I’ve long pondered this question: “Are shows that receive a high number of buys better shows than those that receive a low amount of buys?” Yes, these are the things that go through my odd mind.
We can look at this question a few different ways: How often do shows do well on PPV and actually turn out really good? Or, how often do shows that do poorly on PPV end up being horrible?
What’s the difference between the two? Is a good buy number indicative of a good show? Do fans see a dud on paper and stay away? Do some fans miss the boat on a stellar show? What about shows that do real well on PPV but absolutely suck in-ring?
So many questions to answer — let’s get to it.
To begin this study, I took the total buys from all World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-views from 1991-today and calculated the 15 with the lowest buys and the 15 with the highest buys.
I included only non-big three PPVs so this means no WrestleMania, no Royal Rumble and no SummerSlam. As I’ve mentioned in previous studies, these three PPVs skew the numbers far too much to give us anything relevant. WrestleMania’s no matter how good or bad are going to draw better than everything else and Royal Rumble and SummerSlam are fairly consistent and also still routinely outdraw the competition. They create a lot of noise and aren’t indicative of a show receiving a certain amount of buzz, they draw largely on name.
You may notice Survivor Series is included within this study and that’s because it has not been a major PPV in quite some time. I studied this at length last year if you’d like to read.
To add a bit more diversity to the study, I also took the highest and lowest buy totals every year from 2001 to today. Again, no WrestleMania, SummerSlam or Royal Rumble but Survivor Series is still included.
Once I collected all the buy numbers, I then averaged out each card’s average star rating according to the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Special thanks to The Internet Wrestling Database for collecting and organizing these numbers. This gives me a base to grade each PPV from an in-ring standpoint and while it will hurt events that had a strong main event and a weak undercard, but I think it’s a fair way to approach this subject even when using a system with inherent bias and subjective grading.
Top 15 Buys (1991-2014)
It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that 2000 and 2001 completely dominate this list. It was WWE’s highest point and at the time when wrestling was at it’s absolute hottest.
The top PPV here is Invasion 2001 with an insane buy number (775,000) that still shocks me. Say what you want about the Invasion angle and how it was botched, how the payoff sucked or whatever you want, in July people were salivating to see WCW vs. WWE. But as we see from the average star rating, they weren’t given much. This was the PPV where “Stone Cold” Steve Austin defected to The Alliance claimed he was underappreciated on the WWE side. I think that particular angle took a lot of steam out of the Invasion angle — I don’t think it’s a total coincidence that we don’t see another 2001 PPV on the list until we get the final Alliance vs. WWE blowoff at November’s Survivor Series.
Number two on the list is one of my all-time favorite PPVs and one that graded quite well according to Meltzer — Backlash 2000. The should-have-been WrestleMania 2000 card featured a really good main event between The Rock and Triple H, a solid Chris Jericho/Chris Benoit Intercontinental Title match and the best match of Scotty 2 Hotty’s career against Dean Malenko for the Light Heavyweight Title.
There are a few 2002 and 2003 PPVs that stick out but the biggest aberration on this list is Vengeance 2005, highlighted by a Hell in a Cell match between Batista and Triple H showing just how protected the Hell in a Cell gimmick still was and how over that Batista/Triple H feud was.
WWE’s roster was super-stacked at this time which led to Vengeance, a “Raw-only” PPV to have a HIAC main event, a John Cena vs. Christian vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship and a Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle 30-minute singles match, not bad at all. As a result, Vengeance 2005 ranks the best among the top 15 PPVs with an average star rating of 3.25.
Top 15 Buys vs. Star Ratings
There’s a fair amount of noise in the middle of this graph but a few outliers stand out immediately. Vengeance 2005 has the highest average star rating despite the lowest total buys, whereas King of the Ring 2000 (a putrid show) is far and away the worst of the top 15.
Invasion 2001 was phenomenal from a buys standpoint but really lacks in-ring, while King of the Ring 2001 borders closely with Vengeance 2005. I also found it funny how two King of the Ring’s found there way into the top 15 buys category yet WWE couldn’t wait to get rid of the PPV after 2002.
