This Sunday is the TLC pay-per-view, but most of the card is still unknown and there’s very little build up to the event. The reason for this is probably because management stacked the deck for the Survivor Series in an effort to put a spotlight on NXT in the Wednesday night ratings competition, putting most of the angles on Raw and Smackdown on pause for the majority of last month. While throwing stipulations on the show simply because a gimmick pay-per-view is scheduled doesn’t provide much substance, the actual angles bring less than that to the table. In fact, there’s not really a selling point at all for the TLC event as far as subscribers to the WWE Network.
However, that’s also the reason that the TLC event doesn’t have to have a selling point and it doesn’t matter that it’s basically a show of almost no importance.
While the premise of pay-per-view was always to give the audience a reason to want to pay to watch the show, the entire concept of the streaming service, and more importantly, the $10 a month for it was a total game changer in the distribution of professional wrestling content.
A decade ago, the writing team was tasked with booking a show that the audience thought was worth $40 to pay to watch it. So, the match-ups had to be presented as important and the results had to seem like they had an impact on the direction of the product. For example, a key title switch could be an indication of the next chapter of the shows. When every WWE pay-per-view and thousands of hours of on-demand content were reduced to just the $10 for a subscription, the entire paradigm on how to sell a show shifted. The lower price indirectly lowered the level of quality that was previously demanded for a pay-per-view show. Furthermore, if a particular PPV flopped, subscribers could still get their money’s worth with the on-demand content so the quality of current content wasn’t the only aspect of the network to generate or retain subscribers. Even if this year’s Stomping Grounds show was a total flop, subscribers could continue their subscription to have easy access to several years of classic events. The Monday Night Wars were considered one of the peaks of the history of the entire industry, and the streaming service gives fans a chance to watch every week of that era in the order that it happened.
Another aspect to all of this is how the access to thousands of hours of content on the digital platform at such a low price make it more difficult for other companies to sell their product. The biggest example of this right now is the fact that All Elite Wrestling pay-per-views are $50 to order and that dynamic puts the pressure on the organization to truly deliver a stellar show. Even with the unique aspects of the AEW product to promote, it’s still a tough sell to get fans to spend that type of money on one show when access to literally almost every pay-per-view in the history of the sport in the United States is only $10 a month because of the video libraries that WWE bought prior to the launch of the network.
Still, the bigger problem appears to be within the WWE system that the lowered standard for pay-per-view because of the lower price indirectly led to a certain level of mediocrity and complacency for the product. This weekend’s pay-per-view doesn’t have most of the card announced or any hype for it so what’s the difference? Is the TLC show really going to be the specific reason that someone decides to subscribe or cancel the network? The answer to that is, it’s very doubtful, and that’s why such a lack luster show doesn’t matter. Next month’s Royal Rumble is the major priority because it’s the kickoff to Wrestlemania season, which is usually a boost to the stock price so management will make sure to have the numbers to tout its success to shareholders during the next conference call.
The fact that TLC will have no major consequence on the direction of the product is just cannon fodder of the WWE schedule, as it produces countless hours of television, most of which is also seen as inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But, there’s a trend among that WWE landscape that the 50/50 booking, the illogical angles, and repetitive narratives that almost nothing matters as far as the results of matches or the conclusion of angles. Keep in mind, the Universal title match at this year’s Wrestlemania of Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins was literally the same angle for Summer Slam just a few months later.
Perhaps, that’s the reason ratings have been sluggish this year because the viewing audience could skip a few weeks of television and still be familiar with the majority of the repetitive narratives on the show. The bottom line is, when is the last time the WWE product was truly “must watch” TV? When you consider that the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin and other legends garner some of the best ratings of the year, that shows that there’s an audience that would watch wrestling, just not most of the current product. It’s possible that the WWE machine has become such a global entity that the quality of weekly programming isn’t seen as important as it was before, but the noticeable decline in ratings over the past few years suggests that management should cater to its fan base instead of strictly to the stockholders.
Don’t get me wrong, the WWE roster has arguably the best in-ring talent in the history of the company, but the presentation of those competitors is the key to making stars. Aside from Brock Lesnar, who on the current roster can really boost numbers? Furthermore, how many legitimate money-drawing stars are there on the roster right now? One of the reasons Brock can move the needle is because he’s booked as a legitimate star. How many times has a competitor with potential to be a major star had their progress hindered with lame booking? Dean Ambrose is probably the best example of this from the modern era. He has all the skills to be a top star and the WWE brass wasted his potential with lame attempts at comedy segments.
The few matches that are announced for TLC are nothing spectacular, but as mentioned, the show is basically just a placeholder between the Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. Maybe the decline in importance of most of the WWE product is moot because as mentioned before, the major TV contracts secure record-setting revenue for the next five years for the company, but that philosophy might be one of the main reasons for the decline of the audience.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
E mail firstname.lastname@example.org | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta