It is tough to judge success or failure of Pay Per View wrestling events these days. Sure, by most standards, the estimated 20,000 PPV buy-rate for TNA's recent Bound For Glory event (as reported by Dave Meltzer) would seem like a shocking disappointment, but is it, really?
TNA is a moderately established brand charging $40 for a single event in a world that seems to be veering toward more content at lower prices. Netflix and Hulu allow you to watch a ton of content for what, 10 bucks a month? Twenty? TNA goes to those same people and states "we'll charge you $40 just to view this one three hour event, and you can only view it once."
Now also take in to account the fact that people have a ton of programming available on cable (including much cheaper On-Demand content) as well as Sunday Night Football on NBC (which goes against all Sunday PPV events from September to January). You also have a large number of Tivo subscribers and other similar services where people tend to hoard programming content to watch at a later date.
Again, you are asking people to choose to pay for content rather than view the content they already pay for monthly.
Not to mention the fact that TNA is using this payment model in one of the worst economies since the great depression. They want people to forgo the content on their TV that they get for simply paying their cable bill as well as the stuff they could view on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or something they picked up for a measly dollar at Red Box and spend $40 on ONE three hour event.
Then of course, you have spoilers. Most wrestling fans know that there are numerous websites out there that will tell them what's happening, move for move, hold for hold, with every match's result, every twist and turn, both in and out of the ring. All fans need to have is an internet connection.
Bleacher Report alone had two people doing this on the night of BFG. Possibly more. So now it is not simply a matter of whether to pay $40 for one event versus the multitude of cable channels, free channels or other media out there vying for your money at much lower costs. It also becomes a matter of weighing how much you want to pay to watch something live versus getting a second hand account for absolutely no money at all.
Added to that of course, is the fact that a lot of wrestling fans are WWE fans who also pay a king's ransom to watch WWE PPV's each month. Additionally, those same fans might also pay for $40 a month for UFC events. Now we're really starting to talk about a lot of money.
There are also those that simply stream the event illegally. In no way do I endorse this method, but suffice to say, it does happen. Ironically, the people that care enough to do this were probably the same people that paid money to watch wrestling PPV's back in the 90's, which brings me to my overall point:
It is not the event that was flawed or the wrestlers involved (including Hulk Hogan, who seems to be bearing the IWC brunt of TNA's buy-rate failure) in Bound For Glory, but rather the PPV concept itself.
PPV's, to me at least, are a relic of a bygone era, where not as many people had cable, On-Demand, Tivo etc, and no one had the option to stream movies and TV shows on the aforementioned services throughout this article, as they did not exist.
Also, and I can underline this enough: People can't afford to spend as frivolously in 2011 as they could in 1995. The minimum wage has not been raised in almost five years. Costs in everything from food and gasoline to health care, insurance and apartment rentals have increased over the years. Plus you have a generation of college students (which has always been a large target for wrestling companies) graduating in to one of the worst job markets in nearly a century.
I do not mean to overgeneralize, but there is a fairly significant portion of wrestling fans that fall in to the middle to lower middle classes and below (I'd include most independent college graduates on that list). The target demographic for wrestling don't have the kind of disposable income to shell out that kind of money each month, especially if they have to pay back student loans, rent an apartment, pay a $60 cable bill, a $40 internet bill, $15 for Netflix or Hulu, etc.
At some point, TNA must come to grips with the fact that a lot of people in their target demographics can only stretch a dollar so far in these times. Maybe spending $40 for a single event is not the best way to go when these people can just read the results online as they are happening.
Sure, the WWE always does great buy-rates for Wrestlemania, but I would wager that their PPV buy-rates for other events have taken a hit over the last few years. They are FAR more established in the minds of consumers than TNA could probably ever hope to be.
If TNA wants people to pay to watch their shows, I would make these suggestions:
1) Put on events with action, title changes and match types that you won't see on Impact each week. They literally gave a world title change away four days after expecting people to pay for a world title match in which the belt did not change hands. That kind of faulty logic has to stop.
2) Lower the price. Dramatically. PPV's should be in the $10 to $15 range, not $40 for BFG (or $30 for regular PPV's). Netflix just got absolutely kicked in the teeth by customers for daring to raise their prices to what still would have amounted to a fraction of the cost of a TNA PPV.
