April 23, 2007
I watched UFC 70, with a buddy of mine, this past weekend and we started discussing the popularity of UFC and the difference in UFC and pro-wrestling buy rates. The most interesting thing is that UFC television programming pulls ratings just slightly better that TNA yet is pulling buy rates on PPV greater than even WWE.
Television ratings, for the most part reflect your total fan base, the people who know about your product and enjoy it enough to follow it regularly on TV for free. Based on TV ratings TNA has a fan base of just under 1.25 million people (I’m ball parking here), UFC about 1.75 million, and WWE maybe 4.5 million. WWE is still by far king of the hill in total fan base with over double the regular viewers as UFC and nearly quadruple that of TNA.
Buy rates on the other hand tell a slightly different story, and again I’m ball parking and averaging as best I can so don’t quote me or try to correct my numbers. TNA is pulling about 25,000 PPV buys per PPV event, WWE closer to 150,000 (I’m only counting domestic buys, internationally those numbers increase quite a bit), and UFC pulling as high as 750,000. So when you look at the most loyal die-hard fans, those willing to actually pay for the product and consider it to be must see, UFC is doing about 5 times what WWE is doing and approximately 30 times the buys rates of TNA.
This is where things get interesting because conventional wisdom says that the PPV events are sold off the TV programming, and that the primary purpose of the TV shows is to convince fans to order PPV. So the effectiveness of the respective television programming should be reflected by the company’s, PPV buys per TV viewers, ratio. When you look at this ratio we have UFC dominating the field with upwards of a 43% purchase rate, with WWE in second with about 3.5%, and TNA in dead last with a 2% purchase percentage. Granted we are comparing apples to oranges here somewhat with Pro-Wrestling and MMA, but they are both still fruit and for the sake of discussion it’s fun to compare.
UFC programming is about 20 times more effective at selling PPV buys than TNA and 12 times as effecting as WWE. This brings up the obvious question, WHY? My buddy and I threw this idea around for a while and came up with a few possible answers. The first most obvious one was the fact that UFC is real and thus the results to these events are more significant and people who like to gamble can bet on the outcome. If you put money on Matt Serra beating Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69, not only did you make a shit load of money, you were probably more apt to order the show to see if your bet paid off.
I don’t think the real or fake issue is the total answer and if it is there isn’t much pro-wrestling can do about it at this point. WrestleMania still pulls a huge buy rate, so real or fake, there are still a ton of people willing to purchase wrestling PPVs, just not as many on a regular basis. Where I think the problem lies is in over exposure of big matches on TV and general booking trends in wrestling today. I don’t think enough emphasis is put on the outcome of matches anymore. Matches quite often are treated as if they are just there to advance the “storylines”. I would hazard to guess many people “writing” wrestling today think that is exactly what a match is for, which in my opinion is completely backwards.
The “Storyline” is there to create interest in the match up, and the result of that match up is what is important. The match up is the steak and the “Storyline” is just the sizzle. I’ll pay for steak; I will not pay for sizzle. I think the best illustration of this was the Ultimate Fighter Season 3 build up for the Tito Ortiz – Ken Shamrock fight. The Shamrock – Ortiz feud was built up all season and then produced 775,000 buys on PPV. The winner of that match was all that mattered, and when the fight was finish so was the “Storyline”. To see the conclusion of that feud you had to order the PPV, which three quarters of a million people were willing to do.
Now I realize they had several months of build up to sell that one PPV, and if WWE did that with say Batista and The Undertaker there would be several PPVs in the interim that would be without a main event, but perhaps with the new PPV structure in WWE that problem could be over come.
In WWE now there are three distinct brands, each with their respective World Champion. RAW and SD also have the US, and IC titles, not to mention 2 Tag Team titles, the Women’s title and the Cruiserweight title. With 9 titles to be defended would it be possible to slow the entire booking process down and alternate which titles are being defended on each PPV?
If they took extra time to rebuild Batista, keeping him completely away from Taker, and have him dominate his way back to the top over 3 or 4 months, how much more effective would that rematch be at selling PPV buys than the immediate rematch at Backlash? You would have to completely restructure the creative process and how TV and PPV were built, alternating which title matches headline each PPV, but I think it’s interesting to look at the possibilities this creates.
One thing you would have to do, is eliminate World Title matches from free TV completely. If you never get to see the Title defended on TV, Title matches on PPV become more special. If you want to see Randy Couture fight, which I do, you have to order it on PPV, which I will, where on the other hand I’ve gotten to see Bobby Lashley defend the ECW World Title 3 or 4 times this year for free, and I haven’t even watched ECW TV.
There are a lot of problems this concept creates also, including possible reduction in over all viewer ship, due to the reduction of big matches offered on regular television. This potential drop in viewer ship may also have an adverse affect on live events as well as over all merchandise revenue, so I am in no way offering it as a solution. I’m just throwing ideas out there for the sake of discussion. I do however firmly believe that more emphasis on matches and match outcome, will increase interest in the over all product and have a positive effect on buy rates.