The most watched WrestleMania may end up being the most damaging.
WWE was on top of the world. WrestleMania 32 drew a reported 100,000+ to Cowboys Stadium. The number of WWE Network subscribers soared to 1.8 million. Everything seemed to be breaking for WWE.
Unfortunately, the façade quickly crumbled. The viewership for the night after WrestleMania episode of Raw tumbled down more than a million viewers from 2015. The ratings continue to fall further, reaching levels not since the epic pro wrestling recession of the mid-1990’s.
It doesn’t seem to make sense, right? How could all of those people be interested in WrestleMania, but not WWE?
WWE’s WrestleMania problem has been building since 2011, when the return of the Rock to host WrestleMania 27 sent the buyrate skyrocketing. The Rock’s two matches versus John Cena over the next two years did ridiculous business. WrestleMania evolved into a showcase of the part-timers, not the immortals.
While previous WrestleMania shows had a couple of part-timers or legends, WrestleMania 32 took that to an absurd new level. The following part-time wrestlers or legends appeared in action at WrestleMania 32: Triple H, Brock Lesnar, The Rock, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Those seven stars have made a grand total of zero appearances on WWE television since WrestleMania. Even John Cena, who made a brief cameo with the Rock, will not be seen again on WWE TV until Memorial Day.
Now, this isn't exactly a new phenomenon – old-timers have been swinging by Vince McMahon’s office to pick up easy money for years. But there is a new phenomenon that the WWE hasn’t quite figured out yet – its own WWE Network.
If you’ve followed my blog, you know my thoughts on the Network and how it was doomed from the start. While Vince McMahon made a huge splash about pay-per-view being dead, Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor have resoundingly proved him wrong – to say nothing of Floyd Mayweather.
In the PPV model, it almost doesn’t matter how bad the quality of the show is, because you have months to convince those people to buy the next show. I know from experience. In 2011, I bought WrestleMania 27 and instantly regretted it. I vowed to never again buy a WWE pay-per-view. And I didn’t….for exactly one year, until I gave in and bought WrestleMania 28.
In the Network model, the quality is just as important as the promotion. If WrestleMania sucks and I swear off WWE for a year, they’ve only gotten $10 from me instead of $70. To keep getting the same amount of money from me – and thousands of other casual fans – they need to produce a product that will not cause me to immediately cancel. WWE’s promotion to give WrestleMania away for free to new subscribers only increased the importance of putting on a good show.
In the wake of WrestleMania as WWE pumped its chest about the show, investors started selling the stock. The number of paid subscribers in the United States for the Network went down from 2015 to 2016 and investors feared that WWE would not be able to convert those free subscribers into paying subscribers.
It feels as if those fears were founded. If you’re one of those free subscribers, what would motivate you to keep your subscription? WrestleMania was a five-hour slog of a show that featured a litany of stars that aren’t part of WWE’s roster. The night ended with Roman Reigns holding up the WWE Title as 100,000 people yawned, booed or left.
This is not to discount the talent currently on the WWE roster – guys like Kevin Owens or Cesaro or AJ Styles are worth the price of admission. But at WrestleMania, WWE told everyone watching those guys weren’t the real stars. The real stars were Triple H, The Rock and The Undertaker.
If a casual fan watches Raw and see AJ Styles in the main event, they must wonder where the rest of the top guys went.
There are many things wrong with the current state of WWE. The McMahon family dominates everything, as they have for 20 years. The creative team is busting out the same finishes, which inexplicably includes yet another version of the Montreal screwjob. Yes, in 2016, the “hip” WWE is referencing something that happened in 1997.
However, those things can be fixed. The McMahons can go away. The creative team can get creative. The talent can put on great matches. Roman Reigns can drop the WWE Title.
There is one thing that can’t be fixed easily, and that’s apathy. No one cares right now because no one is given a reason to care.
This is where WrestleMania 32 could end up submarining WWE for months, if not years. The results of that night did not matter. Shane McMahon lost a match for “control” of Raw and is controlling Raw. Zach Ryder won the Intercontinental Title and isn’t even on the show anymore. AJ Styles lost to Chris Jericho and ended up as the #1 contender.
You have told fans that the full-time wrestlers don’t matter and the results don’t matter.
Why are fans going to keep paying $10 a month? Spoiler: they won’t.