The WWE went live on pay-per-view 16 times during 2017. Anyone who watched Fastlane, or Backlash, or Battleground, will tell you that not all of these events were necessary. Or good, for that matter. Not only that, but these events likely did more harm to the overall product than they helped.
At the same time, NXT went live on the WWE Network five times. On average, it’s not even close how better the developmental brand was. Therein lies the problem for the WWE; put on events people will dole out additional money for, but at the same time, make sure the shows are of a vastly superior quality. Is such a happy medium even possible?
According to a recent report, the WWE is cutting back in 2018 — incrementally. They will be hitting PPV 14 times over the course of the year, with five single-branded Raw shows, four single-branded SmackDown Live shows and five combined events, with Money in the Bank added to the Rolodex of joint-brand events (which will seemingly make the additional NXT event an annual staple).
What does all of this mean? It’s difficult to call it a panic move, although downsizing is certainly never optimal from a business perspective. Professional sports franchises are rarely ever decreasing their schedules or teams making the playoffs, but rather continuing to expand. It’s no secret that attendance has been down at live shows, which has been painfully evident during episodes of SmackDown Live which have featured a crowd just on one side of the arena.
More important than what fewer PPV events mean, is what the tangible impact will be. In order to boost attendance at Raw, SmackDown Live and house shows, there’s a simple solution: make the shows better. Television ratings trending downward is the nature of doing business in the 21st century, where there are a plethora of options to grab a fans eye. The one thing that will undisputedly get eyes on the product is making Raw and SmackDown Live a can’t miss program every week when it’s on TV and a can’t miss program to attend when it’s in your city.
The company has faced some challenges that are rather unique this year: Brock Lesnar has been the Universal Champion since April and appears sporadically, at best. Jinder Mahal made his ascension from jobber to WWE Champion in a rather rushed sequence. The Shield reunited, Shane McMahon jumped off the Cell again, SmackDown put Raw under siege, and Shinsuke Nakamura was buried; all of these combined have made for a roller coaster ride from the booking perspective.
Whether or not single-brand PPVs are worth their weight is another topic for another time, but one thing concerning them is undisputed: they are a necessary evil. When the shows were split and convened every month for a PPV, the ensuing product was supremely watered down. Take the current Raw product as the counterweight: they will go from the end of October to the end of February without their own PPV. As a result, the weekly show will logically be much stronger than normal in order to garner attention.
Will every PPV in 2018 be worth remembering? Hardly. Will the WWE do their best to sell the prospective viewer on the WWE Network? Of course. Where these two questions intersect is actually in the ring. It behooves the WWE to not have just a few great cards per year, but a handful of average-to-strong monthly events. That doesn’t benefit the hardcore fan, but it’s a reality of the modern product.