The WrestleMania 26 buy rate is in and nobody is celebrating in Stamford, CT. The biggest WWE event of the year drew 885,000 buys worldwide. The number is down from WrestleMania 25 and a huge disappointment for a WrestleMania event that featured Bret Hart, a strong card, and the end of Shawn Michaels.
The 885,000 buy rate is disappointing considering that early projections looked to be well over 1,000,000 buys for WrestleMania 26. I am not big into writing about buy rates because at the end of the day, I don’t think pro wrestling fans really concern themselves too much about buy rates. I have never seen a WWE fan go crazy over a big buy rate, although I have heard many complain about crappy shows. But I think this is big news and worthy of discussion as this is in my opinion a reflection of the current WWE climate and a big alarm for a change.
I have to admit, I was pretty surprised at the WrestleMania 26 buyrate. In my opinion, WrestleMania 26 had one of the better lineups as opposed to WrestleMania events in the last several years. I thought the promotion for Batista vs. John Cena was excellent as a main-event. The return of Bret Hart sparked enough interest that his first confrontation with Vince McMahon drew a 4.1 rating in the WWE RAW overrun. Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker are two WWE stars that have transcended several generations of fans, so the interest in a match that could end the career of Shawn Michaels should have been a big draw in itself. So why the low buy rate on a WrestleMania that should have been an easy success?
[adinserter block=”1″]For one, Ric Flair killed the golden goose of wrestling retirements. The emotion and memories of the retirement of Ric Flair are still fresh in the minds of WWE fans. Equally fresh are the reappearances by Flair on WWE television fighting Randy Orton in a Street Fight and now wrestling on TNA Impact. The appeal of a wrestling retirement match is over. I don’t think anyone expected or expects Shawn Michaels to stay retired, other than Shawn Michaels. Unlike Flair, Shawn Michaels doesn’t look old or broken down and quite frankly, looks better in the ring than arguably everyone on the roster. Rarely has anyone other than Jack Brisco walked away and never come back in that kind of situation. WWE fans know it and they aren’t buying it (no pun intended).
The WWE also got too cute with the Bret Hart angle. The fact that they even turned this into an angle is surprising in itself because nothing here needed to be done. There was enough history here to sell this match without any gaga or soap operas. The car accident angle turned a lot of the older fans off who tuned back in to watch Bret Hart. The explanation worked but it was a bit corny. In the end, I think a lot of people had tuned out by that point anyway who would have bought this match on seeing a lot less scripted in the build to the Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon WrestleMania match.
The WWE Guest Host idea is working short term but killing the WWE long term in my opinion. I think that way too many wrestling fans have become so turned off by the horrendous comedy and endless array of D-List celebrities. It is working in the short term as a television show because you are getting some new viewers in to check out the celebrities and maybe boost the ratings. But, those aren’t people that are going to pay $50 to watch WrestleMania 26. Those people tuned out a long time ago and aren’t coming back until this thing runs its course. Stephanie McMahon recently compared it to SNL, the big difference is that when people tune into SNL they want to see comedy. When wrestling fans tune into WWE RAW, they want to see WWE wrestling.
A lot of UFC fans and writers are pumping their chests out about the low buyrate. There is a belief that by the UFC broadcasting UFC 111 the night before WrestleMania 26 that they stole customers away from the WWE. I don’t buy it at all. I really don’t think there is as big a crossover of pro wrestling and MMA fans as some think. The UFC has never done any damage at all to WWE RAW when they have gone head to head with live Monday shows. While I do think that there are some crossover fans that may opt one over the other on a particular weekend, the numbers are so miniscule that they really don’t factor into the equation.
[adinserter block=”2″]The technology when it comes to Internet users pirating live streams of pay-per-view boxing, WWE, and UFC events has vastly improved. The UFC has been more reactive in this regard to stopping pirated streams than the WWE has. One theory may suggest that WWE fans are getting smarter and would rather find a live online stream than pay $50+. Again, I don’t necessarily buy this theory when it comes to WrestleMania. I definitely think when it comes to a B-level WWE event, a fan may choose to find a live stream rather than waste their money but this is WrestleMania. I think that if a fan wants to watch WrestleMania that WrestleMania would be the one show a year that they would shell out the bucks for to watch comfortably or with friends rather than stay in alone and watch it on some jumbled stream in front of an 18” monitor.
Finally, the booking just flat out sucks these days in the WWE. I really enjoyed the booking of the Batista vs. John Cena feud, but that didn’t make up for the rest of the show. Angles and feuds are being thrown together without reason or conclusion at a pace that even makes Vince Russo scratch his head at times. The WWE is also forcing issues and stars down the fan’s throats that they just honestly don’t want to see. It has gotten to the point where you can miss three month’s worth of WWE television and not miss a thing. Even Vince McMahon blamed the creative process for the disappointing WrestleMania 26 numbers on a recent conference call to WWE shareholders.
I hope for the sake of wrestling fans that the WWE will use this information as a wakeup call. At least for now, it sounds like Vince McMahon is looking to react to this and make some hard changes. However, if the last few WWE RAW television shows are any indication than the WWE could expect an even lower number for WrestleMania 27. Considering that Flava Flav and Jon Lovitz will be WWE Guest Hosts for the next two weeks respectively, I don’t see any changes coming in the near future.