In some ways, it pains me to write an article like this. I’m one of those people who thinks corporations have far too much influence and power and have abused that to ruin this world in far too many ways. Companies make billions and then use tax loopholes and pay their employees far too little, and it is disgusting.
WWE is no stranger to some of those practices. In a way, it probably wouldn’t be around anymore if it wasn’t controlled by a board who understood how to take advantage of bleeding people dry of their cash, spending as little as possible to earn as much as possible, and so on. We can debate politics and the ethics of capitalism all day in another discussion.
But even if we set aside our personal ideas (pro or con) and I say something like “I wish WWE paid its talent more so they can take better care of themselves, the wrestlers were employees instead of independent contractors, and so on” I find myself also wondering how the company doesn’t make money on some things that seem obvious.
Why did it take so long to get a printing shop to do t-shirts for lesser stars so that you could maximize the potential earnings at a low cost when it could be used as a metric to gauge a superstar’s fan support when you see the numbers of their merch without taking a big risk on inventory that might not sell? Who really thinks ratings will change by doing the same things and never adjusting the product? Why doesn’t WWE offer a cheaper $5 version of the WWE Network that has everything but the pay-per-views?
Or, the thing that’s been most recently on my mind and the topic of this discussion: Why hasn’t WWE ThunderDome been monetized?
It’s scummy, I know. I don’t like the sound of that either. As a fan, I’d prefer it stay free. But as a business, I’d have to imagine WWE is leaving money on the table.
I don’t know how many screens are available, but it has to be roughly 1000. At the very least, I counted 12 rows of at least 66 screens that were visible in one shot this past week, which puts us at 729 with many more that weren’t visible from that one frame. We may be talking 1500 screens, if not 2000, but let’s stick with 1000 for a simple number.
Even if WWE charged $1 for the entire night and kept every single person on for the entire show, that’s $2000 per week just for Raw and SmackDown. Back when 205 Live was being recorded at Amway Center, tack on another $1000 and do the same for Main Event. Now that NXT has its own version of it (which seems to be reused footage as they tape in advance), a couple hundred more dollars could be added to the total.
At the very least, WWE was looking at between $4-5k per week that wasn’t made and could have easily been obtained. When you look at the 11 weeks they’ll have had this, plus the pay-per-views, we’re talking more so along the range of 50 THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s one employee’s entire paycheck for the year and a good portion of the cost spent to rent out Amway Center to begin with!
And that’s just scratching the surface. That’s assuming you keep it a low fee of $1 to appear and you let people stay for the entire show, which isn’t what WWE has been doing. Instead, people have been rotated throughout the night at various intervals we don’t know the specifics of.
For all we know, people could be rotated as 1/4 of the show or even less. You could get 4 people per screen on each episode of SmackDown or 6 per Raw. Even if you cut it down to 1/2 the time, you double that $50k to $100k. Making it 1/4, you’ve just made WWE $200k just by having “fans in attendance” once more.
But the real money isn’t in selling something cheap. It’s in selling people subscriptions to services they won’t actually use, or spending money that evaporates into nothingness because of an inflated value. That’s why cable companies don’t want you to get the cheaper package, but will offer you more channels for a better, but higher cost. It doesn’t actually cost them more and you’re not actually getting more. You’re getting the perception of more at a rate that is higher x the amount that company is paying for it.
Before the pandemic, the AMC Stubs A-List card was a great deal. For $20-25 a month, you could see 3 movies per week for “free” (again, remember, you paid to see something for free, so you really have to divide the cost). You’d have to see at least two movies per month to make out with a net win. But what AMC was counting on is that you would get popcorn and a drink when you went. The markup on those are ridiculously high and how theaters make their money. Sure, they’ll cover your cost of a ticket if you pay 10x as much for their concessions as it costs and you end up giving them more money than what they give you back. Coupons aren’t about saving you money, they’re about convincing you that your money is not being wasted so you can give it to someone who can make a profit off that sale.
WWE is no different. You’re not paying them directly for Raw and SmackDown, for instance, but if they can get your viewership, they can sell ad space and make money off that. More viewers drives up the cost of commercials and the network deals. So on and so forth. Giving you 10% off WWEShop and convincing you to spend $45 instead of $50 on something that cost $5 to make means that $5 off was worth it to get you to hand over your cash.
WWE ThunderDome could do the same and apply the whole tier system with inflated value to its pricing model.
Let’s create a 5-tier system:
- $0 – Free Tier
- $1 – Bronze Tier
- $5 – Silver Tier
- $10 – Gold Tier
- $25 – Platinum Tier
For $0, the same as it is right now, you get entered into a “random pool” where you may or may not get on ThunderDome at any point in the night. Test your luck. Try your best. There are no guarantees.
For $1, you get entered into a priority tier. Everyone on this level is guaranteed to be on ThunderDome at some point in the night. You might be on for 1/4 of the show, but you’ll be on it, guaranteed. You may even luck out and not have your spot taken away from you for the entire night. That’s the gamble. You don’t know where you’re “seated” or whatever, but you know for sure you’re getting in there.