Article: The current state of the WWE's house show business

Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2018/11/21/article-the-current-state-of-the-wwes-house-show-business/

By: Marcus Dietz (@GoHuskerz)

As I was listening to Rewind-A-Raw, I took note of your discussions regarding house show attendance and upcoming Starrcade event this Saturday in Cincinnati. I live in the Cincinnati area and purchased two tickets to Starrcade when the event was first announced. I will be taking my 7-year-old son to the show, and this will be his second ever house show.

I wanted to share with you my perspective on house shows and why attendance could be down. My son really enjoys WWE. However, since he is only 7, he’s not a big fan of the numerous talking segments that you see on a normal broadcast of Raw or SmackDown. He’s more engaged with the product when a match is taking place. Because of this, I only choose to purchase tickets to non-televised house shows. The pace of WWE house shows is just right for folks with younger children. A Raw or Smackdown Live show would easily last four-plus hours. A house show is about two and a half hours, max.

WWE likes to consider itself as family-friendly entertainment. However, there is a significant cost involved to attend a WWE live event. For the Starrcade show, I believe there were seven ticket pricing tiers ($19, $29, $39, $59, $79, $114 and $304). I purchase two tickets from the $59 sections. When you factor in the various service and handling fees, the total for the two tickets was now over $160 (USD). I’ll probably pay $10 - $20 to park my car, so I’m already out $170+ before we even walk into the building. I’ve reviewed ticket prices for other house shows, and these pricing tiers seem to be consistent throughout the country. That being said, I think that ticket prices contribute greatly to the attendance slump. A family of four who might purchase $29 seats are going to be looking at around $190-$200 before they walk into the door. You also must consider concessions and merchandise purchases. Suddenly, this family-friendly entertainment isn’t so friendly on your bank account.

Something else to consider is the product being shown on television. A parent who may be a casual WWE fan or maybe someone completely unaware of the product might tune into Raw and just see a bunch of people standing in the ring talking for 15 minutes. They come back in 30 minutes and observe another talking segment. It then becomes easy for that person to form an opinion that it is very little in-ring action on television, and therefore that is the same experience they’d expect to see at a house show. When you take that assumption and factor in live event ticket prices, it could persuade a parent to look at other entertainment options.

As far as Starrcade goes. I’ve been a wrestling fan since the early 1980s, so Starrcade was a big deal to me. I jumped at the chance to attend the WWE version of it here in Cincinnati. The card has gone through many modifications since the event was first announced. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “card subject to change”. Here is a breakdown of the card for the initial event announcement to today.

First matches announced:
The Shield vs. Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre in a Cincinnati Street Fight
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte in a Cage Match for the SmackDown Women’s Title
AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe in a Cage Match for the WWE World Title
Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the US Title

First card revision (signing of Rey Mysterio)
Rey Mysterio vs. Nakamura for the US Title (Rusev is out)

Second revision (Roman Reign’s illness, Braun turned on Ziggler and McIntyre, Ambrose turn on Rollins)
Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins for the IC Title in a Cincinnati Street Fight
Braun Strowman vs. Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre in a Handicap Match

Third revision (added new matches)
The New Day vs. The Bar for the SmackDown Tag Team Titles
Rusev vs. The Miz

Fourth revision (Becky Lynch injury and AJ Style title loss)
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair Cage Match is now off
AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe Cage Match continues, but no title is at stake

Fifth revision (added new matches)
Braun Strowman vs. Ziggler and McIntyre is now off
Finn Balor vs Drew McIntyre added
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin added

Sixth revision (speculated due to Strowman injury)
Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin is now off

As you can see, the card has drastically changed due to injury and creative changes.

Since I purchased my tickets during the presale event, I was able to select the exact seats I wanted. I was also able to see that there was a hard camera area blocked off. So, I had a pretty good idea that the event was at the very least being recorded. My son and I are excited about attending the event, but I must admit the card today is “just okay” when compared to it a month ago. The loss of two steel cage title matches is quite the blow. The loss of Reigns, Strowman, and Becky Lynch take away a certain level of star power from the event, as well. We are hoping that there will be a women’s match or two added to the show. Sasha Banks appears in a lot of the promos for Starrcade, but she’s never been announced for the event.

With the event being shown on the WWE Network, I have a feeling there could be something unexpected happening. Maybe there will be a title change at this event? It might be a good way for the WWE to show their audience that “you never know what may happen at a live event”.

