WrestleMania XXVIII Buyrate: Vince McMahon’s Faith in The Rock Pays Off
Booked an unprecedented year in advance, the much anticipated battle between the Rock and John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII delivered a memorable contest between two of this generations most distinguished performers. Dubbed “once in a lifetime”, the Rock got the best of Cena in front of a heavily invested/highly engaged pro-Rock crowd, which sent the 78,000+ fans in attendance at Sun Life Stadium in Miami home happy.
With the news coming out yesterday that the event brought in a total of 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, it looks like the Rock’s in-ring WrestleMania return has also made Vince McMahon and the stock holding suits at WWE very happy. In setting new records for pay-per-view buys and gross sales, it is apparent that McMahon’s faith in building ‘Mania a year out with the Rock headlining was a smart and profitable decision.
It is common knowledge that the Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Hulk Hogan are the three biggest draws in WWE history. This encompasses not only drawing power in terms of bringing people to arenas and garnering pay-per-view buys, but also merchandise sales, DVD sales, and notoriety outside of wrestling. Where the Rock has clearly differentiated himself from Austin and Hogan is in the movie industry, becoming a Hollywood star and building an audience in addition to his wrestling fan base. Sure, he has participated in his fair share of duds (i.e. Tooth Fairy, Doom), but overall he has had prominent roles in a couple of blockbusters and is in line to star in a number of big budget films in the near future.
In the year plus time span in which he returned to the WWE to guest host WrestleMania XXVI up to this year’s ‘Mania event, the Rock caught his fair share of criticism from the “boys in the back”. Many felt that it was unfair for a man who hadn’t been in the squared circle since 2004 to come back and be automatically positioned in the main event of the company’s biggest show. The internet dirt sheets were abuzz with news that other wrestlers found him arrogant, distant, and undeserving of the faith entrusted in him by the company. Before recently changing his tune, WWE Champ CM Punk was one of the more vocal of the Rock’s critics, even making the mistake of questioning Dwayne’s box appeal after the disappointing 2011 Survivor Series buyrate, an event that featured the Rock and Cena teaming up against the Miz and R-Truth.
The Rock laughed off the flak he was receiving by commenting that those complaining about him taking their “spot” obviously weren’t tuned into the big picture. Rock and many of his contemporaries felt the jabs coming his way were primarily out of jealously, and that him returning to headline ‘Mania would benefit the company as a whole and lead to more money for all involved. To get his point across, “The Great One” even sent a return pipe bomb CM Punk’s way shortly after Punk’s infamous shoot promo last summer, tweeting out "CM Punk: it's simple business - The Rock is the main event at Wrestlemania cause it draws more money in one night, then u will in lifetime".
The genius of VKM is his uncanny belief in himself and ability to not give a rip what anyone else says or thinks. He is in the business of making money, and after two sub-par ‘Mania’s in terms of sales (WrestleMania 25 drew approximately 975,000 PPV buys, WrestleMania 26 885,000), he was able to bring back one of the top stars of the Attitude Era to headline the last two ‘Mania’s. His vision has paid off, as in consecutive years with the Rock out front the WWE has eclipsed their magic number of 1 Million PPV buys.
Given the depth of this year’s ‘Mania card along with improving economic conditions, I realize that the Rock isn’t solely responsible for the dramatic upswing in buys. The HHH/Undertaker match was memorable, Punk and Jericho put on a good show, and you can’t underestimate the drawing power of the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and Interim Raw General Manager, Mr. John Laurinaitis. With a few exceptions, from top to bottom it was one of the better WrestleMania cards ever assembled.
But the year-long build between the company’s current golden boy and breadwinner (Cena) and the Rock was unquestionably the event’s main attraction. The two men traded jabs on the microphone and in the social media universe throughout the year to such a degree that it was easy to detect the animosity each man felt for the other. When they finally met inside the ring in Miami, it had that raucous big match feel that had been missing from the business for quite some time. The match itself lived up to the billing, and though he is not an “active” performer per se, the Rock’s workrate held up and I think the right guy won. Rock solidified his drawing power and now has the distinction of being a major part of three of five most successful WrestleMania PPV buyrates in WWE history.
Always looking ahead, Vince has brought in former WWE and UFC Champion Brock Lesnar for the company to build around as they look towards next year's WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Rock has stated that he wants to be the WWE Champ again, and the preliminary rumblings are that we might see a Rock-Brock match at the big show next April. It will be hard to top this year's monster number, but with the mass appeal of these two combined with Vince's promotional abilities, 1.4 million pay-per-view buys or more could be on the horizon.
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