WWE’s December release of the monthly KPIs (Key Performance Indicators, through October 31, 2013) updates various financials.  As usual, the area gathering the most attention is coverage of the two WWE PPVs held in October 2013: Battleground (Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton, CM Punk vs Ryback) and Hell in a Cell (Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton HIAC, CM Punk vs Ryback & Heyman HIAC and John Cena vs Alberto Del Rio).

The results were considerably divergent.

Dave Meltzer’s trained eyes estimated them as so:

Exact breakdowns were not listed but we are attempting to get them. The two shows combined did 334,000 buys on a worldwide basis. However, Hell in a Cell topped 205,000 worldwide, so Battleground did in the 125-130,000 range worldwide.

I had a slightly different take (less optimistic for Battleground):

  • Battleground ’13 = about 110,000 buys = 69,000 domestic + 41,000 int’l
  • Hell in a Cell ’13 = about 225,000 buys = 140,000 domestic + 85,000 int’l

EDIT: Dave Meltzer published updated numbers in the Dec 9 2013 Wrestling Observer newsletter. 

His final was BATTLEGROUND 2013 at 122,000 buys = 87,000 domestic + 35,000 int’l (71.3% domestic) and for HELL IN A CELL 2013 at 212,000 buys = 121,000 domestic + 91,000 int’l (57.1% domestic).

The split between North America and International buys was only given for the whole Month of October.  Thus far, Q4 2013 was 62.3% domestic buys — there was very different split for each events.

What’s very clear is that Battleground bombed and Hell in a Cell recovered surprisingly well.

It’s interesting to note that while Worldwide buys for HIAC were up (they’ve already topped last year’s number), domestically Hell in a Cell 2012 actually did better.  Last year’s Hell in a Cell PPV (CM Punk vs Ryback HIAC and Big Show vs Sheamus) had about 157,000 North American buys. This year’s domestic buys for HIAC PPV is at 36,000 buys lower.

So, Is the Sky falling?  Should WWE despair for next year’s Wrestlemania?

I don’t believe so.

One intriguing explanation for Battleground’s poor performance (on a worldwide basis) was that it was a “free” PPV (shown as regular on Sky Sports) in the UK while Hell in a Cell was a PPV (via Sky Box Office).  This could imply that the current Battleground number is artificially low for Worldwide buys (which would raise the total number, but still – Battleground would remain a distant cry from even September 2013’s Night of Champions 175,000 buys).  However, that would also correlates that Battleground domestic/international buy mix was a lot higher than 62% (EDIT: it was 71%), and thus HIAC was a lot lower than 62% (EDIT: it was 57%).   In that scenario, HIAC does even worse domestically as compared to 2012.  (EDIT: It really, really does!)

Let’s Look at the broader picture for 2006-2013 WWE PPV Financials:

Sources: WWE Trending Schedules 2008-2013Pro Wrestling History (for WM buys)

2006 Total: 5,744k buys (5,466k current + 278k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2006: 975,000 (636,000 NA)
Number of Events: 16 events
PPV Revenue: $93.6M
Lowest Events: December to Dismember (December, 90k worldwide/52k NA), No Mercy 2006 (October, 197k worldwide/114 NA)

2007 Total: 5,218k buys (5,201k current + 17k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2007: 1,250,00 (825,000 NA)
Number of Events: 15 events
PPV Revenue: $94.3M
Lowest Events: One Night Stand 2007 (June, 186k worldwide/124k NA) / Backlash 2007 (April, 194k worldwide/139k NA) / Cyber Sunday 2007 (October, 195k worldwide/122k NA)

2008 Total: 5,034k buys (4,799k current + 235k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2008: 1,041,000 (697,000 NA)
Number of Events: 14 events
PPV Revenue: $91.4M
Lowest Event: Cyber Sunday 2008 (October, 153k worldwide/92k NA), Armageddon 2008 (December, 193k worldwide/116k NA), One Night Stand 2008 (June, 200k worldwide /134k NA)

2009 Total: 4,490k buys (4,450k current + 40k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2009: 975,000 (605,000 NA)
Number of Events: 14 events
PPV Revenue: $80.0M
Lowest Event: Breaking Point 2009 (Sept, 169k worldwide /105k NA), The Bash (June, 178k worldwide/114k NA), Bragging Rights (October, 181k worldwide/105k NA)