Bottom 15 Buys (1991-2014)
90,000 buys, huh? In Your House: Great White North is TNA-levels bad with an absolutely putrid buy number and can you blame fans? It grades out as the worst average star rating of the 15 worst PPV buys.
You’ll notice I did not include December to Dismember 2006, I wasn’t sure how to handle that PPV since it was classified as an ECW PPV, despite being under the WWE umbrella. I did a lot of back and forths on whether to include it or not and eventually settled on not including it.
You could argue it wasn’t all that different from Smackdown or Raw-only PPVs we saw during the brand split, but I’m not sure that’s totally fair either. It’s not on there, sorry but you probably know the story already — 90,000 total buys and a 1.08 average star rating, just a total abortion of a show both on-screen and off.
Back to the list, I found it interesting how the top 15 buys list was dominated by a few select years whereas this list is all over the place. Look at this diversity: one PPV in 1991, four in 1995, nothing until 2008, one in 2009, four in 2010, two in 2011, one in 2012 and one in 2013. Overall, eight different years represented in this list, compared with five represented in the top 15.
Another thing I found interesting about this bottom 15 list is the amount of odd “risk” PPVs we see on the list. What I mean is Tuesday in Texas, at a time of huge popularity for WWE, completely bombed. It bombed because it was only six days after Survivor Series 1991 and it took place on a Tuesday. The goal was to establish Tuesday as a secondary PPV night and it didn’t work, WWE abandoned the plan and never thought to do it again, oh wait (Taboo Tuesday).
Cyber Sunday, the bastardized child of Taboo Tuesday, is also on this list. WWE aimed to create an interactive PPV where fans could vote on stipulations via WWE.com but it ended up not pleasing the buying audience.
Fatal Four Way is the forgotten child in the gimmick PPV family. Where Hell in a Cell, Money in the Bank (outside of 2010) and Elimination Chamber have remained relatively strong, Fatal Four Way, a PPV with, you guessed it, a higher than normal amount of Fatal Four Way matches was a total bomb. It lasted only one year before going the way of WWE Breaking Point (another poor gimmick PPV).
Bottom 15 Buys vs. Star Ratings
It shouldn’t come as a total surprise who is on the far left here, two absolutely putrid shows: In Your House: Great White North and the famed King of the Ring 1995. The main event of British Bulldog vs. Diesel didn’t light the world on fire as evidenced by its bottom barrel buy number. King of the Ring 1995 is a miserable show headlined by Mabel’s triumphant run to the King of the Ring crown and a really odd pairing of Bam Bam Bigelow & Diesel versus Sycho Sid & Tatanka. It surprisingly did relatively okay on PPV when compared with other bottom 15 PPVs but was only a smidge better than In Your House in-ring. King of the Ring 1995 is the rare PPV with two negative stars from Dave — Mabel vs. The Undertaker (-*½) and Mabel vs. Savio Vega (-*)
The best…worst PPV is Money in the Bank 2010 which makes sense. It was a really good show (average: 2.71) featuring a solid Cage Match main event between Sheamus and John Cena as well as two Money in the Bank briefcase matches. It even featured a title change as Kane won the briefcase earlier in the night only to cash in later on Rey Mysterio. We’ve seen Money in the Bank become a well-drawing PPV in recent years, so it was interesting to see this one do so poorly.
Best vs. Worst — Averages
- Bottom 15 PPV star ratings average: 2.08
- Top 15 PPV star ratings average: 2.35
What this tell us is PPVs which higher buys are better in-ring PPVs than those that do poorly but I’m shocked by how small the difference is. I assumed coming into this study, we’d at least see close to a star rating better for the high buy PPVs, but we’re talking just a little over ¼*
This is especially interesting when you take into account the gigantic gap in buy averages:
- Bottom 15: 146,733
- Top 15: 520,000
A difference of 373,267 buys yields only a ¼* difference in average match quality, hmm.
