Last Saturday was a pretty great one if you were a UK boxing fan. Carl Froch defeated George Groves in their highly anticipated rematch for the IBF and WBA Super Middleweight titles. It was described as the biggest boxing match in eighty years and, although the fight didn’t quite match the quality of their first bout (what re-match does? Even Ali and Frazier couldn’t manage that one, they needed a classic third settler) it was a still a great night. Froch’s right hand smash crumpled Groves to the canvas in the eighth and that was all she wrote.
What made the fight extra special was that it was in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. 80,000. The initial 60,000 tickets sold out in under an hour and the later 20,000 went almost as quick. It was a hell of a sight and one to make British sporting fans proud. Only the night before, another 80,000 people had watched England’s last home match before the World Cup. Almost as soon as the final whistle had gone, the boxing crew were in setting up for the next night.
Why talk about boxing and football? Well, it’s not so much that as the stadium. The crowds. The excitement. For WWE, they appear to love coming to the UK as the crowd is rabid and often the post-WrestleMania RAW success is attributed to the vocal Europeans (not entirely, but they do make up a loud percentage). It genuinely feels like a party when the WWE accepts the British fans.
Sometimes, however, it feels like we’re a little bit left out. Yes, fans in Mexico, Germany, Italy, etc. could feel this too but, obviously, I’m coming at this from the point of view of a British fan of wrestling. As a country, we’ve proven time and again that we will be vocal and passionate. Hell, Wade Barrett didn’t even wrestle on the recent UK RAW and he still got the loudest cheer of the night. Also, looking specifically at Wembley, they proven they can put on one hell of a show, or ‘two shows’ if this weekend is anything to go by. Watch this excellent time-lapse video for proof of that.
Let’s put it out there...we want a PPV.
Will it happen? Unfortunately, probably not.
Now, this isn’t going to be a moan about why we probably won’t get a PPV, the world is struggling economically so anything, anything, that means a potential drop in revenue will be terrifying for any company, particularly one that saw a $9 dollar loss in its share price last month and Vince McMahon, allegedly, losing almost $750million in April/May. Risk really isn’t an option at the moment.
When WWE hosted SummerSlam in 1992, it was a huge success but it was also pre-recorded for the US audience. Fine back then but today, with the internet age and Twitter, etc. keeping those results secret will be impossible. That would mean a live feed for the WWE’s biggest market, and so the times would have to be based on East and West coast delays. If the PPV went live in the UK at, say, 8pm in London, we’re looking at afternoon screenings for America. Would the WWE want a Sunday afternoon PPV? Not only is this not really a great time to watch wrestling (let’s be honest, if you’re drinking age, a few beers is always nice) Sunday afternoon sports such as tennis, golf and Formula 1 get huge worldwide audiences and this is competition the WWE probably doesn’t need.
On top of this, the PPV would likely be part of the European Tour and this creates huge problems for the WWE backstage team with limited get-in time for the post-PPV RAW, even if it’s held at the O2 in Greenwich. Considering tickets sales too, would a London crowd (granted with people from around the country) want to, or be able to, shell out for a PPV ticket and a RAW ticket? If they moved the RAW to Manchester then there’s even further travel problems. Of course, the RAW backstage team are excellent and produce shows around the world every week but, this is a big ask. Wembley Stadium, holding 80,000 people, is a bigger crowd than this year’s WrestleMania and equal to last years at the MetLife. It wouldn’t just be a small PPV, in scale at least, it would be edging towards a WreslteMania more than a Payback.
The logistics mentioned seem to be the biggest stumbling block but maybe it could work. The marketing in America would have to be built round the fact that this is a unique PPV. Let’s use the example of SummerSlam in the UK. The marketing could be pitched around BBQ’s and beer with your friends. Pool parties and wrestling. Also, with the Network, they could put some special programming on post-PPV, maybe a mini-show in the US or, a PPV-style event for NXT. WWE always claims that SummerSlam is the party of the summer but how many people truly party when the PPV finishes late in the evening on a Sunday? A mid-afternoon party with a Network reward would hopefully push up streaming sales if nothing else.
