Did The WWE Network Ruin Pay-Per-View?
There was a time when pay-per-views shaped the structure and destination of angles. However, similar to how the WWE Network changed the dynamic of the PPV business, the streaming service also changed how these premium shows are booked.
During the boom of the late 90s, Eric Bischoff pushed Vince McMahon to offer pay-per-view on a monthly basis, which worked because the popularity of the business fueled buy rates. Truth be told, I thought even once a month was a little too frequent for PPV shows, but WWE brass made it work. In 2004, management tried to occasional run two of these shows within a month for a few years, but eventually decided to return to the standard format. I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but the entire point of the concept is a “special event” that is worth paying to watch. Therefore, the more events there are, the less “special” each individual event is. Of course, there are exceptions, but that’s mostly because of the history of certain events, not necessarily the card assembled.
But, the WWE network changed the entire distribution of pay-per-view so there’s not directly a “selling point” for each show since the pitch to subscribe to the service is the entire network with the extensive video library content. Still, content is what fuels the network so running more PPV events theoretically gives the perception of added value for a subscription. That being said, the downside of that ideology is that rushing these shows or too many of them lead to either lackluster cards or they blend together so that nothing really stands out.
It might sound counter productive, but it almost seems like there’s too much content for fans to realistically follow and many competitors get lost in the shuffle. An elevated platform or a “special event” is an opportunity to get talent over as a bigger star so without shows that seem like big events, there’s less of an opportunity to push talent to the next level in an attempt to create more money-drawing stars.
A pay-per-view every two weeks just isn’t a logical way to get angles over with the audience. It also leads to less of a build up for storylines or sometimes a lack of depth on the card because of the brand extension. If there weren’t so many PPVs, the writing team wouldn’t be put into a corner to book a card simply because a show is on the schedule. If anything, rotating monthly events between Raw and Smackdown could give the writing team sufficient time to book meaningful cards for PPVs.
This predicament of the scramble to book another pay-per-view card makes Battleground an already mostly irrelevant show.
What will really get resolved at Battleground? What meaningful results will there be? What matches are scheduled that fans want to see? Both Aiden English and Tye Dillinger talented, but they are portrayed as jobbers or have lesser status on the brand so how exactly is this match supposed to be perceived as important?
There are also a few lukewarm matches that resemble more of a weekly Smackdown bout than a rivalry for pay-per-view. The tag team title match should be decent in terms of the in-ring action, but the tacky “rap battle” skits did nothing to add steam to the feud.
The Mike Kanellis vs. Sami Zayn match is the same category for a different reason. The former ROH star known as Mike Bennett was touted as an athlete with the potential to be a major star, which might be the case, but this particular match-up won’t do much for either competitor. Battleground is Kanellis’ first pay-per-view match so he will probably get the win, which makes sense to establish a fresh face on the brand, but Heath Slater or Curt Hawkins would be a better choice as an opponent.
For whatever reason, WWE management has yet to see the value of Sami Zayn and despite his ability to identify with the audience, he continues to be stuck in the lower mid-card of the brand. The social media age and the state of the industry allows fans to be aware of the ability of the writing team to decide the status of their favorite stars, and there’s a platform for them to voice their opinion. Granted, social media probably has more of a negative effect of the industry than anything, but the point is, the fans can see when the marketing machine allows an athlete to flounder. However, Sam Zayn undoubtedly has the talent to work the main event scene so this Kanellis match-up almost creates a disappointment when the fans see Zayn being used simply to put others over.
Despite Rusev’s return, the flag match with John Cena has no momentum behind it. These two had an extensive feud a few years ago, including a match at Wrestlemania so it seems very repetitive to book it again. In fact, the entire angle just has a “been there, done that” atmosphere to it. If this angle is being used to push John Cena strong for his return after a few months off, why? He’s John Cena and reached a level that he will always be completely over with the audience. Cena could take a year off or lose every match for the rest of his career and he would still be one of the most over performers on the roster. This goes back to the question, what will really get resolved here? John Cena stands up for America? That score was settled two years ago with the previously mentioned Wrestlemania match.
After the MITB debacle and the fact that Carmella has the briefcase, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for a women’s number one contender match. Plus, a five-way match is difficult to book and might be a sloppy presentation.
As for as in-ring performance, the AJ/Owens match might steal the show, but considering that they had a match at Backlash, a match on Smackdown, and the MSG title switch, this is somewhat of a stale contest. Reportedly, AJ took the title to avoid any confusion with Jinder’s foreign angle and Owens’ “face of America” gimmick. So, if AJ retains the title, there’s not much more that can be done with this match-up.
The Corbin/Nakamura contest might be a situation where the writing team booked themselves into somewhat of a corner. Baron Corbin won the MITB match, which appears to suggest that he will get a main event push at some point so it makes sense to book him strong going forward until the eventual cash-in for the title. Nakamura is a unique athlete with the superstar quality. The charismatic Japanese competitor has the ability to be a main event level performer, but so far, the booking has somehow minimized the momentum that he generated during his NXT run. If Corbin does the job, it’s counterproductive to the eventual title push.
At the same time, if Nakamura loses on pay-per-view, it will halt any momentum he has on Smackdown. The WWE might miss the boat on this talented Japanese commodity if they fumble another pivotal opportunity to truly establish him on the brand. Considering his age and the physical style he worked for the majority of his career, Nakamura should probably be established as soon as possible if management wants to maximize the profitability of his WWE career. Corbin is five years younger and does have potential, but there’s no reason to rush him to the main event scene.
The main event is a Punjabi prison match, a concept that seems to stereotype the demographic that WWE brass is attempting to target, which doesn’t seem like the wisest strategy. Not only is the gimmick of the match lame, the numbers would suggest that the audience doesn’t anticipate another Jinder Mahal pay-per-view main event. As I said previously, it’s not necessarily anything against Jinder, but rather that it’s difficult to expect the audience to take this main event push seriously when he went from a jobber to the WWE champion in the span of only a few weeks.
The chances of a successful (and more logical) push might’ve improved if Jinder was given a steady push over the span of a few months. Considering that Cena is booked for a flag match, Battleground will probably lead to a Cena vs. Mahal match at Summer Slam. The ratings for SD have declined since Jinder became champion, and since WWE’s ratings have slumped across the board recently, you can expect a change in direction in an attempt to boost ratings. Keep in mind, the WWE’s TV rights fee is one of the company’s most lucrative revenue sources, and they certainly aren’t going to want to have to take less money when they renew so improving the numbers will be a top priority within the next few months.
Is it too harsh to critique an event that hasn’t happened yet? Maybe, but keep in mind, this article is based on the lack of any major selling point, not necessarily the quality of the show itself. A combination of too many PPVs, a lack of hype around angles, and some nonsensical booking doesn’t really give Battleground the “must see” environment. The results won’t have a major impact on the brand, and at just $9.99 a month, the WWE Network indirectly lowers the expectations of individual shows. If the results won’t really effect the characters on the brand as compared to now, what exactly is the point of the event in terms of storylines? So, there’s not much of a reason to tune in for Battleground, but the WWE network is only $10 a month and sometimes you get what you pay for in this situation.
Until next week
You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta
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