Where next for ROH’s iPPVs?

Throughout professional wrestling’s storied past, the business model has been relatively straightforward and strikingly similar to every other entertainment genre across the board: Get the product in front of as many eyes as possible.

There appears to be an inversely proportional relationship between technology and the presentation of pro wrestling, for as technology becomes increasingly more sophisticated, the difficulty promoters face to present their pro wrestling product to a broader audience becomes substantially less so.

The advent of television in the mid-to-late 1950s, for instance, gave promoters a platform on which to showcase their live events to a target regional audience. The introduction of closed-circuit television provided an additional stream of revenue for territorial promotions, as well as a means for fans within a territory’s jurisdiction to enjoy live events as they happened. The mid-Atlantic area got Jim Crockett Promotions’ Starrcade event in the 1980s, for example.

But from the 1990s onward, cable television overtook syndicated television in popularity, and niche markets like that of professional wrestling turned almost exclusively to pay-per-view, which finally allowed the product to be received on a mostly national platform.

But turn the clock forward nearly a decade, and only a select few wrestling promotions had maintained any kind of a steady presence on pay-per-view. Because of the costs associated with pay-per-view broadcasts, many of the smaller promotions like Ring of Honor were left to depend mainly on DVD distribution and word of mouth for any kind of national notoriety. Obviously, this wasn’t the most cost-effective business model.

In 2007, Ring of Honor came to an agreement with G-Funk Sports and Entertainment to begin broadcasting bimonthly pre-taped pay-per-views on Dish Network, InDemand, and TVN Cable. The deal sounded lucrative on paper, offering Ring of Honor content to over 50 million people, but the deal fell apart once put into practice. Pay-per-view buys plummeted, with one particular pay-per-view garnering as few as 19 buys in its debut week on Dish Network. There had to be a better way.

Just as it always had in the past, a constantly changing technological landscape came to the rescue again, this time in the form of internet pay-per-view. Ring of Honor jumped at the chance to provide live streaming content to the world. ‘Final Battle 2009’, headlined by Austin Aries defending his Ring of Honor championship against Tyler Black, was the company’s first excursion into the iPPV realm, broadcasting live at GoFightLive.tv. With this being the first show, the technical problems were glossed over as “rookie mistakes.”

Since then, Ring of Honor has hosted many internet pay-per-views on GFL. Content has never been much of an issue, but technology has been more than a minor inconvenience. ROH hasn’t been able to master the art of throwing to post-match replays yet, and audio continues to suffer. Still, minor technical difficulties aside, each iPPV presentation seemed to gradually improve upon the last.

But this past March, during ‘Showdown in the Sun’ weekend, arguably the biggest weekend of the year for Ring of Honor, everything that could possibly go wrong, did. Both shows were once again hosted on GoFightLive.com, as Kevin Kelly was to prematurely reveal later, for what looks like the last time.

The first night saw a slew of technical issues, including the audio and video being approximately 30 seconds out of sync, replays failing to balance audio and video, and so on. Usually, when problems like this arise, they are usually dealt with immediately. On this unfortunate occasion, these issues hampered the entire first night.  Needless to say, Ring of Honor fans were furious.

But the wild ride of misfortune continued well into day two of ‘Showdown in the Sun’ weekend. The Fort Lauderdale area suffered a brownout – sort of like a blackout, except not as severe – which allowed the live ROH show to continue, but the iPPV feed was rudely interrupted. What resulted was another unfulfilling afternoon of Ring of Honor content, saved only by Michael Elgin and Davey Richards putting on a potential match of the year candidate in the main event.

A week later, it was announced that Ring of Honor’s next internet pay-per-view, Border Wars, would emanate from the Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto on May 12. When asked about whether or not GFL would be carrying this next show, Ring of Honor lead commentator Kevin Kelly was quick to reveal that ROH would not, in fact, be using GFL as an iPPV outlet. Though Ring of Honor has since deemed Kelly’s comments to be premature, the company has confirmed that Border Wars will not be airing on GFL.

So what’s next for the third largest wrestling promotion in North America? With just a little over two weeks left until Border Wars, fans remain in the dark as to where to order the iPPV portion of the event. SBG television directs them to the official Ring of Honor web site for information on how to order, but there is no information to be found. It’s disconcerting, especially since Border Wars promises to be an impactful show for the company, virtually guaranteeing an emotionally charged world championship main event. But as ‘Showdown in the Sun’ demonstrated, show quality means nothing if no one’s around to see it.

There are currently a few options for Ring of Honor. The most logical decision would be for ROH to implement its own iPPV provider in-house, as opposed to partnering with outside companies and thus having to split the profit. WWNLive.com, run by Gabe Sapolsky and Sal Hamaoui, launched back in 2011 and has celebrated dozens of successful internet pay-per-view offerings ever since. Quite a few ROH fans are pulling for the company to gather its resources and pursue a similar venture. With the Sinclair Broadcast Group currently in charge of Ring of Honor’s production, these resources should not be all that difficult to come by.

But if an in-house outlet rests too far outside Ring of Honor’s parameters, there are a few sites that already host live internet pay-per-view. The most notable would be the aforementioned WWNLive.com. Despite co-founder Gabe Sapolsky’s rocky past with Ring of Honor, he has recently gone on record on WrestlingObserver.com saying that he would not rule out putting some kind of agreement together with them.

The other iPPV option is HybridEnt.tv, a site operated by Combat Zone Wrestling. ROH and CZW have worked together in the past, so an agreement between the two parties might very well be in the works.

The options are there for Ring of Honor to capitalize upon. Whatever the company chooses to do though, it will have to choose quickly. Border Wars will soon be upon us. Sadly, whatever avenue the company chooses to take, this next show won’t be as lucrative as the last few iPPVs, simply because wrestling fans are creatures of habit. It will take time to condition fans to head to whatever new platform ROH choose to implement.

Wherever Ring of Honor decides to head next will have a tremendous impact on the business it does, but time is of the essence. The clock is ticking down to May 12 in Toronto.

Des Delgadillo

Des writes a variety of articles for ROHWorld, including a weekly round-up of the news that is published every Friday. He also makes regular appearances on ROHCast alongside other members of the ROHWorld team.