2001-2013 Best vs. Worst
The chart above is a break down of 2001-2013’s most bought and least bought PPV with the average star rating of the respective shows. 2004 is omitted because I couldn’t find star ratings for 2004’s least bought PPV Taboo Tuesday 2004.
Through the early part of the decade we see the worst bought PPV of the year routinely outclassing the highest. This spiked up in 2005 when the aforementioned Vengeance PPV did amazingly well compared with the horrendous Taboo Tuesday 2005. We see a few more blips in 2006, 2008 and 2012 but for the most part, the most bought PPV was a better show than the worst part.
What about the average?
- Most Bought: 2.40
- Least Bought: 2.20
They are even less significant than we saw in the overall study. This time we get a difference of less than ¼* between the best bought PPV and the worst bought since 2001. Perhaps it’s worth looking at the average star ratings for all PPVs during these time periods to see if there’s just a median that most WWE PPVs fall into. Luckily, our very own Chris Harrington ran these numbers during his “What I learned from Meltzer’s 280+ WWF PPVs Ratings” series:
We’re going to pay special attention to 1991-2013 and then 2001-2013 to match our data.
- 1991-2013 Average: 2.10
- 2001-2013 Average: 2.30
This brings a bit more clarity to the situation. Essentially, that most WWE PPVs fall into a range of average star ratings hovering around 2-2.40. Given we’re only working on a five-star scale, it’s not unreasonable that it would be this tight but it was interesting to see it fall that closely. The difference between our lowest 15 bought PPVs and the 1991-2013 average is only .02 worse while the 15 most bought is a 1/4* better.
What’s the conclusion? It’s hard to come to a clearly defined conclusion but we can assume on average no matter how good or bad the card looks on paper, or how poor the buy number ends up being you’re going to get an above-average non-major PPV from WWE. That’s not a bad thing at all. Good to know you’re getting consistency from their pay-per-views.
Of course, this entire dynamic will change dramatically starting with WrestleMania XXX as the PPVs officially go digital through the WWE Network. We’ll see how this affects not only buy numbers and how we measure them as well as how good/bad the average PPV becomes as the cart is no longer pulled by PPV but rather TV and the upcoming surge in television rights fees.
Special thanks to Chris “mookieghana” Harrington for going the next step with this study to look at the r-squared of buys & star ratings. Here are his findings:
“I looked at 248 WWE/WWF PPVs (excluding WrestleMania) that I had buy estimates/star ratings averages for.
Here I’ve broken them into 25 nearly equally sized groups:
- 3.18 to 3.63 star average: 288,009 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.95 to 3.09 star average: 331,667 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.82 to 2.95 star average: 308,667 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.70 to 2.80 star average: 259,407 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.63 to 2.70 star average: 276,381 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.56 to 2.63 star average: 283,600 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.50 to 2.54 star average: 325,637 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.46 to 2.50 star average: 323,600 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.39 to 2.46 star average: 377,288 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.34 to 2.39 star average: 271,862 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.31 to 2.34 star average: 305,000 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.25 to 2.31 star average: 343,368 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.21 to 2.25 star average: 353,252 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.15 to 2.21 star average: 278,164 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.08 to 2.14 star average: 316,723 buys (10 PPVs)
- 2.04 to 2.08 star average: 276,675 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.94 to 2.03 star average: 226,000 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.85 to 1.93 star average: 388,555 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.79 to 1.85 star average: 331,743 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.72 to 1.78 star average: 277,218 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.61 to 1.69 star average: 251,773 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.46 to 1.57 star average: 242,917 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.21 to 1.43 star average: 283,808 buys (10 PPVs)
- 1.03 to 1.21 star average: 353,544 buys (9 PPVs)
- 0.71 to 1.03 star average: 314,951 buys (9 PPVs)
There’s really no correlation that I can see. (r-squared on almost any group I did was basically zero.)”