Having grown up watching the product in the 1980s, every wrestling organization did a really good job of promoting their upcoming house shows during their syndicated television broadcasts. I’m originally from the southwestern lower corner of Michigan, directly across Lake Michigan from Chicago. So, I had the privilege of watching then WWF and AWA programming. NWA (Jim Crockett) and World Class were introduced to me as soon as we got cable television. When WWF had a scheduled live event at The Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena), or in South Bend, Indiana, there would always be local promos going over the matches on the card featuring the Superstars who were going to be performing. The AWA did this a little bit, and Jim Crockett promotions did an outstanding job of it, as well. In the lead up to this Starrcade event in Cincinnati, there wasn’t one single commercial on the USA Network that advertised the event to the local Cincinnati market. I haven’t seen any promotion for the event on local television either. There are a couple of digital billboards along Interstate 75 that have referred to the event, but it’s difficult to get much information from those billboards as you zoom on by.

I realize we are in a much different technological era today. It’s disappointing that the only events WWE seems to promote are pay-per-view type events, or money grabs from unnamed locations (Crown Royal, Crown of Thorns, Crown Jewel, whatever). I follow the product intensely. My neighbor who has two sons does not. So, unless you get on WWE’s website and look at their calendar of events, you have no idea that house shows are taking place. Yes, WWE will send you an email notifying you of an event presale in your area, but that’s aimed at those who have either signed up for those notifications or have previously purchased WWE tickets in the past. I don’t see much effort in trying to reach new fans of the product or those who haven’t attended an event in the past. Perhaps attendance would improve if WWE could figure out a way to promote their live events? I’ve attended a couple of WWE and NXT house shows in the past, and while I had a general idea of which Superstars were going to be performing (via WWE’s website or Twitter), I had no idea what the actual matches were going to be. Perhaps that’s not important, as evident from the success of All In and various independent shows around the United States and Canada. Maybe knowing that Cody, Rey Fenix, or Mark Andrews is going to be performing at a show is good enough for some fans.

The WWE is at a crossroads right now. Sure, they’ve got brand recognition, a great network, and some sweet television deals. But there’s a disconnect somewhere. The rise of the independent wrestling scene, the quality of NJPW, the improvements of ROH and yes, even Impact (at times) really give consumers some great wrestling/sport entertainment options to spend their money on. This is a really great time to be a wrestling fan. I hope WWE can get their act together, as it will just help the entire industry continue to prosper and grow.

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WWE is coming to Chicago on December 26th and December 29th, and I’ve seen a couple of commercials for it during Raw and Smackdown this week. Interestingly enough, they were advertising AJ Styles as WWE Champion vs Samoa Joe as the main event on the Smackdown brand house show. That feud is months old at this point and makes me wonder if it will either be resurrected or if their house show advertising department is just weeks behind current storylines.

I listened to your comments regarding house show business and wanted to give my perspective as someone in the UK who visited a house show 2 weeks ago.

I live in Wales and we only get house shows. The idea of seeing the WWE in Cardiff is appealing but the ticket prices are ludicrous. We as fans know that nothing will happen, we know the wrestling will be average, and we know the setup will be basic - but it’s the only choice or option we have.
However the cheapest ticket was £49. I took my son so you’re looking at well over £100 for a very average wrestling show. These were for the worst seats available too.

I stated that I went to the show - but it was a birthday present from my wife. My mate (also a cafe member) was completely put off attending because of the price.

We don’t get a great deal of other options in Cardiff but twice we have been visited by ICW (last time Pete Dunne and Triple H showed up). The tickets for the show were half the price of the wwe house shows and the event was twice as good.

WWE need to improve the quality of their shows or reduce the price. Just turning up once a year isn’t enough anymore.

When Starrcade was first announced here in the Cincinnati market, AJ vs Samoa Joe was considered a co-main event. Even at that time (back in early September), I thought there would be no way that AJ and Joe would still be an ongoing television based storyline…unless Joe would have defeated AJ for the title. I realize that WWE has to dangle some sort of carrot when they announce these events so far in advance, but I almost think it would be best for them to just announce specific superstars who are booked instead of matches. When the event is about a month away, then it’s safe to put together a card.

The Starrcade event has gone through so many card revisions due to storyline changes and injuries, it’s almost comical. Today, I just found out of yet another revision to the card. The Cincinnati Street fight is now off. Ambrose vs. Rollins will now take place in a steel cage. This move makes sense because we were originally supposed to get Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair in a cage, but it was cancelled. Another match that was added, and this is an interesting one, is Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka. Coming out of Survivor Series and Smackdown this past week, It’s hard to tell if Charlotte is supposed to be a babyface of a heel. Whereas Asuka is definitely a babyface. That might be the most intriguing match on the card.

I don’t feel like focusing on Starcarde or the Madison Square Garden supershows WWE puts on are reflective of their real house show business. Those shows obviously have more complications because of the attention and propmotion they get.

