The past couple of years, wrestling great Lance Storm has been writing commentary regarding WWE and TNA on his website, StormWrestling.com.  In these commentaries, he’s typically critical of the shows currently being produced by either companies, almost always making some valid points regarding something which is being done which doesn’t make sense or is potentially hurting the future of the given company.

In his October 10th article, Lance Storm makes the argument that the way WWE is booking its feuds as of late is detrimental to pay per view buyrates.  He makes the distinction between a “Storyline” and an “Angle” and makes the case that one of them is not a beneficial tool for feuds.

See what you think:

Storylines: The Death of PPV

October 5, 2010

It is no secret that pro-wrestling PPV buy rates are falling at an alarming rate. TNA’s buy rates on PPV are almost none existent and WWE’s, while doing considerably better than TNA’s, are nothing to brag about and are dropping also. Last I heard, bad TNA PPV’s were getting as low as 8000 buys and WWE buys have dipped as low as the 100,000 range domestically in recent months. There is a lot of discussion among industry insiders and analysts as to what is causing this drop and while everyone wants to point at, over exposure of the product, the economy, the same guys on top, inability to elevate new stars, along with a whole host of other reason I think the single biggest cause of the PPV decline is Storylines.

I’m not talking about bad Storylines or ineffective Storylines, I’m talking about the fact that this business no longer books Angles in order to sell matches on PPV, they write Storylines and then have matches on PPVs that are designed to further said Storyline. Now I realize that many people just view Storylines and Angles as different words describing the same thing but I think each term puts the creator in a different mind set and thus result in a different product. Let’s look at each case individually and you can tell me which should be more effective.

The way wrestling used to be promoted, Angles were booked on TV to create interest in a match that fans would then pay to see on PPV. The booker decided that (just as an example) Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage for the IC Title will be a match at WrestleMania III. They then had to book an Angle that would put these two people on a path that would intersect at WrestleMania. This is key; an Angle is what’s created when two lines intersect, and that intersection point is the single most important point of the Angle. That point is a wrestling match and what you sell on PPV. They had Savage injure Steamboat and dominate the IC Title picture in Steamboats absence. Then Steamboat came back and vowed to not only win the title but get revenge for the beating he took at the hands of Savage months earlier. The WWF was not selling a Storyline here, they were selling a match, and the Angle was the means by which to make fans care about that match. The week before WrestleMania no one was thinking, “Where does the Savage – Steamboat Storyline go from here?” Everyone was thinking how great it’s going to be to finally see Ricky Steamboat kick Randy Savage’s ass. They were selling the match not the Storyline; it was the conflict that would be settled that night that was the be all and end all of this Angle. Fans needed to see WrestleMania III in order to see the Savage – Steamboat Angle come to a head. Fans needed to feel that this match was the conclusion of the Angle in order to make them willing to pay for it.

Fast forward now to Hell in a Cell this past Sunday, because it was the promotion of this show on The Score here in Canada that drove this point home for me. John Cena and Nexus are currently in a Storyline. They aren’t on a collision course; they have been in each other’s business for months in a weekly episodic Storyline. We are all but told each week to tune in and see how this Story unfolds. When I watched SmackDown this Friday there was a bit during the commercial break where they plugged RAW, by all but saying, “John Cena faces Wade Barrett Sunday at Hell in a Cell, tune in to RAW on Monday and see how this Story unfolds, will John Cena join Nexus or will Nexus disband.” This is where it all became crystal clear to me. They are no longer selling the matches, they are selling the Storylines, and even if they write great Storylines and I get into them, I don’t have to actually see the matches to keep up with the Storylines.

I wanted to know if John Cena would have to join Nexus, but I didn’t have to purchase the PPV to find that out, because the ongoing Storyline is continued on TV on Monday for free. The match they are trying to get me to pay for is not the focal point of all of this; it is just where the direction of the ongoing Storyline is determined. They are selling us on Storylines yet trying to get us to purchase matches.

Matches have become the tools used to get over and continue Storylines; they are the little pieces to the bigger ongoing Storylines. Why would we pay for the small pieces of the bigger picture we get on TV for Free? With Angles, the Match or pending conflict, the thing we are expected to pay for, is the big picture and the Angle, what we get on TV for Free, is the tool used to hype the match we are expected to buy on PPV.

I haven’t heard the Hell in a Cell buy rate yet, but the Monday night RAW rating just came in and it pulled a 3.3, which is way up from last week’s 2.7. That tells me that people were very into the Cena – Nexus Storyline, because people tuned in to find out where the Storyline would go next. If the buy rate for the PPV is not way up as well, that tells me that fans despite being into the Storyline did not care that much about the match itself.

If you want to draw money on PPV you need to book some Angles and sell fans on the Matches being important, not charge them for matches that simply help continue the Storylines.

That’s my 2 cents.
Lance Storm

In some respects I can understand where he’s coming from.  If a match doesn’t seem important because it’s not the ultimate payoff for a feud, then why pay money to see it – especially if we’ve already seen it for free on RAW or Smackdown in recent weeks, or if we’re certain to see it in a future episode – potentially with more at stake in the outcome.  One such storyline which comes to mind is Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler on Smackdown, whereby each week for the better part of two months, the two battled it out one-on-one with the Intercontinental Title at stake in most of those contests.

The saga between The Undertaker and Kane is also a feud which has spanned multiple pay per views, though one might argue that each pay per view seems as though it might be the end of the storyline, which could be a reason for fans to want to tune in.  I would argue that until we have a Casket match between the duo, none of the matches are going to seem like the resolution of the feud, and hence none of the matches are going to further entice me into paying to watch the event.

Recently from RAW, the feud between John Cena and Nexus looked to be coming to a close when Cena and Wade Barrett were scheduled to meet on pay per view, with the future of Nexus hanging in the balance.  That match could have been the end of the feud, however it served to take the storyline and shift it into a totally new direction.  Potential “end spots” such as the Hell In A Cell match between Cena and Barrett can be used to good effect, as it can cause fans to believe it’s the end of an angle, just as was the case for the Kane vs Undertaker match on the same pay per view, with Paul Bearer turning his back on the Undertaker and shifting that feud into a new direction as well.

I’d love to hear what other people think regarding Lance Storm’s opinion as well as the examples I mentioned.

I plan on starting a series of articles which I welcome my fellow GuysNation writers to participate in, whereby I recount some of my favorite storylines and angles throughout my time watching wrestling.