Off Season: Part 2

March 5, 2009

I wrote the following for my “Storm Front” article for “Fighting Spirit” Magazine, back in November of 2008, and it is being reproduced with permission from Uncooked Media Ltd.

This month is my continued look at a pro-wrestling off-season. Last month I examined the concept from both the fan and wrestler’s perspective, and this month I will examine the business side of an off-season by looking at the point of view of the wrestling company.

This is the most important perspective to consider because it’s the company that calls the shots, so ultimately it is their decision and they are going to do what is in their best interests. From the companies standpoint it’s pretty much all about the money. Pro-wrestling is a business and the whole point of being in business is to make money. For an off-season to be beneficial financially there needs to be enough of an increase in business during the on-season to off set the loss of revenue during the off season.

Let’s look just at WWE and consider a short 10-week off-season, which would be a 20% reduction to the current road schedule. This would be an incredibly short off-season compared to other sports. Most pro sports (Soccer, Hockey, Baseball) offer approximately a 5-month off-season, and the NFL allows for an 8-month off-season for teams that don’t make the play-offs.

With a short 10-week off-season the WWE event schedule would be reduced by 2 PPVs, 20 TV Events, and approximately 50 Live Events (When you consider both Brands). WWE would need to have their business during the 41-week regular season increase significantly in order to make up the portion of fan-generated income (Buy rates, Live gate, and event Merchandise sales) lost over that 10-week period.

I looked at past WWE quarterly financial statements and WWE would lose approximately 50 million dollars in Live Event and Televised Entertainment revenue during a 10-week off-season. So the question becomes will a regular wrestling off-season increase fan interest enough during the on-season to compensate for this kind of money loss.

With the 20% decrease to the schedule and the new shorter season to make up that lost revenue, business over the regular season would need to increase approximately 25% across the board. Since a lot of the current live event and PPV revenue comes from what we like to call the die-hard regular fan, this becomes very difficult. These fans order most if not all PPVs and attend regular live events in their area. These fans won’t be able to order more PPVs and go to more live events so WWE would have to depend on new fans to make up for lost event revenue. By new fans I don’t mean finding new people that don’t currently watch WWE programming. WWE will simply need to increase their ability to convert fan that watch for free on television into fans that pay money to attend event and order PPVs.

To accomplish this WWE would have to produce more effective television. The television product would have to better capture the imagination of fans in order to compel more viewers to attend events and order PPV. This may seem unlikely because this is something WWE should be trying to do all the time anyway, but I do think an off-season would help in this respect. I doubt it would produce a 25% increase in effectiveness but an off-season would give WWE creative a much-needed break, which could only help product quality.

Without a doubt WWE creative is the most demanding and challenging job in all of pro-wrestling. The people, who write these shows, work around the clock nearly 7 days a week. Having to produce 5 hours of original programming per week, year round, is a nightmarish task. With the looming deadline of next week’s shows always there, creative almost never has time to sit back and truly be creative, and the burn out factor is amazing.

The creative process may have changed since I worked for the company but their typical schedule goes something like this. Monday is RAW, Tuesday is SmackDown, Wednesday they fly back home, Thursday and Friday they are in the office writing, Saturday is the conference call going over the show, and Sunday is flying to TV and fine tuning the show, post conference call. They then repeat this process 48 to 50 weeks per year (I think some writers get rotated for some holiday time off).

With a set 41-week season and 10 weeks of down time between seasons the creative department would not only have a much easier schedule, they would have a definable season to develop concepts and storylines for. During the off-season creative would have the chance to spit ball ideas debate concept and really fine tune an over all direction for each season. This should allow for each season to start fresh and strong as well as have a distinctive feel, which can only help the effectiveness of the TV product. With a definitely starting and stopping point each year it would allow the writers a light at the end of the tunnel to keep moral up as well as a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each season. I think this would reduce turn over in the creative department and greatly improve the quality of programming.

Even if we assume the quality of shows would increase and off-season business loses could be offset during the on-season there is still one monstrous draw back to consider…The Opposition! All of the business analysis would be well and good if WWE were the only show in town but they aren’t. WWE has to consider TNA.

If WWE ceased operations for 10 weeks each year it would provide a huge opportunity for TNA Wrestling to gain viewers. There are a lot of fans that watch WWE programming that do not watch TNA. RAW has roughly 4 times the viewers Impact does. RAW has approximately 4 million viewers to Impact’s 1 million. Even if everyone who watches Impact watches RAW there are still 3 million RAW fans that don’t watch Impact. Some of these fans don’t watch Impact because they don’t like it, but I suspect the vast majority of them either don’t know about Impact or just get their fill of wrestling with what WWE provides them.

With a 10-week hiatus WWE would be allowing TNA the opportunity to attract and convert those 3 million fans. This could be huge for TNA who would not only be the only show in town for 10 weeks, could even get Spike TV to move them to the regular WWE time slot in hopes of capturing fans flipping channels looking for their regular Monday or Friday wrestling fix. This would at the very least be a 10-week business boosts for TNA and could potentially be a permanent increase to their fan base.

This is the deal breaker for an off-season in my opinion. Change is never good when you are on top of the world. WWE is never going to allow another wrestling company to run unopposed in order to give their writers, their wrestlers, or their fans an off season. Even if they could recoup off season loses and break even financially, the risk of letting their competition get a stronger foothold in their absence will always out weigh any potential benefits of an off-season.

Lance Storm