SPOTLIGHTS: Stop Building to PPVs: Why Indy Wrestling Gets it Right

tumblr_mcgp25cK6k1r9zebxo6_1280Something is broken with the WWE. And I’m not talking about sex scandals, serious injuries from over scheduling talent, and a revolution that arguably never happened. Nor never-ending confusion on when/not to push established talent one last time.

What is broken lies in the WWE Network’s obsession to convince shareholders it a useful venture, and with it populate programming with an abundance of lesser PPVs. There’s no overt problem with this formula; everyone loves a good match…let alone a good PPV each month. Wrestling on demand is awesome!

The problem is what resides in between said PPVs: Raw and Smackdown are now PPV fodder. WWE simply can’t help itself, as the Network appetite – more importantly shareholders counting new and sustained subscriber base – is insatiable.

For all the social media criticism of WWE Creative decision-making, it really is a dollars and cents versus idea problem. Matches are now inconsequential, also storytelling inherent. The WWE Universe knows weeks in advance who is ultimately fighting for a championship, and/or why we should care. Thus, we simply don’t.

Sans PPVs, outcomes are never in doubt – a cardinal sin of a pre-determined art form reliant on suspension of disbelief. In tandem, WWE punishes lesser PPVs in sacrificing outcomes toward larger endeavors. It’s no wonder ratings devolve to peanuts with each passing Raw/Smackdown hour. Those holding out for something different finally give way to PPV reality. Belts never change hands, new alliances never forged. Even live crowds are devoid of the natural ‘pop,’ formerly a WWE mainstay. It takes a Damien Mizdow reinvention to buck this trend.

Here’s where indy wrestling gets it.

Even with smaller rosters and shows averaging a month apart, the excitement is omnipresent. Everyone knows Santana has a target on her back via Allysin Kay, Ivelisse, or another hungry challenger. Still, Shine Wrestling never feels obligated to lead us to water up to and/or during a match. Until that third ref hand hits the canvas, we’re interested. And sometimes very confused by what emerged.

Full Impact Pro’s Fallout 15 played this to perfection. It used this suspension of disbelief to locate the next great talents (ie Stitch Osiris, Sonny Kiss)…all the while allowing Team IOU and Jake Dirden to emerge the unsuspecting winners. Behind the scenes, Lio Rush was getting his next great break. The crowd loved every minute of it. And all of it went to charity.

Finally, Ring of Honor perfected this formula. TV tapings sequentially build to a PPV, each packed with at least one plot twist and meaningful character advancement. Not surprisingly, belts regularly change hands at these events. Sneaky brilliant is marrying these tapings to a PPV event, shot in tandem. The already hot crowd from the prior evening is keen to explore what happens next. Dalton Castle and Silas Young created perhaps the greatest wrestling rivalry of the year…told in TV tapings.

The easiest fix for WWE? Don’t build toward PPVs in announcing match lineup 3-4 weeks in advance. Stagger PPV schedules to ensure viewers are one step behind. Put less emphasis on belts, more so meaning behind them. And for crying out loud, don’t use developmental to band aid missteps. It’s unfair to the talent itching for a break, careers destroyed for a short term plot upgrade. Also, crowds don’t mind seeing forgotten faces at these or non-televised outings. Give your talent a chance to shine.

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