THE ELECTRICITY IS GONE
Are they popping the ratings or popping our bubbles?
The long term effects are going to be bad.
When we look back on this stage of our wrestling fandom, we will always remember it, just like we remember the days of Hulkamania vs. The Warrior and the cheesy gimmick-laden early 90s. We'll remember how the WWE had the greatest assembled roster of talent in the history of the sport but struggled to hold our interest. We'll remember the bad storylines, the infamous walkouts, the lack of tag teams, the politics and the whole works.
But more than all these, we will remember this as the time when the expectations of the fans crumpled as PPV-quality matches were constantly given away on free TV.
From the earliest days of pay-per-view, there have been distinct differences between what we saw on TV and what we PAID to see. Four times a year, we tuned in and watched as the really big matches occurred and stars finally clashed. We had watched a zillion jobbers get squashed by the superstars on weekly programs and we were ready to see the REAL matches that could only be seen on PPV.
When the pay-per-view event finally rolled around, everyone was watching. We called our moms and dads, brothers and friends into the living room for Summerslam. The intensity, the electricity was palpable and we really didn't know who would win the big match.
I'm not going to cry and whine and wish the days of the jobber squash would return. There's no way I would want that. I'm no fool - I enjoy seeing wonderful matches on Raw just as much as the next guy. But mark my words - it's going to hurt the WWE very, very badly in the long run.
Think of what we've been seeing lately, since the ratings entered the downward spiral. Incredible matches between RVD and The Undertaker, RVD and Eddie Guerrero in a very memorable ladder match, Chris Jericho and Edge in a steel cage. Even Monday night, we had Chris Benoit vs. RVD and The Rock vs. Ric Flair.
They're blowing their load way too early. These are huge matches, for god's sake! Why are they giving them away on TV?
We all know there are still differences between TV matches and PPV matches. PPV matches are longer, are often used to end or set up the biggest feuds and angles, have more near-falls and more "holy sh**" spots. Still, there is not enough of a difference between free TV matches and pay-per-view matches to make most people shell out $35-40.
How will this hurt the WWE? It won't, at first. It will hurt ME AND YOU, the wrestling fans, because we will no longer have that hunger to see a big feud culminate at the PPV. We won't care about the possibility of title matches (and title changes) because so damned many of them have happened on Raw and Smackdown! No longer will we see two superstars staring across the ring at each other and get chills, as we once did.
That's why so many people rave and crow about the Wrestlemania X-8 match between The Rock and Hulk Hogan: it brought back the old electricity. I ask you this question: when was the last time you had that old-time markout feeling besides the Hogan/Rock spectacle? Years prior?
Now think back to the 80s and 90s. How often did you mark-out back then? How often did PPV contests give you goosebumps? For me, it was almost EVERY DAMNED TIME. Did we lose that feeling because we're old and cynical? Because the business is exposed? Because we're smarky Internet fans?
I don't think so. I think the WWE has no idea how to build momentum anymore. I think they've lost their ability to raise our expectations.
Giving away PPV-quality matches on TV will have long-term repercussions; the kind of effects that will make us shake our heads in disgust when we look back on them. We'll simply cease to care, and that's what will hurt the WWE: they're gonna lose our money.
I realize they feel a need to pop the ratings by having big matches week to week, but they are giving away to many blockbusters with no build-up. They need to slow down the pace, build new stars and make PPVs special again. That's what will get me interested. That's how Vince can continue to make my money.