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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The Summerslam Buyrate Came Back. What Could it Mean for CM Punk and Daniel Bryan?
By The Doc
Sep 21, 2013 - 9:04:11 AM

The Snowman is a genius

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QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you make of the Summerslam 2013 buyrate coming in low? Who do you blame?

For the last few years, I have quietly laughed at those that made a big deal out of domestic TV ratings. The game has changed from a decade or more ago, when Raw and Smackdown were solely judged on what they accomplished in the weekly Nielsens. Since the global expansion of the product, television ratings in the United States matter a lot less. It is not that they do not matter, but there are very few indications that the WWE sweats bullets over the quarter hour numbers anymore. The difference between a 3.2 and a 2.8 is not going to massively affect business. The measuring stick in the WWE today is pay-per-view buys. For those that scoff at an extra October PPV, look no further than the bottom line as the reason why it happens. Last year, without the third start-of-autumn PPV, the WWE garnered 96,000 less buys for September and October. More importantly, the 4th fiscal quarter looked worse. Instead of combining 121,000 and 182,000 for Vengeance and Hell in a Cell in the first month of the fourth quarter as they did in 2011, they had to live with just 199,000 for Hell in a Cell in 2012. Summerslam delivers a nice third quarter. Wrestlemania the awesome second quarter. Royal Rumble a great first quarter. To get anywhere close to sustaining their business figures from the rest of the year for the fourth quarter, they need that extra October show. They can thank themselves for that, in my opinion, since they've completely butchered the once strong-drawing Survivor Series and turned their Big Four into a Big Three. Alas, it is domestic ratings a distant second to overall PPV buys.

I am concerned about the Summerslam figure released today. 298,000 is the preliminary figure, down from 358,000 for last year's Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar-led event. Throughout the build-up to Summerslam, I said that this was CM Punk's buyrate. I estimated that something in the 320,000 range would be considered a monumental victory for his drawing power. Daniel Bryan was new to the tip-top of the main-event scene. As we saw two years ago when the WWE was trying to establish CM Punk, the establishment of a non-traditional major star did not yield a financial windfall. The Summerslam standard is 300,000 buys at a minimum, just as Wrestlemania's standard is 1 million buys at a minimum. Failing to achieve the low end of that goal reflects poorly upon the primary draw for the show. CM Punk was immediately put on the backburner after he failed to draw the coveted Summerslam standard in 2011, but he also set expectations for these changing times. Two years later in a similar situation with Daniel Bryan's rise, it was unrealistic to expect that putting a non-traditional major star opposite John Cena would hit the magic number. Hence, Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk. Lesnar had proven capable of increasing buys against top stars. There's little doubt that CM Punk became a top star in the last two years. It was reasonable to think that his name on the marquee on the other end of "Versus Brock Lesnar" would garner a strong buyrate. If it did not, then it would be a reflection of CM Punk more than it would Daniel Bryan.

Beware, CM Punk fans. As much as I don't want to admit it, the Summerslam buyrate coming in underneath expectations may hurt him. The WWE has people employed to take a cold, hard look at that number and find out who to blame. Two years ago, fans could pass the buck to the creative team. Summerslam featured a rushed WWE title storyline, the fifth match of a World title series, and a random match between Sheamus and Mark Henry. It was not surprising that the buyrate suffered. This year, that excuse would make the accuser look foolish. Bryan vs. Cena and Punk vs. Lesnar were both outstanding feuds with several memorable TV moments. Bryan has never been put in this situation before, so it would be difficult to put the blame on him. CM Punk, however, is fresh off a starring role in a Wrestlemania that drew over a million buys for the third consecutive year and the finest Royal Rumble figure in several years. I stated two months ago that Summerslam could validate that Punk had a lot to do with those numbers. Before today, we could have assumed that it was not just Rock that made the first quarter so strong for the WWE PPV market, but Rock vs. Punk. We could have further assumed that Punk added a nice chunk to the Mania figure. Today, can we say that? I think that there will be at least a few voices in Vince McMahon's ear telling him that, upon further review, CM Punk was merely the beneficiary of the huge names that were brought back and that he contributed very little, as evidenced by the Summerslam buyrate, to the strong first and second quarter PPV numbers. I, The Doc, am not stating that to be definitively true, but I am stating that it does not take a statistician to draw those conclusions.

Statistical analysis of the buyrates from the last couple of years was inconclusive as to the financial contributions of the Chicago Made Punk. However strong his critical marks may be, he needed Summerslam to push his name to the highest echelon on the business end. Summerslam missed the financial mark. What does that say about CM Punk? To a lesser extent, what does that say about Daniel Bryan? Conventional historical wisdom would suggest that it means that there's a reason why CM Punk and Daniel Bryan types are not chosen as top stars. I would, at this point with my knee jerk reaction, not be surprised if the Wrestlemania XXX line-up changes. I was not a subscriber to the Mr. Tito theory of John Cena coming back to be the end game of the Triple H storyline, but I can see it now. Unless there's a big name coming back this year that we're currently unaware of, i.e. The Rock for the previously rumored Brock Lesnar feud, then it would be reasonable to expect some major changes to any proposed line-up that featured no big star from the past and Bryan and Punk in two of the top three matches. I think we can reasonably write off the thought of a Punk vs. Austin match, as well. Critical success does not determine feuds; financial success does.

My hope would be that the preliminary figure, despite its relative historical accuracy, ends up being a little on the low side, as it was for Royal Rumble '13. The Rumble came in below 500K, initially, but bumped up to 510K when all was said and done. There's not a huge difference between 298 and 300K, but expectations are set for a reason. If the standard is A and you get B, then that's not getting the job done. So, hopefully, this issue gets put to rest with a better than originally reported figure. If not, the winds of change that the internet is so desperately clinging to may very well move further east of WWE Headquarters.

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