Strangling the Golden Goose

Scott Hudson

Unless my math is off, there will be at least 35 professional wrestling pay-per-views in 2009. Not Mixed Martial Arts. Just the sport of kings on the channel of kings.

Good lord.

That is (almost) three per month. Two of every three weekends. That hand you see is moving toward the gullet of the golden goose with strangling on its mind.

Although the first Wrestlemania was available in a precious few markets, wide-spread, mega marketed wrestling pay-per-views began with the WWFâ<80><99>s Wrestling Classic on November 5, 1985. In 23 years, the genre has gone from a quirky, â<80><9c>how-do-they-do-that,â<80> one-off show to the literal life-blood of two if not three current wrestling promotions.

But therein lies the problem.

Call it the eggs-in-basket phenomenon. If, for whatever reasons, the pay-per-view market collapsed, where would the WWE, TNA and Ring of Honor be? Out of business? No, not at first, but it would be a easy walk to bankruptcy court from the jam-packed arena.

The less diverse your revenue stream, the less you can afford to have that stream interrupted. Now, there is nothing on the horizon to indicate that the pay-per-view well has, or is about to, run dry. But the longevity of any revenue stream in wrestling has a notoriously short half-life. Do you honestly believe that, in 1980, if you told Ole Anderson that in 15 years, the house show business will be down at least 50% but wrestling will make millions and millions of dollars from fans staying at home and watching house shows from the comfort of their own La-Z-Boy? Every month? He would have bitch-slapped you into next week. And yet it happened.

So what is the next big thing? (And donâ<80><99>t say Brock Lesnar)

Wearing a virtual reality helmet with an IMAX screen inside so you can watch a pay-per-view in 360 and really feel like you are in the arena? For $100 per show? Possibly.

The issue is this: if professional wrestling does not pry itself loose from the proverbial teat of pay-per-view (even just a little bit), it is going to cannibalize itself due to its own success. If we can make money with 35 pay-per-views in 2009, what not 50 in 2010?! 100 in 2011?! Hell, letâ<80><99>s just have a pay-per-view every week to build the pay-per-view on every Sunday!

The wrestling fan can only take so much and there is a law of diminishing returns. Marks will only be marks up to a certain point then they become normal people again – normal people with a mortgage, a car payment, and a child to feed. And normal people like that do not (in any large number) spend $80+ per month on wrestling pay-per-views.

What will give (because something has to)? My money is on salaries. As pay-per-view revenues slowly take a hit over the next few years, you will not see fewer shows but you may see fewer wrestlers. The talent roster for the WWE (excluding the developmental territories) is well over 100. That number will take a hit as will the average contract offered to WWE talent. Same goes (to a lesser extent) for TNA.

For both companies the answer may lie across either pond. The WWE is insanely popular worldwide and would still do quite well never running a pay-per-view show in the United States (not as well as they are now, but well enough to stay afloat). TNA, although not there yet, could fairly easily transition to that scenario.

It all comes down to change. In a year when we hear two presidential candidates blathering on about change and how they are going to bring it, professional wrestling is ignoring change and blathering on about how to forestall it. Will not work, men. Find the next wave and surf until you crash or catch another. The pay-per-view wave may be about to break close to the shoreline.

POST SCRIPT: I take a backseat to no one in my admiration for Mark Madden (except for maybe Mark himself). I wholeheartedly endorse his thoughts on Triple H. An excellent column with a thesis with which I could not more honestly agree. Here here!

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