Few moments in any month are as important to the WWE and its fans as when the main event for the next pay-per-view is announced.
This is the match that must capture the audience's imagination as it will have a huge effect on how many people decide to purchase the upcoming show. It will also effect the viewing figures of Raw and SmackDown as excitement from diehard fans over the next big fight overflows into the mainstream and draws less devoted fans back to the product.
However, the great pleasure of anticipating a prestigious matchup is lost when the announcement does not live up to expectations.
So changing the main event of Survivor Series on Monday was a high-risk strategy for the WWE to employ as the previously announced match had already received tentative approval from most quarters.
It has certainly created a buzz as fans were blindsided by the drastic change that saw CM Punk go from a captain of a Survivor Series team to defending his WWE championship against Ryback and John Cena.
The question that comes up is whether changing main events like this is a good move for the company’s future prospects.
In the long term, such an alteration will have a positive effect on the product. This change has already gone a long way to restoring the unpredictability that was so cherished in the Attitude era.
Too often in recent years, pay-per-views have been constructed in a way that was so predictable, the major spots in the main events were guessed beforehand, let alone the result. Implementing shifts in expectation, as with the sudden change in main event, disorientates viewers, and suddenly, more unexpected happenings become a real possibility.
Most importantly, anytime that the WWE starts to produce unpredictable—and to some extent, controversial—television, the excitement level around the product from casual fans increases. Not only does this raise money, this type of people-driven hype can fire something like professional wrestling back into the public consciousness, especially as the mass use of social media exaggerates any trends.
Yet the way the WWE implemented the change of the main event this time around will significantly stunt the overall effectiveness of the decision.
The shrunken time frame between pay-per-views—there is only three weeks between Hell in a Cell and Survivor Series—meant that the potential excitement for the first main event was not built sufficiently for the change to have a lasting impact. A longer gestation period would have made the already shocking announcement far more stunning to the audience.
Also, the understated presentation of the change did not highlight the huge move that was happening. The relatively hot English audience did not give the announcement the noise that it deserved, so the astonishment of such a game-changing moment was not felt immediately.
Had the WWE gone for a grandiose approach to announcing the change, with all the participants on screen so that their reactions could be seen, the moment would have felt more important.
This tactic was really well-executed in the Attitude era as The Corporation all being in the ring together led to any counter-measure against them having an immediate and compelling reaction.
Arguably, the WWE did this deliberately, so it would not give away the fact that there was going to be such a drastic alteration to the schedule. This view has some merit, but a better use of such a stealthy approach would have been to use a more common tactic—such as the addition of a gimmick to a match—than something that has not happened in some time.
These drawbacks do not stop this moment from being potentially very important in the resurgence of the WWE. Getting back to a variable and interesting universe where no one is entirely sure what is about to happen will bring back viewers who have stopped watching.
What fans need to hope for is that the WWE learns from this first reapplication of shock tactics and diagnoses what went well and what fell short of the mark. If the WWE does this well, then the company could be heading in a truly positive direction.