Despite pay-per-view being less important to WWE's bottom line than it was a decade ago, it's still the second most profitable revenue stream the company has, and it's the one WWE's writers and wrestlers have more direct impact on than any other. It's not a test of corporate's skills in negotiating a new TV contract or beholden to the zeitgeist of the television advertising world. It's a great, nearly-instant indicator of who (and what) is clicking with the audience. It's money coming directly out of the fans' pockets for something they want to pay to see.
So let's break down WWE's last twelve months of pay-per-view and take a look at which matches moved the needle the most, in both directions.
The goal was to see which matches had the most positive or negative impact on business relative to how similar shows do in a recent historical context, and the highlighted scores next to the matches below reflect that.
Only North American buys are used to account for fluctuations in international availability. TLC 2012 numbers won't be in for a while, so December pay-per-views are counted as a part of the next year. Also note that Survivor Series wasn't compared to its 2011 equivalent because Rock's return skewed that show's buys.
The highlighted scores next to all matches below are an average of the following numbers for that event:
- Number of buys minus number of buys for its 2011 equivalent
- Number of buys minus the average number of buys of its equivalent show from the past three years (2011-2009)
B-shows (i.e., not Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, and SummerSlam) also average in the following numbers:
- Number of buys minus the average number of buys for all 2012 B-shows
- Number of buys minus the average number of buys for all B-shows from the past four years (2012-2009)
Who moved the needle for WWE in 2012:
- Rock vs. Cena, +82,333
- Lesnar vs. HHH, +80,000
- Lesnar vs. Cena, +43,609
- Ryback vs. Punk, +36,859
- Royal Rumble match, +20,500
- Laurinaitis vs. Cena, +17,442
- Show vs. Cena, +2,692
- Kane vs. Cena, Elimination Chamber matches, +1,442
- Ryback vs. Punk vs. Cena, -3,141
- Punk vs. Cena, -11,141
- Punk vs. Miz vs. Del Rio, HHH vs. Nash -13,391
- Cena, et al. Money in the Bank matches, -26,224
WrestleMania always does well, but The Rock's involvement seems to have pulled it out of the slump it was experiencing. Compare WrestleMania 28's 715,000 buys to 498,000 and 582,000 for 2010 and 2009, respectively.
Similarly, Brock Lesnar seems to have saved SummerSlam from a year-over-year trend that threatened to have it eventually slip below Elimination Chamber with a whopping 93,000 buy increase from 2011. It should come as no surprise that Extreme Rules was the best performing B-show of 2012.
The damage done to Ryback losing his first outing is readily apparent. The second best performing B-show of 2012 was Hell in a Cell. One month later, Survivor Series (a historically strong show) is down 30,000 buys from the month before. To put into perspective just how hot Ryback was, Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules beat Hell in a Cell by just 7,000 buys. And Ryback vs. Punk was by far the best performing B-show not to feature any "special guest" wrestlers in the main event.
Yes, "Mr. Excitement" John Laurinaitis is responsible for moving the needle. I have a feeling that another Laurinaitis match would have done considerably worse. The Royal Rumble did better than in recent years, and if you have an explanation I'd love to hear it. I'd also like to hear why you might think Money in the Bank did so poorly.
For the curious, here are the raw numbers for North American buys:
- Punk vs. Miz vs. Del Rio, HHH vs. Nash, 100,000
- Royal Rumble match, 299,000
- Kane vs. Cena, Elimination Chamber matches, 138,000
- Rock vs. Cena, 715,000
- Lesnar vs. Cena, 159,000
- Laurinaitis vs. Cena, 124,000
- Show vs. Cena, 110,000
- Cena, et al. Money in the Bank match, 104,000
- Punk vs. Cena, 102,000
- Ryback vs. Punk, 152,000
- Ryback vs. Punk vs. Cena, 122,000
If you'd like to delve into the numbers yourself, here's all the data I used.
Overall, 2012 was a better year for pay-per-view for WWE, even when you factor out all the shows whose main events featured "special guests" Rock, Lesnar, and Laurinaitis. Keep in mind 2011 and 2010 were both awful years for them. Taking into account every show, 2012 averaged almost 28,600 more buys per show than 2011. (Keep in mind 2011 had 13 shows, compared to just 12 in 2012.) It's easy to look at the numbers, but it's not so easy to figure out what the numbers are saying.
Let me know what you think 2012's pay-per-view numbers really mean.