I’ve been sent an interesting little opinion piece from regular TOWIS commenter Mike, and thought I’d post it here for your thoughts before responding to it myself later…
So it appears that recently WWE have been looking for a scapegoat (no pun intended) for Summerslam’s pay-per-view sales, which are apparently down considerably year on year. Vince McMahon has voiced his opinion that the fans “didn’t buy the attraction” of this year’s event, and that it was a “swing and a miss” – a comment which many WWE fans have taken to be deliberately aimed at one (or more) of the performers.
But let’s face it: an event of Summerslam’s magnitude isn’t going to succeed or fail based on any single individual performer’s efforts.
So why WERE the sales down? To get an idea where Summerslam 2012 succeeded where Summerslam 2013 failed, we should try and understand where the previous year’s sales came from. And we can start by directly comparing the two shows.
Chris Jericho vs Dolph Ziggler w/Vickie Guerrero
Daniel Bryan vs Kane
The Miz vs Rey Mysterio (WWE Intercontinental Championship)
Sheamus vs Alberto Del Rio w/Ricardo Rodriguez (World Heavyweight Championship)
R-Truth/Kofi Kingston vs Prime Time Players (Tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship)
CM Punk vs John Cena vs The Big Show (WWE Championship)
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman vs Triple H
On paper, Summerslam 2012 looks like an impressive show. Chris Jericho and Dolph Ziggler had a hot rivalry, Bryan and Kane were involved in the “Anger Management” storyline (there had even been hints of an involvement by Charlie Sheen at the pay per view, though this ultimately came to nothing). There were four Championship titles on the line, and Brock Lesnar vs Triple H was an eagerly anticipated and very well built-up rivalry following Lesnar’s shock return leading to him breaking his rival’s arm on TV.
Now let’s compare that card with Summerslam 2013.
Bray Wyatt w/Luke Harper & Erick Rowan vs Kane (Ring of Fire match)
Cody Rhodes vs Damien Sandow
Alberto Del Rio vs Christian (World Heavyweight Championship)
Natalya w/Cameron & Naomi vs Brie Bella w/Eva Marie & Nikki Bella
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman vs CM Punk
Dolph Ziggler & Kaitlyn vs Big E Langston & AJ Lee
Daniel Bryan vs John Cena (WWE Championship)
Immediately, a lack of star power throughout the card from top to bottom is in evidence. 2012’s event featured Jericho, Ziggler, Bryan, Kane, Miz, Rey Mysterio, Sheamus, Alberto del Rio, Punk, Cena, Big Show, Lesnar and HHH all former world champions, all of whom have main-evented PPV matches throughout their careers. 2013’s show simply doesn’t have the same immediate star power with Kane, Del Rio, Christian, Lesnar, Punk, Ziggler, Bryan and Cena being the most well-known names in attendance.
And yet, there was no reason for this year;s show to have a comparatively “weaker” card, even on paper. The Shield, three of the outstanding performers of the year so far, crowd favourites and all champions, were not booked on the show itself, but featured instead on the free-to-watch pre-show alongside three other big names in the recently returned Rob Van Dam, the Big Show and Mark Henry. Randy Orton, another well-established main event performer and the RAW Money In The Bank holder, was not even booked on the card at all.
If that wasn’t enough, 2013’s show features two title matches where the previous year featured four. The Intercontinental title was conspicuous by its absence, while the US title and Tag Team titles only appeared on the pre-show. The Divas Champion AJ Lee made an appearance, but did not defend her title. Pay-per-view events are often seen as the places where titles are defended and new champions are crowned, so why did Summerslam - which was being referred to as a spectacle second only to Wrestlemania itself in WWE’s calendar - only feature two title defences?
Then you have the undercard. While the build for the twin main events of Punk/Lesnar and Bryan/Cena was good, many of the other matches appear to be little more than afterthoughts and contained an air of predictability. The Ring of Fire match offered some novelty value, but as Bray Wyatt’s full début the match was only ever likely to end one way. The Alberto del Rio vs Christian match didn’t have a great deal of build to it; the match between Natalya and Brie Bella was there to tie in with (or attempt to capitalise upon) the Total Divas reality TV show; and while Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow had at least been given some TV time following the breaking of their friendship at Money In The Bank, their rivalry wasn’t going to sell big numbers without something other than pride on the line.
Finally, we come to the main events themselves. There’s no argument that Punk vs Lesnar and Bryan vs Cena were great matches possibly two of the best of the year. There’s no argument that WWE spent a lot of time generating hype and interest in those matches during the run up to Summerslam. But both had critical issues which may have influenced the buy rate. Punk was feuding less with Lesnar and more with Paul Heyman, who had turned on him at Money In The Bank. Lesnar’s TV appearances had been sporadic at best prior to Summerslam, and the feud lacked the bitterness between the in-ring performers and the nostalgia value which had elevated the Lesnar/HHH match the previous year. The build to the Cena/Bryan match had left many fans worried, suspicious and second guessing the outcome prior to the show even starting, with Cena displaying an obvious elbow injury, Triple H appointed as guest referee and the RAW Money In The Bank holder Randy Orton telegraphing a potential cash-in.
If WWE really wants to understand the reasons behind their lower numbers year-on-year, they need to move away from finger-pointing and playing the blame game which doesn’t help anyone and instead look at the way they structured the event as a whole.
What do you think? Share your thoughts – and I’ll post my response later tonight (probably while I’m waiting for Smackdown).