Backlash is this coming Sunday. I couldn’t hold that against you, as I nearly forgot it myself.
Outside of the Big Five – yes, I count Money In The Bank – WWE pay-per-views have been forgettable filler for years.
See, Backlash used to mark the beginning of the new wrestling year. WWE’s year basically runs from the Raw after WrestleMania until the following year’s WrestleMania. For all the talk of the “Road to WrestleMania” around Royal Rumble time, the road goes ever on and on.
MITB, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and Royal Rumble are the signposts along the way.
So why do the Backlash shows of the year still exist? And why is now the time we can afford to lose them?
Why Do They Exist?
We’ve gone over this before, but the monthly shows are a holdover from the Monday Night Wars.
At some point in the 90s, Ted Turner got drunk and decided the best way to fight WWE was to put on a big show every month. So WWE started the In Your House PPVs. Two-hour shows at a lower price point than the Big Five.
Then the Attitude Era came along, and people just couldn’t get enough WWE. And so the monthly shows remained, ditching the In Your House moniker starting with Backlash in 1999.
As time went on, though, interest in the product waned. Dwindling all the way to where we find ourselves today. A world where WWE throws a party when they get two million viewers for SmackDown. Which airs on a legit top broadcast network.
The only logical reason to keep shows like Backlash around, then, is out of habit. They basically don’t know any other way to do it.
Why Can They Afford To Go?
Backlash and the other not-major-PPVs aren’t necessary anymore. And the current global climate in the wake of the pandemic has proven it.
Aside from habit, the past few years have seen WWE playing to an audience they assume to have frighteningly short attention spans. And to some degree that’s true. We are living in the culture of instant gratification.
But WWE just had a radical shift in how they present their stories. Within a week, they went from regular live TV in front of thousands of fans to having to promote a pretaped, out-of-the-ring Boneyard Match at WrestleMania 36. And it can be argued that the most successfully booked story at WrestleMania is the one that started two months earlier. Otis and Mandy Rose.
They’ve already re-tailored their storytelling to accommodate longer storylines. WWE doesn’t necessarily need shows like Backlash to bridge the gap between the bigger shows.
And the competition just proved it just last month.
All Elite Waiting
AEW, in its one year of existence, has put on five PPVs.
All of them have tallied 100,000 buys are more. Including this year’s Double Or Nothing, which tracks to be the company’s most successful yet. With nothing but AEW: Dynamite and their various tie-in YouTube channels to promote it, Double Or Nothing 2020 netted between 105,000 and 110,000 buys.
That’s close to $5.2 million worth of people who were fine with two hours of wrestling a week for three months without a big event. And that total is equivalent to about 525,000 WWE Network subscriptions.
WWE, meanwhile, puts on five hours of main roster programming every week to promote shows like Backlash. And with all PPVs comprised of both Raw and SmackDown matches (because the brand split is so important), the big shows don’t feature anywhere near all of the company’s top talent. When it does, they’re all thrown together in impossible-to-follow multi-wrestler matches.
Even NXT has been able to play with this formula since 2014, dating back to when all they had was a weekly one-hour show. On WWE Network. And that’s how they would build to their quarterly TakeOver specials.
So what cues can WWE take from AEW, and even its own black-and-gold brand?
Make. Better. TV.
As it stands now, Backlash includes throwaway matches like Brawn Strowman defending the Universal Championship against Miz and Morrison.
Elsewhere, Drew McIntyre is set to defend the WWE Championship against Bobby Lashley, and Edge will take on Randy Orton in what they’re literally advertising as the “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.”
If it sounds like Backlash is just a trumped-up Raw or SmackDown, then I’ll ask this. Why couldn’t this just be a big episode of Raw or SmackDown?
AEW has played with this formula already. Approximately once a month, AEW: Dynamite puts on a super-stacked episode. To say nothing of the Bash At The Beach two-part themed show and the planned-but-postponed Blood And Guts.
The point is, Raw and SmackDown alike could be putting their five hours a week to better use than promoting Backlash. They could be using them to do what TV shows are supposed to do – draw viewers.
Talk all you like about the need for new wrestling on the WWE Network. But if you’re anything like me, you’re still subscribed to the Network to watch old stuff and to watch documentaries and shoot-ish interviews.
Bottom line, we don’t need Backlash or whatever goofy-named PPV (I’m hoping for Stomping Grounds, personally, because I hate myself) is next to build to SummerSlam.
The financial success of shows like Double Or Nothing 2020 for AEW and the historically-awesome NXT TakeOvers are testaments to the lack of need for monthly shows.
Then again, that would require WWE to understand quality over quantity.
And even the hardest of hardcore WWE fans know that’s not happening.
Images courtesy of WWE.