2010 Total: 3,631k buys (3,645k current – 14k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2010: 885,000 (495,000 NA)
Number of Events: 13 events
PPV Revenue: $70.2M
Lowest Event: Bragging Rights 2010 (Oct, 137k worldwide/71k NA), Fatal Four Way (June, 158k worldwide/88k NA), Money in the Bank (July, 164k / 98k NA)

2011 Total: 3,842k buys (3,638k current + 204k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2011: 1,124,000 (679,000 NA)
Number of Events: 13 events
PPV Revenue: $78.3M
Lowest Event: Vengeance 2011 (Oct, 121k worldwide/65k NA), Over the Limit (May, 145k/72k NA), Night of Champions (September, 169k/109k NA)

2012 Total: 4,023k buys (3,909k current + 114k prior year)
Wrestlemania 2012: 1,219,000 (715,000 NA)
Number of Events: 12 events
PPV Revenue: $83.6M
Lowest Event: Over the Limit 2012 (May, 172k worldwide)

2013 Total: 3,056k buys (2,969k current + 87k prior year) = 9 months only
Wrestlemania 2013: 1,104,000 (662,000 NA)
Number of Events: 8 events (9 months)
PPV Revenue: $66.8M (9 months – through Sept)
Lowest Event: Battleground 2013 (Oct, 122k worldwide/87k NA) — not included in above numbers, Night of Champions 2013 (Sept, 175k worldwide/92k NA), Payback (June, 198k worldwide/108k NA)

What were my two key take-aways from all of this data?

1. October PPV was the lowest normal PPV of the year half of the of the time in the last eight years (2006, 2008, 2010, 2011).

2. There hasn’t been a relationship between lower PPVs in the previous fiscal year and the following Wrestlemania performing poorly. For instance, in 2011 Vengeance was not far above Battleground levels, yet, the 2012 Wrestlemania had 1.2 million buys. Conversely, Breaking Point 2009 was the low point of the year (at around 169k buys) yet WM 2010 was off almost 80k buys from the prior year (down to 885k worldwide).

Yes, WWE has had some PPVs that performed dramatically poor, especially in terms of North American buys, and several of them have been in recent years:
  • ECW December to Dismember 2006 (90k worldwide buys / 52k NA buys)
  • Vengeance 2011 (121k worldwide buys / 65k NA buys)
  • Bragging Rights 2010 (137k worldwide buys / 71k NA buys)
  • Over the Limit 2011 (145k worldwide buys / 72k NA buys)
  • Table Ladders & Chairs 2012 (177k worldwide buys / 75k NA buys)
  • Cyber Sunday 2008 (153k worldwide buys / 92k NA buys)
  • Fatal Four Way 2010 (158k worldwide buys / 88k NA buys)
  • Capitol Punishment 2011 (176k worldwide buys / 85k NA buys)

Yes, Battleground (122k worldwide buys / 87k NA buys) is going to join this list.

Still, it’s fascinating to see the bounce back for HIAC just a few weeks later.  Was it John Cena’s return?

We know PPV itself isn’t completely dead and PPV price is not the single issue.  For instance, the following week Bradley-Marquez Boxing PPV sold 375,000 buys and UFC held events two weeks earlier (9/21/13, UFC 165) and two weeks later (10/19/13, UFC 166) which both did around 330,000 worldwide buys.  Those MMA numbers weren’t as strong as expected, but they still blow WWE numbers out of the water.

Yes, there’s other trends that are disturbing: RAW Ratings continuing to slide over 3 hours, exceptionally poor ratings for recent RAW (3.5 million viewers on 12/2), and fan disenfranchisement with poorly executed creative product.  Yet, fourth quarter is often a quiet period for WWE – the question is whether the product will improve and grow during the important Royal Rumble to Wrestlemania season.  Clearly, with mysterious hints of a possible 1/8/14 Major WWE Announcement (presumably about the WWE Network) looming, enormous RAW/Smackdown network negotiations and more – one single lousy PPV number isn’t their biggest concern.

Chris Harrington (@mookieghana) is working on his first book, Wrestlenomics—a collection of pro-wrestling analytics and statistics. He can be reached atchris.harrington@gmail.com and regularly updates his wrestling statistics website indeedwrestling.com and his blog indeedwrestling.blogspot.com