WWE and AEW can’t put on a PPV correctly, and wrestling fans are paying for it

It’s absolutely wild that in 2024 wrestling has never been broader, more accessible, and better produced — yet neither of pro wrestling’s megaliths have a clue how to put on a pay-per-view that’s enjoyable to audiences. In back-to-back weeks both WWE and AEW have run their own shows, both using their own unique approaches to what they think wrestling fans want, and on both occasions, they’ve missed the mark.

The AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door show ran first, and while there was always the expectation it would be a longer super show, in total we got a ludicrously overblown 15 match card with 205 minutes of in-ring wrestling, and a total run time of over four hours. PPV pacing has long been an issue for AEW, who continually take a “more is more” approach, cramming as many matches as humanly possible into a card in a way where there’s so much to take in as a viewer that it’s impossible to fully appreciate any one match in isolation. Burnout is real as a result, and more often than not some of the top matches on an AEW card are met with “I just want this to be over,” rather than the excitement they warrant.

On the other end of the spectrum is WWE, and its blatant disregard for viewers as anything but consumers. Saturday night’s Money in the Bank was one of the most lacking, transparent, and awful shows the company has ever produced, with more in-show advertising than actual wrestling. In total their card was only five matches, for a total of 86 minutes of wrestling in a three-hour show. It was an endless suite of ads for Prime Hydration, The Boys streaming on Prime Video, and Wheatley American Vodka — served ad nauseam to make PR executives in a boardroom happy, at the cost of fans in their living rooms.

How are both companies screwing this up so badly?

Corporate tribalism is fueling the stupidity

It wasn’t long ago that both companies were running tight, tidy, three hour shows with enough wrestling to make everyone happy without feeling like it overstayed its welcome. Now it’s as if both WWE and AEW are so desperate to prove their individuality that they’ve swung to ridiculous extremes.

AEW keeps branding itself as “the real wrestling company,” and dammit if that doesn’t mean cramming a show so packed full of wrestling that nothing has impact anymore. Forget those eight-match cards of the past, we’re doing 10, 11, 12 — how about 15? The shorter WWE runs, the longer AEW gets, and there’s seemingly nobody in the building who understands pacing or viewer burnout. Sure, it’s nice to say “We’re giving you 15 matches for your $50,” but editing is an art — and AEW is in dire need of it when it comes to their cards.

Conversely, WWE has never been more transparently in the business of commodifying its audience and disrespecting them in the process. Putting on a three-hour show with only 1 hr and 20 minutes of wrestling is a travesty, one that is clearly rooted in boosting share prices and delivering a return to advertisers. At no point did someone step in and say “this show is light,” and if they did then were shouted down. It’s an extension of what we’re seeing every week on Raw and Smackdown, where wrestling is a distant memory in place of advertising and vignettes.

What did PPVs used to be?

If we go back to wrestling’s most successful chapter, “The Attitude Era” where both WWE and WCW were firing on full cylinders, both companies were far more capable of putting on a cohesive show. Going back to Summer of 1997 each company had very tight sub-three hour shows that didn’t feel lacking or overblown.

  • WWF King of the Ring: 2 hr 46 minutes, 8 matches (103 minutes in-ring)
  • WCW Bash at the Beach 2 hr 45 minutes, 9 matches (110 minutes in-ring)

Neither of these shows felt lacking for either in-ring action, or storytelling — and both fell within 10 minutes of each other in actual wrestling, while having almost identical runtimes. A large part of this was how pay-per-view slots were booked, with each company only having three hour blocks to book and run a show in, as mandated by cable companies.

Now, with streaming taking over, there’s essentially no adult in the room to tell a company what they should or shouldn’t do. AEW feels like it has to run these massive four-plus hour shows to justify their $50 price tag, while WWE knows it doesn’t even need to try anymore due to its media agreements with Peacock on PPVs, which simply mandates they put on shows with nothing being said about the quality.

Without the pressure to actually sell the show, WWE can pull stunts like spend the majority of its time on advertising, rather than wrestling.

Can we ever get back to having a balanced show?

Perhaps. The back-to-back weeks of Forbidden Door and Money in the Bank has wrestling fans talking more than ever about how these companies are running their shows, and what they’re doing wrong.

This really shouldn’t be that complicated. We’re not asking either AEW or WWE to reinvent the wheel, just give us a show that lasts 3 hrs or less, with more than half of the show being actual in-ring wrestling. Something that’s concise enough to fully enjoy in an evening, without being so thin it feels like it was produced by a TikToker on Adderall.

WWE already has it right with their NXT shows. On Sunday Heatwave was a damn-near perfectly paced show. Now they just need to extrapolate that over to the main roster.

AEW needs to learn that less is more. WWE needs to learn that the bare minimum feels like the bare minimum. Just give wrestling back to wrestling fans, and not in service of petty wars or corporate overlords.

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