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Collective Thoughts: Is The Traditional Wrestling Pay-Per-View Dead? by Lance Augustine

One of the coolest things about being a wrestling fan in the mid-1990s was how much better Pay-Per-Views were than traditional cable wrestling shows. They had their own stages, better cards (most of the time), and just had a big night feel to them. When you tuned in you knew that something cool may be coming whether it be a title change, a blow-off of a fantastic feud, or just something you didn’t see on the cable shows. Nowadays though, that has changed drastically. Gone are the days of the big PPV shows and in its place stands super shows on cable and the WWE Network which brings fans those same PPVs at a lower price point. While $9.99 for the network seems like a steal, and it really is, WWE knows the price point well and the “big” shows tend to suffer as a result. I think the term Pay-Per-View is used more loosely than ever these days. Where you could make the argument that we are still technically paying to watch the shows, it definitely doesn’t have the same feel to it. Unfortunately, the devil in the details backs me up.

When Smackdown was announced that it was moving to Fox you knew it was a big deal. WWE programming has been on the USA Network for as long as we can remember so this would be a first in terms of the programming moving for a bigger platform, arguably. They definitely pulled out all the stops with legends, big matches and rolling out the red, or in this case blue, carpet. These types of things used to just be left for the PPVs, but this is a new age.

If I would have told you that The Rock was going to be anywhere near Smackdown in 2019 you may have said I was crazy. He was there though, in the biggest way possible. The reason it was a big deal is that The Rock has only been at Wrestlemania, which just happens to be the biggest PPVs that the WWE produces. Well, it used to be anyway. Although they will tell you it still means a great deal, it has diminished greatly in the last couple of years. We are talking about Wrestle-freaking-Mania here. Not to mention that this particular Smackdown debuted two days before a PPV (Hell in a Cell) with THREE matches announced on it. Now, if you were paying for a show with three announced matches I don’t think you would be very stoked on that. This is Smackdown we are talking about. The same show that has been left behind and been the B show for the entire time it’s been on the air for 20 years.

The debut of Smackdown on Fox felt like the biggest Pay-Per-Views we are accustomed to. Hell in a Cell has now come and gone and one thing is blatantly obvious, they care more about the cable shows now. If you don’t believe me just look at their track record recently. Taking the four-match announced card out of it, you can tell the booking is leaning you more towards watching the cable shows than worrying about the Pay-Per-Views, this show in particular. Don’t even get me started on the main event booking, either. I heard an interesting point that this feels very WCW to me, which I couldn’t agree with more.

One thing WWE has the right idea about though is the price. Most wrestling fans are not going to pay what would probably be anywhere from $49.99 to $69.99 regularly for a single wrestling PPV. I can tell you now that’s not going to happen. The $9.99 makes sense from that standpoint but as I eluded to earlier, the show quality has decreased drastically. Some of these “Pay-Per-Views” feel like glorified regular shows and it wouldn’t be worth it in the long run. I know if I paid as much for a PPV as I did in the 1990s and got that quality, I would be pretty upset. I don’t want people to think I am picking on Sunday’s Hell in a Cell, but I kind of am. I don’t think that the show was worth $9.99, let alone what they would charge for a normal Pay-Per-View. A lot of people would use the argument of we’re only paying $9.99 for every PPV but how many people pay that price for just the Pay-Per-Views and not the back catalog? The answer is probably less than you think.

The question has to be, would the traditional Pay-Per-View system work today?

All Elite Wrestling has been running shows using this method and surprisingly it has still done pretty well. That is shocking from the standpoint of pirating being such a popular thing these days and everything has suffered from it. The sample size has been small for the most part, but having the numbers they do has to feel good for any promotion, let alone one that just started. They also seem to have a finger on the pulse as far as not over saturating the market as they plan to only do these shows quarterly, for now anyway. Take Double or Nothing in May as an example. It had a higher price point of $49.99 and still did almost 100,000 buys. That is a lot for something that is so easily achieved illegally. For AEW though, the best part of that might have been the reaction to it. Most of the reviews were positive of the show with people forgetting they just dropped 50 bucks on it. I thought it was well worth the money. Maybe it was just because people were so happy with there being an alternative. The AEW All Out PPV in August also did around 100,000 buys, but Double or Nothing did more.

The real test will be at AEW Full Gear on November 9th, which will be headlined by Chris Jericho defending the AEW Title against Cody and Jon Moxley vs. Kenny Omega for the first time. Will AEW’s TV show on TNT keep pushing the needle of buys in a positive direction? Only time will tell. What we do know is they are trying to separate themselves as much as possible and this is a good step in that direction. Who would have thought that in 2019 the thing separating wrestling companies would be buying a Pay-Per-View? What a crazy time to be alive. This is the one thing AEW can do to separate itself from all competition is just care about the Pay-Per-View more. Use it to your advantage as a way to make matches mean something and not just your run of the mill cable show. Like I said before, they are off to a good start – it’s keeping the momentum that’ll be the real challenge. In no way am I suggesting that AEW never using a streaming platform for all of their shows. I mean, they already do with the various apps you can watch the show on. They have to, however, still care about their product enough to keep the interest in these shows.

Obviously, I think the days of regular month-to-month Pay-Per-Views at the high price point are probably numbered. People just don’t seem as invested in the product and in turn would not pay that nowadays anyway. I am sure AEW is going to involve streaming someday akin to the WWE Network, I just hope they still put an emphasis on their big shows and don’t make everything feel like they are just building to the shows on TV.

What do you think about the traditional PPV system? Love it? Hate it? Don’t care about it? As always keep the conversation going over at @collectiveheel on Twitter and let me know how you feel. Support the site and each other and I will be back soon enough with some more Collective Thoughts.