The Postgame (Pregame? Whatever): Why “Don’t buy a ticket” misses the point

This will be an exercise that isn’t deeply rooted in the scientific method. I suppose I might as well call it scientific considering it’s a subject matter in which “psychology” translates to “pretend your arm hurts,” but much like most wrestlers and their so-called psychology, I probably won’t keep the facade up that well. I majored in journalism, not math. Those well-versed in macroeconomics, microeconomics, consumer sciences, game theory, string theory, the Big Bang theory, alchemy or phrenology might be better suited to handle this subject matter than me.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the divide between what wrestling fans want and what the WWE is willing to give us only seems to be growing. Last week’s mostly failed “Hijack Raw” movement that garnered some attention last Monday afternoon in the leadup to the much-anticipated show in Chicago. It was a cute idea, if mostly unnecessary: they know how we feel. They’re building it into their biggest storyline, after all. 
And it ended up not being much of anything besides a typically top-notch, boisterous Chicago crowd: they deftly handled the CM Punk situation with Paul Heyman’s opening segment, and they mostly avoided a direct hit job on the Authority, Randy Orton and Batista by having them all directly interact with Daniel Bryan- who, in a growing WWE trend of co-opting the insurgence, outright told the fans to, direct quote, “hijack Raw”- in multiple segments. That one didn’t require much mental dexterity on their part, seeing as how it wasn’t a departure from the existing storyline. But they nonetheless avoided the partisan crowd being the story.
What was interesting was the vitriol- the backlash to the backlash, if you will- this attempted insurrection received leading up to that show. Vitriol that, presumably, in large part came from people who agreed with the “Hijack Raw” sentiment. And it mostly boiled down to this:
If you don’t like it, don’t buy a ticket.
As consumer advice, it’s pretty basic stuff. If you don’t like a product, don’t spend your money on it. And there’s plenty to not like about the current WWE product to stop you from spending money you might otherwise have spent.
But that isn’t interesting. What’s interesting is the notion that not showing up and spending your money will enact the change we want to see.
I don’t see it working that way. 
Wrestlemania history shows some outrageous peaks and valleys in the buyrates of the show’s early years, even up to a tripling of the number of viewers from ‘Mania 13 to 14. But in the last 10 years, the numbers have mostly stabilized within a small range; while the study of PPV buyrates is about to change forever with the WWE Network’s arrival, for now it still provides a relevant snapshot of the WWE fanbase. 
The way I see it, three shows in the last 10 years have clearly been sold entirely on the work of the existing, full-time roster without any big returning stars or celebrities: 22, 25 and 26. Those three shows averaged a combined 933,000 purchases and are the only three in the last decade to fall short of one million. Shows featuring mainstream celebrities Hulk Hogan (21), Donald Trump and Stone Cold (23), Floyd Mayweather (24), The Rock (27-29) and Brock Lesnar (29), even in small capacities in some cases, all broke the one million barrier, averaging 1.12 million viewers. 
That extra 180,000 of average viewers in those six shows accounts for, roughly, $50 million. While the huge buyrate for Rock/Cena I makes all the sense in the world given the matchup’s historic intergenerational nature, the idea that anyone would part with 50 to 70 dollars to see Hulk Hogan do basically a Raw segment, Donald Trump and Steve Austin shave Vince McMahon’s head or The Rock host the show seems outrageous on the surface. But I think nine shows is enough sample size to suggest that, yes, that’s kinda-sorta happened. (In reality, these extra viewers likely consist mostly of lapsed fans for whom the big returns or mainstream cache was enough to bring them back to the biggest show of the year of a product they once greatly enjoyed, making the notion of these things drawing money that Punk, Bryan, etc. can’t draw a bit more palatable.)
While Batista isn’t anywhere near the wrestling star or mainstream celebrity as the above names, it’s fair to a)wonder how much Hogan affected that WM21 buyrate, and b)maybe give Batista some credit for the pretty big buyrate that show did, considering he main evented it in the culmination of a hot storyline. This is where we get back to the “this isn’t totally scientific” part: in the last decade, that 933,000 number seems like a pretty good baseline for figuring out what the diehard WWE fanbase is, and how they build upon it.
What it says to me is that no full-time, every day WWE star is really growing the fanbase in the last decade. This is in part by design, of course, but that’s neither here nor there for our purposes today. The WWE has figured out what the baseline is for their existing fanbase, and despite anecdotal evidence or the claims of attention seekers, they know this base is more or less not going anywhere. 
They know that as long as they give us just enough of what we want to see, just close enough to the top, we’re going to stick around no matter how appalled we may be with the main event picture. They’re all but openly telling us that they’re pandering to us, the core base, with half-assed appeasements to our pleas. This is the equivalent of telling a cancer patient that you’re going to make them as comfortable as possible even though the tumor is removable and the disease treatable. 
There might be a breaking point- not a Breaking Point– for the core base, but we’re nowhere near it. If anything, we’re getting farther away. And that’s scary, because the things they’re now giving us in their effort to bring in those extra 180,000 wallets are misguided enough that you’d think cracks in the facade would be showing. I don’t see them. I wish I did. 
If you’re disgruntled with the current product, I absolutely agree that you shouldn’t spend your money on it. Don’t buy the ticket, don’t buy the merchandise. But one last don’t:
Don’t think that’s going to enact the change you want to see. It sucks to know that a product you love doesn’t really care about you, although that’s an overly simplistic view of the situation. Losing their core base will absolutely hurt the WWE. But do you think their solution will be to push the guys the core fanbase wants to see, if the problem is that the core fanbase is dwindling? 
In the long view, this could produce an exciting new batch of stars much like it did from 1996 to 1998. 
Maybe. 
As we know, though, their currency is their stock price, their next TV deal. It isn’t as simple as beating Nitro, like it was two decades ago. Are we confident that, if we decide en masse to protest the current main event scene by not giving them our money, they’re going to respond by creating a new batch of Stone Colds, Rocks, Triple Hs and Foleys like they did the last time their backs were truly against the wall? 
They give us as much as they do of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and the like- you could even include John Cena in this, though one of their solutions to a dwindling base would probably be even more Cena- because there’s a built-in fanbase that’s showing up for it, and won’t leave despite whatever other bullshit they throw at us.
While they’re already handling the fallout from the failings of their presentation of the current batch of bullshit (in the form of a 45-year old grandfather who dresses like a 25-year old date rapist), it seems unlikely that it’s going to affect their long-term planning if it isn’t even going to affect their short-term ideas.
If you don’t like it, don’t buy a ticket.
But if enough fellow diehards do the same, you probably won’t like the fallout any better.