Changing PPV events for the better

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August 24, 2017 by coachcarter717

(Courtesy of WWE Staff/WWE.com)

Written by Carter Cotrupi

This past Saturday night, WWE had the luxury of hosting two pay-per-view events at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY: SummerSlam 2017 and NXT Takeover Brooklyn III. Despite the historical significance of Raw and Smackdown uniting for their 30th SummerSlam event, it was NXT’s third Takeover Brooklyn that won the weekend.

Despite the lengthy title, NXT Takeover Brooklyn III lasted two hours with only five matches booked to showcase a roster loaded with rising talent. While SummerSlam failed to satisfy the overall crowd across its thirteen matches booked, Takeover Brooklyn III was the perfect spectacle for casual wrestling fans. The event was easy-to-digest and retained that big match feel across the board. Even the die-hard wrestling fans found themselves with a renewed love for the programs WWE produces because of NXT’s brilliant booking and knack for curating talent that the audience will enjoy. NXT is considered the underdog of WWE’s three main brands, but it gives fans a satisfying taste of grit and determination that we haven’t seen in a long time.

I remember going to my first ever NXT house show over a year ago when the brand stopped in Lowell, MA. I had never gone to a live WWE event before and I had heard little about what NXT was. I knew all about Raw and Smackdown, but this brand which was founded in 2012, was still very new to me. I barely knew any of the names on the roster. There was no Undertaker, Daniel Bryan, or John Cena. Instead, there were names like Mojo Rowley and Alexa Bliss all over the card. The main event that night was something that I will never forget. Finn Balor was defending his NXT Championship against Samoa Joe. Those of you who followed the story closely know the rest. That night at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in downtown Lowell, MA, Samoa Joe defeated Finn Balor to win the championship.

(Courtesy of WWE Staff/WWE.com)

For those who are not aware, it is rare to see a championship belt change hands at a local show. Big moments like Joe defeating Balor would normally be reserved for people tuning in to the taped show every week. No one expected the outcome and the comparably small venue exploded with shock and disbelief. This was not happening at the TD Garden in Boston. No, this brand-defining moment (which actually was recorded and inserted into the weekly show later on) happened in Lowell, MA. Wrestling fans everywhere cried out, wondering why WWE creative booked Balor to lose his title at a city unbeknownst to anyone living outside of New England. It was a moment that everyone in that small auditorium was truly grateful to have witnessed.

So, you can see why NXT has made such an impact on this writer but why has NXT made such a profound impact on wrestling fans overall? For one, the PPV events feel closer to house shows (local, non-televised wrestling events) in their intimacy with the crowd and the length of the program itself. To compare with WWE’s bigger brands, SummerSlam ran over four hours (not including the hour-long kickoff show) while NXT Takeover: Brooklyn III clocked in at a little over two hours. Hardcore wrestling fans will watch six hours of wrestling without much hesitation. However, casual fans who are looking forward to two or three matchups heading into an event usually come out of a long spectacle like SummerSlam feeling drained and often underwhelmed.

NXT’s exclusivity gives the show a big advantage over its big brand counterparts. The only way to watch WWE NXT is with a subscription to their monthly streaming service, WWE Network. The main programs (Raw and Smackdown Live) are available on cable television every week. Everything that NXT puts out in its pay-per-view events has more value to viewers because of the lack of airtime that the show gets. This concept explains why wrestling fans will watch NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling), Ring of Honor, and other indie wrestling promotions that pale in comparison to the marketing juggernaut that is WWE. People want to feel like they have an exclusive connection to something that no one else knows about. NXT is WWE’s response to giving fans that indie wrestling atmosphere in the monopolizing company.

Let’s introduce some numbers into the picture, shall we? This year (2017) Raw and Smackdown Live will combine for a total of 17 PPV events while NXT has only five scheduled. There were instances where the two main WWE brands had PPVs scheduled within a couple weeks of each other, such as Smackdown’s Backlash airing on May 21st followed by Raw’s Extreme Rules on June 4th. Again, casual wrestling fans make up a large portion of viewership on WWE’s ratings and they want a wrestling program that will accompany their busy schedules, not vie to overtake it. NXT’s weekly show lasts only one hour every week. Meanwhile, Monday Night Raw, WWE’s flagship brand lasts for a whopping three hours every week. I don’t know about you, but rarely do I find myself with three hours to kill on a Monday night.

As a psychology major, I thought about why it is that the crowd at Full Sail University (the venue that most recorded NXT programs take place in) seems to emit more cheers, boos, and enigmatic chants than those in attendance at Raw or Smackdown’s events can. Simply put, the average fan watches wrestling not because they buy into every bump taken and punch thrown, but because each great wrestler has a story attached to them that is relatable to someone in the audience. There is a certain type of emotional investment you give to the athletes who go through NXT because you genuinely want to them to keep climbing the ladder of success. Just like watching your favorite college athletes make their ascension to the pro leagues in the NFL, NBA, etc. NXT fans have the opportunity every week to watch these developing stars put everything on the line with the ultimate goal of getting called up to Raw or Smackdown Live.

(Courtesy of WWE Staff/WWE.com)

The wrestlers at the NXT level are not yet superstars in the WWE. Some of them arrived virtually unknown from the depths of the indie wrestling scene while others were hot commodities known around the globe. These wrestlers have a chance to change their entire persona (or “gimmick”, as it is often referred to) several times before going up to the big leagues. Once a superstar is on a main brand roster, they can either sink or swim. In NXT, athletes that show true potential face a smaller gap in fan appreciation to their more marketable peers. On Raw or Smackdown Live, if you cannot make a good first impression, your time in the WWE can be cut short. Management within the company is notorious for keeping their superstars on short leashes, especially the McMahons.

Anyone who has watched or even heard of the WWE probably knows the name Vince McMahon. McMahon is a ruthless businessman who thrives on crushing his competition and expanding his brand around the globe. He is the real-life version of the Monopoly Man, if the Monopoly Man was jacked and took one too many steel chair shots to the head. Say what you want about his character, but the guy knows how to run a successful business.

When WWE was just the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) in the 1990s, there was fierce competition in the ratings with WCW (World Championship Wrestling) which resulted in the famous Monday Night Wars era of sports entertainment. After finally buying out WCW in 2001 and absorbing its assets, Vince McMahon skyrocketed WWE into becoming the face of professional wrestling as we know it. Since then, McMahon has expanded the company so much that the main problem surrounding it today is how to deal with the ratings competition between its two big brands (Raw and Smackdown).

I predict that NXT will eventually reach the level of recognition that Raw and Smackdown have. The marketability for this new brand will tempt WWE management into extending the length of the show and renting out bigger venues other than the usual Full Sail University arena every week. Right now, fans of NXT have the joy of watching wrestlers develop their skills in-ring with goals of making it to the bigger brands. The show itself is still evolving as the crowds get louder and it attracts higher-level talent from around the world. The tagline, “We Are NXT” shows WWE’s commitment to running a brand by fans, for fans.

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