It is often said that the WWE has too many pay-per-views and this is driving down buyrates for them, which also harms Raw and SmackDown ratings. If you don't watch a pay-per-view, you can miss a vital part of the WWE's narrative.
In this article I will argue that too many pay-per-views is having a far broader, far more negative impact on the WWE's product, impacting the entire way narratives are constructed - for the worse.
Here's a quick bit of statistical information - the amount of pay-per-views (PPVs) the WWE has been holding per year since it first began doing so:
* 1985 - 2 PPVs
* 1986 - 1 PPV
* 1987 - 2 PPVs
* 1988 - 3 PPVs
* 1989-90 - 4 PPVs
* 1991 - 5 PPVs
* 1992 - 4 PPVs
* 1993-94 - 5 PPVs
* 1995 - 10 PPVs
* 1996 - 13 PPVs
* 1997-02 - 12 PPVs
* 2003-04 - 13 PPVs
* 2005 - 14 PPVs
* 2006 - 15 PPVs
* 2007 - 14 PPVs
* 2008-11 - 13 PPVs
1. The Choice: Exciting PPVs or Prestigious Titles
When did getting the gold stop mattering in the WWE?
From 1963 through 1984, the WWE Championship was won and lost at house shows.
Hulk Hogan then held the title until 1988 when he lost it at The Main Event. Sure, Andre the Giant beat him, but the title was vacated: a new title holder was decided at WrestleMania IV.
The title changed hands again at WrestleMania V and WrestleMania VI.
Then, at the 1991 Royal Rumble - in only the third year of the event's existence.
Subsequent to this, the title changes have almost always happened at pay-per-view shows.
You've got to make your show exciting, right?
There has to be something to make the viewer think "I could be missing a major event in WWE history!" or they won't bother. It was one thing to tune into regular television to watch Hogan win every week, but it is asking more of an audience to get them to pay to see that identical Hogan victory.
As the pay-per-view schedule filled up, and as pay-per-views stopped being such a novelty with their stacked cards, title changes became frequent.
2. More work for WWE Superstars
Professional wrestling is hard work.
It's athleticism at its most dangerous, with all the wear from the road in between, and very little time off.
Do you know what they might rather not do?
Ten PPV events in the calendar year!
That's this year's figure, and it's the smallest we have seen in a while. A pay-per-view isn't a single-day event—the WWE team has to travel to a new city, and there's an additional 10 chapters to the annual storyline to compose and rehearse.
Considering how precious little time off they receive, and how injury-prone wrestlers can be, this is no doubt a factor.
3. Poorer attendance at WWE live events and poorer sales of WWE Studios movies
A while back, attention was brought to how feeble audience figures were at SmackDown tapings.
It has also been noted that the output of WWE Studios is not nearly making back the money it is expected to.
While I am sure high ticket prices and the poor standard of the movies is the main reason for the problem, I am certain fan budgets come into it.
We only have a certain sum of money per yearto spend on recreation.
If WWE picked either a heavy focus on PPVs or on live events and WWE Studios, one might really start to do well. Instead, they are spending a fortune on all three, for the same returns they would otherwise receive if only, say, two of the three were being offered for fans to purchase.
4. Conflict between regular full-time superstars and returning special attraction performers
If The Rock had returned for two months of Raw, I doubt people like CM Punk and the "anonymous source" would have been protesting so much about his return.
The issue is when a wrestler is not plying their trade on the cheaper shows, only turning up for the major payday.
If there were fewer pay-per-views, this would not be so much of an issue.
The problem with the current setup is that every Raw and SmackDown broadcast is devoted to attempting to selling upcoming PPVs as well as providing entertaining television.
People on the road all year feel responsible for the success of PPVs, and feel they should reap the rewards.
If we had fewer PPVs, Raw and SmackDown! would exist more for their own merits, and the evolving of WrestleMania season into "Veteran Season" would likely be a cause of fewer issues.
5. Storylines are forced
Superstars search desperately for feuds - Triple H vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania X7 is a good example of a feud that existed essentially for the sake of it - because PPVs give everybody a fairly tight deadline to continuously find new, exciting feuds to participate in.
This results in a lot of really stupid storylines.
Furthermore, the stories are now bent awkwardly to fit the format of the event - Survivor Series is the most obvious example of this, as it is an awfully specific match type to attempt to fit into a new feud every year.
Likewise, traditionally the end point for a feud was a Hell in a Cell match.
Now, feuds - no matter how successful - are twisted so that a match at the HIAC PPV has a sense of finality to it. Before, Hell in a Cell did tend to occur at PPVs, but still only when appropriate.
6. Gimmick matches happen far less frequently on regular TV
In an effort to keep pay-per-views exciting - like the frequent title changes - gimmick matches are now saved for use at these shows.
Let's look at ladder matches, and how often they appear on WWE TV outside of pay-per-views: 1992, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 (x3), 2003, 2005 (x3), 2006 (3x), 2007.
Since then, they have been reserved exclusively for pay-per-view shows.
7. Diminishes the value of the brand split
Guys from both shows appear at nearly all PPVs. From an audience perspective, this further devalues the brand split concept.
But more importantly...
8. To fully appreciate a PPV, people have to watch Raw and SmackDown, now that wrestlers from both shows are in almost all PPVs.
For a few years, both shows had their own exclusive pay-per-views. This meant that if a fan only tuned into one show or the other - and the fact ratings are not identical means that this is very much the case - he or she could stick to purchasing PPVs appropriate for viewers of that show.
Given that nowadays Raw ratings are far higher than those for SmackDown, this is something of a problem—unless the Raw brand matches are of a truly high calibre, only the smaller audience that tunes into both shows is going to want to buy their PPVs.
9. This entire system has grown stale
When fans complain about there being too many pay-per-views, it sounds as if this is a recent issue.
It is not.
This rot has been constantly a problem for the product for many years now - becoming worse as prices increase - and that is why it is such a problem.
It is both deeply embedded into the structure of the product, and has been allowed many years to go from gimmick to major issue.
10. It becomes harder to maintain the illusion of "separate but equal" brands
WWE presently has two main brands, Raw and SmackDown as well as Superstars.
Raw has been on TV since 1993 and SmackDown since 1999, while Superstars started out in 2009 before transitioning into an internet-only show in 2011.
No one has ever really felt that the three shows are equal - Superstars is internet-only for a reason, with Raw the flagship show and SmackDown serving as the secondary show after Raw.
In kayfabe, however, Raw and SmackDown have always been presented as equal brands, and WWE has never gone out of their way to point out that Superstars is the runt of the pack either.
Unfortunately, when you have PPV cards to glance over, this simply becomes all the more obvious.