Another key idea would be a stacked card. Obviously, WWE can’t always do this. Payback is proof that the show was based around two feuds because of the injury to Daniel Bryan and some ‘holding’ battles for people like Sheamus and Cesaro. The card for an afternoon SummerSlam PPV would have to be huge. Yes, obviously some favouring to the UK crowd would help but the WWE would need to really drag in the US dollar buys.
A clear seller would be a US/UK (or European) elimination tag match. Or a top American star such as John Cena going against Wade Barrett for the title. Okay, we’ve seen that match before but this would clearly be very different. It would also mean that wrestlers like Drew McIntyre, Sheamus and even William Regal would get some direction and, for those heady months of summer, would be relevant again. A few returning legends? Well, it never hurts the big PPV’s so Roddy Piper managing the aforementioned McIntyre against Regal managing, say, Adrian Neville? It has potential.
Again, WWE could really go to town on the American side of things. This would not only build the US buy-rates but would also get a deafening reaction from a UK crowd. A re-packaged Real American team (Swagger with, say, Corey Graves from NXT) going up against Cesaro and Sylvester Lefort? US vs Europe. It’d be like the Ryder Cup but with swings.
Obviously, there isn’t enough UK/European wrestlers to fill out a whole card and this is where the WWE would need to be savvy when creating a huge card. Look at this year with the rumoured (so it won’t happen because WWE will swerve ball us) Bryan vs Brock match. They need something big and something new. If he continues to develop, Reigns vs Brock could be a sell. Bryan vs Sami Zayn? Something big and something new.
This column isn’t about fantasy booking (although it could be argued this whole column is fantasy) but the argument is the WWE, to sell the PPV, would need to focus marketing on the ‘party’ and on the Wembley crowd. Top that with US/UK headline matches and some unique one-offs and it might just work. There is absolutely nothing in the works for a PPV outside of the US/Canada but, to contradict an earlier comment, to make money in this day and age, the WWE might have to take a few risks. They’re already trying to re-model the PPV model so, with that, other elements might be worked on too.
SummerSlam 1992 was a classic PPV still talked about in the UK amongst wrestling fans. It’s still the third highest attended PPV ever (with some arguing it might be the highest due to WrestleMania III attendance disputes). Either way, pretty impressive. The gate receipts and merchandise sales were huge but, yes, the PPV buy-rates were still down (1.5 down from 2.7 the year before but higher than 1993’ 1.3). The card was solid, not stacked though, but it had a key main event in The British Bulldog (with Lennox Lewis in his corner no less) defeating Bret Hart in a nigh-on five star match.
PPV buy-rates have been lowering for SummerSlam for a while now so clearly something new is needed. Obviously, this column is about bring the PPV to the UK but, pipe-dreams aside, WWE really needs to consider how the second biggest PPV of the year can steadily grow again. With the dawn of streaming and the WWE Network, will people always be watching a PPV live? If the company is looking to re-model the structure then they have to admit that their shows, like mainstream TV will not be watched when dictated to by the corporation. People will watch it the next day, or later in the week. The streaming service means we watch TV when we want to.
Also, some may argue that, yes, the UK/Europe deserves a PPV but it should be a ‘B grade’ one, a Payback or a Battleground. The problem is, you’re not going to get a venue like Wembley agreeing to a PPV like that because 80,000 people will not turn out for that sort of name. It would be shunted to an arena and then, well, it would look like any other PPV in America. The arena ones usually do. Yes, you get a Chicago crowd, or a New Jersey crowd or, in this argument, a UK crowd, but a SummerSlam at Wembley would be about spectacle, memories and, let’s be honest, the marketing of future events.
What began as a moment of joy as 80,000 people enjoyed a boxing match has now become an argument not only about a UK PPV but also about the direction of the PPV model. WWE is trying to change how we watch televised sports entertainment. To that end, maybe they should implement further changes and really try and re-fashion how and why we watch their product.
Will the UK get a big PPV? Not particularly likely right now. Would it be memorable and, potentially, financially rewarding? Yes. Are their two sides to the argument? Of course. That’s how fighting works. Just ask George Groves after he was knocked out by Carl Froch. Sometimes the best punches come when least expected. That is what a UK SummerSlam could be. An unexpected, electric punch of wonder.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.