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KELLER'S TAKE
KELLER: What are reasons that WrestleMania 26 was down 12 percent in buys from WrestleMania 25? Do McMahon's reasons hold up?

May 6, 2010 - 6:07:01 PM
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WrestleMania 26 buys are down 12 percent from last year. This is no surprise. Here are two key reasons, plus a few other thoughts:

PRICE

WrestleMania 26 cost $54.95. At some point, people look at that price and gasp and clutch their wallet. As recently as WrestleMania 19, WrestleMania cost just $39.95. After five years at $49.95, they jumped to $54.95, with more if you wanted it in high definition.

I wrote at the time of the across-the-board monthly PPV price raises which started in January that some fans are going to begin watching PPVs in groups rather than alone, or larger groups rather than small groups. More fans would seek out a bar airing bigger WWE PPVs. And many would wait for the DVD or watch live on a pirate stream online.

The timing was bad for WrestleMania in particular because fans would notice on their cable bills the increase in the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber PPVs around the time the decision was being made to order WrestleMania.

Buys were up slightly for the Rumble and Elimination Chamber compared to the previous year's PPVs in January and February, but much of that growth was from international markets. It's likely many WWE fans didn't notice the price raise until seeing their cable bill.

There comes a point where a price seems like gouging and fans, in large enough numbers to offset any gains in revenue, begin to watch PPVs in larger groups at home, watch at a bar, view online for free (stealing a signal) even with the sacrifice in picture and sound quality, or skip them and wait for the DVD release, specially with WWE providing six hours of first-run programming on cable each week.

I thought the price raise in PPVs came at the wrong time and that going past $50 was a tipping point for a lot budget-conscious fans. That sense of WWE overcharging may have kicked in this year.

UFC

Vince McMahon and other WWE execs downplay this, but UFC 111 drew over 700,000 buys the night before WrestleMania 26. McMahon says UFC draws more from a boxing audience whereas pro wrestling draws from an entertainment audience. I don't get the difference.

Most of us know people who follow both WWE and UFC, and some are much stronger a fan or one than the other, some are equal, but are one way or another interested in the bigger events from both genres. Yes, there are also many people who like one or the other, but not both.

WrestleMania draws the biggest buyrate of the year for WWE each year because they bring in fans who are more fringe, less passionate, or on a tighter budget. The difference between a successful WrestleMania and a disappointing WrestleMania buyrate tends to be the borderline fans who can "take it or leave it." That group, obviously, includes many who split their combat sports PPV dollars with mixed martial arts. Therefore, UFC 111 may have drawn a significant number of fans into watching UFC instead of WrestleMania that weekend, as many of them have neither the budget, time, or interest in watching two three-to-four-hour PPV events on back-to-back nights.

OTHER POTENTIAL FACTORS

-Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker had less interest the second time around. I don't think this was a big factor, as the career-at-stake and rematch-of-a-classic factors made the sequel as compelling as the original.

-Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon was poorly promoted and lost most of its steam by the time WrestleMania camer around. I agree this match should have helped, but botched hype left it a nonfactor.

-John Cena vs. Batista and Edge vs. Chris Jericho didn't match up to John Cena vs. Edge vs. Big Show and Triple H vs. Randy Orton in the eyes of WWE fans for the co-main event world title matches. I don't see a big difference here.

-The 25th Anniversary aspect of marketing WrestleMania 25 (even though WrestleMania 26 was actually the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania) may have played a small part, but probably not much.

-The undercard was weaker. I don't see a difference between the two undercards, although the absence of Jeff Hardy could have been a factor. Rey Mysterio was on both cards, so that wouldn't factor into it.

-The economy? It was weaker in March/April 2009 than in March/April 2010 except for unemployment (which typically recovers later than the rest of the economy as employers tend to wait for a stretch of a good economy before having the confidence to add to payroll). So unemployment could have factored in.

CONCLUSION

I'll stick with 90 percent of the drop being due to the competition the same weekend from a strong UFC 111 card (including Georges St. Pierre and Frank Mir) and the price raise leading to more communal viewing, with secondary factors being the expansion of pirate feeds online.


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