Also, subsequent showings after the night of the PPV should be dropped to $8 on the following Monday, $7 on Tuesday, $6 on Wednesday and $5 for the rest of the time it is shown. Perhaps even provide double-feature options (if possible), where fans can watch the current PPV as well as a past PPV. More content might just please more people.
3) Lower the number of PPVs from 12 to 8 and have roughly six weeks between each PPV. This would provide much more time to build up to each event, build rivalries and really flesh out story-lines. Use the four PPV's that you "retire" as special Impact episodes.
Use these PPV for TV episodes not for ending feuds, but to further storylines and maybe have a title or two change hands, with a main event revolving around the TV title, the X Division title, the tag titles or the KO title.
I would use Final Resolution as a holiday PPV for TV, maybe changing the name and use the PPV to spotlight the Knockouts Division more. Also, I would have a four way match with non-TNA female wrestlers with the winner getting a contract, a KO mini-tournament with the winner facing the KO champion in the main event and the KO Titles would also be on the line.
I would use Destination X and Hardcore Justice as means to spotlight those aspects of the company on TV and use No Surrender as a buildup PPV on TV for Bound For Glory.
4) Get rid of the old timers. It is fairly obvious now (more than ever) that guys like Hogan do not push buy-rates. TNA needs to create new stars and sell them on their ability to be entertaining both in and outside of the ring.
I like the idea of using the older generation's stars as managers for younger talent, ambassadors for the company or talent scouts. But why spend a ton of money on guys that can only deliver on the mic, but cannot put on even a 3 star match anymore, much less a 5 star match?
Put your money where it will do the most good over time. The more people watch events and are thoroughly entertained by what they see, the more likely they will be to pay for it again and again and maybe even tell their friends.
5) Get your name out there. I cannot stress this enough. Advertise everywhere you can. Advertise during Raw and Smackdown. Even advertise during UFC events on FOX as well as sporting events on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN.
Heck, show 25 seconds of an epic match and use that as a teaser-style commercial. The wrestlers need to be the one selling this product, not a 60 year old guy with an obliterated back sitting and talking to people. Like him or not, but Hulk Hogan is not in any position to take TNA to the next level given what he can do. It is unfair of TNA to think that he can.
Hate him for his questionable booking decisions, for the wrestlers he pushes versus those he does not, for eating a ridiculous amount of TV time each week, but do not hate him for lack of trying. Still, at the end of the day, a wrestling company in 2011 cannot rely solely on a guy that cannot even wrestle anymore to sell their product, much less sell a single PPV event.
TNA needs more house shows, more traveling, more fan interaction, more wrestlers on TV shows and as I said, more advertising. TNA should tell their wrestlers that they can all go wrestle for other indy promotions to make money on the side, just so long as they make sure it does not interfere with TNA booking and make sure to wear an Impact T-shirt the entire time they are wrestling.
In closing, I just want to say that I'm no "smart mark." I don't even know why Eric Bischoff uses this expression, because it's honestly not even valid anymore. With the internet, and the Attitude Era of wrestling fans all grown up, are there really a lot of people left out there that are completely unaware when it comes to wrestling?
Regardless, I am no insider. I do not have any knowledge of "the business" and I don't claim to, for that matter. I do not believe that I can book a show better than anyone and while it might appear to the contrary, I do not claim to have all the answers when it comes to taking TNA to the next level. I am simply a fan that knows what I like and can recognize what appears to work and what does not. I have an advanced degree, which allows me to look at numbers and say "hey, 20,000 people buying the biggest PPV of the year isn't a lot in a country with over 300 million."
So to me, these are simply my humble suggestions. Maybe they can make the PPV format work and maybe they cannot, but right now, that advanced degree, plus the working brain cells in my head, tell me it is not working as constructed right now. Lowering prices, providing premium action for paying customers and finding more ways to get their name out there and rebuild their reputation as an exciting young company seems like the logical choice.
Easy? Probably not. It would be a slow build, but this, to me at least, seems like a much better road to take than sinking money in to aging veterans and expecting fans to pay a premium for it. We will see what route they take. I do not see them lowering prices, so one can only hope the new faces on the creative team can find a way to make PPV's worth the fans hard earned money.