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.