Benyoude’s story about a house show in Wales is probably a story closer in line to 90% of their house shows as well as my own house show experiences. First let me say I love house shows much more than Raw tapings (although SD tapings are usually pretty good). Watching a show with a bunch of families and kids is a lot more fun than the jaded hardcore fans at TV tapings trying to hijack the show.

So it seems like WWEs house show woes are caused by 3 issues.

  1. Prices are too high for families and casual fans.

  2. No stars families and casual fans are familiar with. When Mom and Dad are looking at the roster of the show they probably want to take their kids to see the big stars like John Cena, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar but they aren’t on the shows right now. Even the top guys like Rollins and Styles just aren’t the same level of superstar.

  3. The product is in a down period right now. Ratings are down which means a lot of the casual fans are tuning out. They have a couple of hot feuds in Becky vs Rousey and Dean vs Seth but nothjng else. Nobodies excited about seeing their new favorite Braun Strowman face freaking Baron Corbin. Bleh.

Ticket prices for WWE are way too expensive. I’ve been to a few shows over the years in the UK. Done TV tapings and House shows. The last one I went to was Sheffield 3 years ago. Me and my wife paid £25 each for seats on the last row of the arena. In fairness it wasn’t bad view and we said we would go again next time WWE returned. A year later they are coming back and the £25 tickets are now £35 so we give it a miss as our local indie had a show the same day for £15. Much better show and supporting the local scene. The November tapings are usually the week of my birthday and it used to be an easy present from my family for floor seats at £50 now them same tickets are double the price for a show that lacks star power and will be mostly talking.

Its not just WWE either. ROH did 2 shows in Doncaster this year. The first one sold fairly well then they announced a return and upped all the ticket prices by £10 per tier and the attendance was way poorer.

I recently attended a Smackdown brand house show Wednesday night at the Allstate Arena and thought my experience might be relevant to this thread. The attendance was low. There were only about 6,000 people in attendance. Almost the entire upper sections and sections by the entrance way were empty, minus a few people. Also, the last few rows of the floor seats were empty. WWE is running a second house show (Raw brand) this weekend in the same market at the nearby United Center, so that may have contributed to the low attendance.

WWE put minimal effort into promoting the card. AJ Styles was a no show due to having the flu, and they didn’t announce that until the start of the show. They booked an impromptu Daniel Bryan vs. Miz vs. Mustafa Ali triple threat WWE title cage match, which many people believed to be the main event. They ran an angle at the beginning of the show with Miz TV and a Miz vs. Mustafa Ali match afterward that ended with Daniel Bryan attacking both men that set it up.

Ali was pretty over with his hometown Chicago crowd, but it felt too soon to put him in a title match. I did not watch SD Live or listen to John and Wai’s podcast recap yet, but I read Miz officially turned face on Tuesday on another forum. You wouldn’t have known he turned the day before at this house show, as he was still doing the whole “When my hand goes up, your mouth goes shut” shtick and insulting the crowd. He was also playing heel in the cage match at times and double teaming Ali with Daniel Bryan.

There was also a 6 man tag that included The Colons and Aiden English vs Anderson/Gallows and Shelton Benjamin. This then followed with a Anderson/Gallows vs Sanity match where Shelton Benjamin was oddly on the floor managing Anderson/Gallows. While a lot of the men in the match are talented performers, it was difficult to get invested since a lot of these guys aren’t on TV regularly.

A lot of the other matches, including a Rey Mysterio vs Randy Orton match were extremely short and focused a lot on comedy or stalling with little actual wrestling. There was a triple threat tag match between The Bar, Usos, and New Day that I would give match of the night honors. It was a mix of comedy spots and good workrate.

The last match on the show was Asuka vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch, but you wouldn’t have known it was since Byron Saxton was hyping up the WWE title match the whole time and there wasn’t a single mention of Becky Lynch being on the show later unless you did some research and looked up the card on Twitter. A good portion of the crowd left after the cage match. I ended up leaving too as I was a bit under the weather. I brought a non-wrestling fan with me to the show, and while she did enjoy herself a little bit the house show itself did not blow her away enough to convert her into becoming a fan.

I agree with the other posters in this thread in that WWE should lower its price for house shows. I feel bad for the people who pay $400-600 to sit in the first few rows of a house show and see a show that seems to be just going through the motions.

Are they really charging that much for front row seats to house shows? its a wonder anyone is going

That might be for front row seats but at the house show I went to in the summer I paid $25 for my seats and had a great view. Prices being too high are an issue at house shows, but $400 a seat isn’t reflective of the actual costs for average seats.

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