Though it has been a constant since 2007 (save for 2012), it seems every year fans and analysts alike are surprised and agitated when October rolls around and World Wrestling Entertainment has not one, but two pay-per-views during the month. These months are usually highlighted by quick builds, rematches, screwjob finishes in what is seemingly WWE attempting to put the month behind them as quickly and harmlessly as possible and move onto Survivor Series.
The two-PPV month is a direct result of an increased desire for a longer WrestleMania build, which makes perfect sense. March, which used to house WrestleMania on occasion, is now completely devoid of any shows allowing WWE a six-week build to the “grand daddy of them all”. The move makes sense in context, but the impact is two-fold.
From a purely opinion standpoint, the October PPVs over the past few years have not been great. While some have been built better than others, more times than not the builds are rushed, the match decisions don’t mean a ton and lately we’ve seen WWE book themselves into a corner where only the screwiest of screwjobs allows them to get out of the PPV unscathed (see Hell in a Cell 2011).
Never was this more evident than Sunday at WWE Battleground when the finish to the Daniel Bryan/Randy Orton WWE Title match didn’t…end. No winner, no loser, no DQ, nothing. The Big Show ran out, punched both guys and that was it. Done and done. Many people are speculating that because of the constant screwjob finishes and most notably last night’s Battleground finish, October 27’s Hell in a Cell is doomed from a buys standpoint. Not only are fans hesitant to buy two PPVs in a month because of quality, there’s simply a limit to the amount of money they’ll spend for wrestling programming and three pay-per-views in six months may just be that threshold.
I wanted to investigate this thought and see how poorly the second October PPV does and if there are trends to help us predict how Hell in a Cell is going to do in a few weeks.
What we’re looking at is raw pay-per-view buys (worldwide) for both October PPVs in a given month and for comparison purposes, we’re going to look at the two PPVs prior to October and two after. This helps give some context since October is smack-dab into two of the bigger yearly shows in Summerslam (August) and Survivor Series (November). Granted, Survivor Series has lost a lot of its steam as a major show in previous years but it’s still up there as the data will suggest.
We start out with October 2004 which featured No Mercy (183,000) and Taboo Tuesday (174,000) as the two in October. What we see is that while both October PPVs did poorer than any of the shows surrounding them, it was a pretty natural curve, especially compared with the Unforgiven 2004 event.
The 2nd PPV of the month lost around 9,000 buys which isn’t a ton, especially when you see how the rest of the months look.
October 2007 is the first dual October to feature the interactive Cyber Sunday PPV, a completely asinine attempt to allow fans to vote on the type of matches they want to see. It was ahead of its time but never really made sense. Either your fans vote for no reason and the show is booked ahead of time regardless of the vote or WWE allows their fans to book their show and add stipulations to matches as they please. It sounds somewhat fun in retrospect but in actuality the shows were pretty lame.
Either way this graph looks dramatically different than what we saw with 2004. I have a few theories but let’s start with the facts, Cyber Sunday lost over 75,000 buys from No Mercy. That’s a tremendous drop off that only looks tolerable because of a terrible showing from Unforgiven (Undertaker vs. Mark Henry, John Cena vs. Randy Orton).
No Mercy 2007 received a bit of a bump on the heels of Cena’s torn pectoral muscle (October 1 RAW) and the guarantee that fans would see a new champion crowned on the show. Paying customers were treated to not only a new champion but TWO new champions that night as Triple H defeated Randy Orton in the opener to win the vacant title, defended it against Umaga later in the show but lost it in the main event… also to Randy Orton. Remember what I said about weird October pay-per-views?
Uh-oh. It happened again. Cyber Sunday 2008 topped the 2007 show by losing 108,000 buys from the previous October show No Mercy. This time, Unforgiven wasn’t there to make it feel better, the show was a complete disaster in terms of buys and one of the first times we see true damage come from having two PPVs in October.
2008 would thankfully mark the last Cyber Sunday, which lost an average of 91,500 buys during its run as the second October PPV.
And here come the theme PPVs! I was never a fan of the gimmick-themed PPVs but it’s hard to argue with their early success. Take a look at the impact of a forced Hell in a Cell match. This is the first time the two PPV month saw an increase during the first show and it may not even be fair to call this just an “increase”, Hell in a Cell 2009 did amazingly well. Bragging Rights, however, a show themed around battles between the Smackdown and Raw brand lost 100,000 buys. The positive? It was significantly less fall off from the Cyber Sunday shows but still a drop.
Bragging Rights also did better than Septembers Breaking Point PPV meaning perhaps the WWE was onto something with loading October will well-themed PPVs. People weren’t buying into three PPVs in six weeks but if they were guaranteed to get a Hell in a Cell match, there were in.
Hell in a Cell 2010 didn’t have the same meteoric rise its predecessor had but it still did quite well compared with the newly-themed Night of Champions show. You could argue forcing Hell in a Cell matches killed the gimmick as a long-term feud blow off but it’s hard to argue with results.
The 2nd October show Bragging Rights saw only a 67,000 buy drop the lowest since 2004.
I would like to point out the scales on the left axis and plummeting all-around PPV buys, pretty remarkable but not surprising given the way WWE has marketed and built up to their PPVs but regardless, we see another drop from the 2nd October show and while the raw number was the lowest since 2007 (59,000 buys) the percentage was huge and looked even worse given a really successful Survivor Series featuring The Rock.
2011 marked the end for Bragging Rights which lost an average of 83,500 buys, much less than the 91,500 Cyber Sunday lost previously.
2012 thankfully WWE did not do the double October pay-per-view although it would have been interesting to include given Hell in a Cell’s success that year on the heels of a Ryback vs. CM Punk match where WWE famously book themselves into a complete corner unable to beat CM Punk or Ryback and opted for a total screwjob finish that left many unhappy — sound familiar?
All in all, the 2nd October show loses on average 70,000 buys which could spell trouble for this year’s Hell in a Cell show given current trends of the WWE pay-per-view business. Perhaps smartly on WWE’s end, they have positioned Hell in a Cell as the 2nd show of the month to try to build off the momentum that typically comes with that show. On average, Hell in a Cell gained 65,000 buys from the September pay-per-view but the returns are diminishing. After gaining 131,000 buys in its first year, Hell in a Cell was down to 45,000 and eventually 19,000 in 2011.
As we found out on Monday, WWE is truly stacking the decks for Hell in a Cell with the return of John Cena to face Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship and including the legendary Shawn Michaels in the main event rematch between Orton/Bryan. Hell in a Cell has been targeted as a major PPV for some time, but it remains to be seen if it will fall victim to the curse of the 2nd October PPV. We’ll just have to wait and see.
My guess is the show will not do well, but likely much better than Battleground. It should fall somewhere near Night of Champions but obviously far below SummerSlam. We’ll just have to see, if it does well it says a lot about the drawing power of John Cena especially if he’s left off TV until the night of the show.