Posted in: Doctor's Orders Doctor's Orders: Back to Serious Business - Please, Get Survivor Series Right
By Dr. CMV1
Oct 24, 2011 - 10:34:20 AM
We’re officially on the Road to the Survivor Series. In recent years, that has not meant nearly as much as it did in the past. Honestly, the WWE doesn’t act like there is a big four anymore. Survivor Series is treated like just another PPV or sometimes worse. 2009 didn’t bother to do much of anything in the way hype for the top matches. It was all so inspired that it managed less than 250,000 buys for the first time in well over a decade. 2010 repeated the trend from the previous year. Since we’re talking about a company that rightly tries to make decisions based on what makes the most money, I just don’t get it. They’ve talked about scrapping this PPV altogether and finding something to replace it, for crying out loud. Someone in that business needs to realize that the selling point for the Survivor Series is the traditional 5-on-5 elimination match. If they’d build around it, then people would buy the Survivor Series.
Buyrate history proves that when the WWE creatively gears their fall season toward a scenario that favors a traditional Survivor Series match, then the PPV performs financially like one of the big four is expected. Unfortunately, the WWE has done this just a handful of times in the modern era. Since 2001, the November classic that has featured a 4-on-4 or 5-on-5 elimination match with advanced build-up starting in September at the earliest has outdrawn those built around a championship match and a randomly thrown together elimination match by 100,000 buys. We’re talking about the average difference being between 300,000 buys and 400,000 buys. That’s over a $4 million difference in pure monetary collection. It seems they might get it right this year and I’m quietly confident that the combination of that and Rock’s return to the ring will draw a nice amount of buys, but you have to question the sanity of company that can have the kind of figures mentioned above staring them in the face at every third quarter board meeting and not have some higher up suggest, “Let’s build Survivor Series around the traditional match so that we can make a higher profit for this period.”
Bret Hart said in a recent interview that he never much cared for Survivor Series and many of the old school fans that mostly paid attention during the 80s and 90s would probably share that sentiment. However, the late Attitude era and for most of the early brand split, the WWE – in four out of five years – built to a classic Survivor Series match that was the centerpiece feud of the PPV. They were treated as far more important than any other traditional match of that type had been before. Take Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff from 2003, for example. Austin and Bischoff had feuded as Co-GMs for months and they built to that storyline’s conclusion at the Survivor Series. The event sold about 75,000 more PPVs than the previous year centered on the first Elimination Chamber. A traditional Survivor Series match out drew the first of what has become one of the WWE’s signature gimmicks. The fact that the Austin-Bischoff teams produced one of the top 50 matches of all-time doesn’t hurt, but that’s a hard piece of fiscal evidence that a profit-driven conglomerate cannot ignore.
To me, 2003 produced the best Survivor Series feud in history, but the quality of the feud doesn’t necessarily have to be that high to still do really good business. The 2001 WCW vs. WWF feud certainly didn’t live up to expectations (and I’m not sure it ever could have), but it definitely built up to a satisfying conclusion in Greensboro at the Survivor Series. It was good for about 450,000 buys. Team Raw vs. Team Smackdown in 2005 was nicely handled and it produced a very strong buyrate, as well. It’s just a no brainer to make the PPV all about the Survivor Series match instead of having one just to have one. It makes money!
The formula is pretty simple. When we look at 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005 – the four years in which the Survivor Series Elimination match was the featured bout on the card – the top personalities in the industry were involved and the big match was flanked by either world title matches and/or another, secondary elimination match.
2001 – It was All or Nothing for survival of a company – most of the key players were in the match. Rock and Austin, of course, followed by Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, RVD, and others. It was a big enough storyline that it could’ve carried the show by itself, but they spent the time and effort to build-up unification matches throughout the rest of the show, unifying the mid-card and tag team titles.
2003 – The already mentioned Austin vs. Bischoff battle featured, of course, the potential for Austin’s final appearance. Jericho and Michaels were the biggest named in-ring performers for the match, but there were a host of top level mid-card acts involved, thus allowing Triple H to face Goldberg for the World title in the blow off to their feud. It was also the climax to the Shane O’Mac and Kane saga. Throw in a nice traditional Survivor Series match from Smackdown and it’s no wonder this did a strong # of buys, but the focal point was Austin-Bischoff.
2004 – This was a year where things just didn’t go that smoothly. The WWE botched the Randy Orton vs. Triple H feud, but still managed to put together a good Survivor Series match where teams captained by Orton and Trips would get control of Raw as guest GM for one month. Edge, Batista, Jericho, and Chris Benoit provided star support to the captains and produced a great match. Smackdown had a 4-on-4 elimination match, as well. It wasn’t a perfect example of the formula working, but it easily outdrew 2008-10 buyrates.
2005 – Raw vs. Smackdown was a great idea that they could have used again and again each year using the Bragging Rights theme that had its own PPV. HBK, Batista, Orton, JBL, Rey Mysterio, and a group of young guys did a great job of putting over the rivalry. The match and the story were executed well and it translated to a lot of buys. The supporting matches were strong, as well, with Triple H vs. Ric Flair and Kurt Angle vs. John Cena reaching near their end points.
There was a noticeable lack of effort being put into the Survivor Series starting in 2006. Each show was proverbially painted-by-the-numbers and seemingly lacked in creativity. Sure, they put Orton and Batista on opposite teams in 2008. Sure, they did some decent things in 2006, 2007, and 2009 for the traditional matches, but gone was the direction taken in the years cited above that would make a big deal out of the importance of a Survivor Series match. If you don’t put the effort in, then you can’t very well expect much of a return. This has especially been the case in the last two years. But 2009 and 2010 were the result of a problem that began after 2005. They reverted back to the days of the 90s, where Survivor Series match became secondary to the title matches.
The bottom line is that no gimmick match – and they’re learning this the hard way with all these gimmick-themed PPVs with little storyline reason to warrant such gimmicks – can go without considerable hype on television. If you want a gimmick match to deliver the best number of buys that it can, then you have to make it worth watching. You can’t just throw 10 guys in a match, slap the Survivor Series label on it, and expect to it garner a lot of buyers. If there’s not a justifiable story behind those 10 guys being in that kind of match, then what will motivate me – the prospective buyer – to want to spend my money? This seems like a basic concept, but I feel like the WWE has surrounded its smart people with dumb people who don’t understand business.
2006 – Bunch of randomly thrown together Survivor Series matches featuring guys that happened to be feuding at the time couldn’t garner the buyrate that the previous 4/5 years had managed to average. Despite DX vs. Rated-RKO, Cena vs. Big Show, or anything else, the buyrate dropped. Lesson to be learned quickly? You cannot just randomly throw guys that are involved in individual feuds into one match and call it a day. There has to be some sort of central theme that they are fighting for. Control of the show…brand supremacy…the survival of a company…someone’s career…
2007 – Just one Survivor Series matches again featuring randomly feuding stars; the focus was instead placed on the title matches – even one that took place inside Hell in a Cell. Yet, it failed to achieve the average of the 4/5 from ’01-’05.
2008 – Again, lacking a common goal in the Survivor Series matches. Victory is not a strong enough common goal since the WWE has conditioned its audience that wrestling is not a sport.
2009 and 2010 – Outdrawn by No Way Out; need I say more?
So, please WWE. I hope that this storyline surrounding control of the WWE will lead to a logical Survivor Series match where something is at stake in the elimination match. The Rock is coming back to be a part of it. It’s in Madison Square Garden. Let this year be the start of a trend that will make you understand that Survivor Series can be successful using the very match type that it was founded upon. Hopefully, it’s not too late to undo the damage done over the last few years.
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