the average buy score per yer over the past seven years for the twelve month periods I looked at. The bump WWE got on PPV in 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 by bringing in guest stars for more shows is readily apparent:
Here’s a look at the numbers from the past seven years on PPV domestically (Click to Expand):
- The “buy score” for every pay-per-view over the past seven years was calculated by multiplying the number of North American buys by the suggested retail price adjusted for inflation to May 2013
- The “2 Previous Years Equivalent SCORE” was calculated by subtracting the current PPV’s buy score by the average of the two previous years’ equivalent PPVs
- The “3 Year B-show Average SCORE” was calculated by subtracting the current PPV’s buy score by the average of all b-show PPVs from the three most recent years, including the current year
- The “6 Previous Years Equivalent SCORE” was calculated by subtracting the current PPV’s buy score by the average of the six previous years’ equivalent PPVs
- The “7 Year B-show Average SCORE” was calculated by subtracting the current PPV’s buy score by the average of all b-show PPVs from all seven years, including the current year
- The “FINAL SCORE” (simply referred to as the “score” in the article) was calculated by averaging all of the above SCOREs; except for WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Royal Rumble, which did not factor in any b-show SCOREs
- Only domestic buys were used to factor out fluctuations in international pricing and availability
- WWE’s suggested retail price for PPV does not differ based on purchasing the event in SD or HD. As prices and HD fees may vary by region, WWE’s suggested retail price is used