It is human nature to put things into ranks and order them by measurements of quality. Music couldn’t just be a collection of songs, some of which you liked, others you didn’t so much. It had to be turned into a competition and so the charts were born. Then someone one day decided that the number of copies of a song that were sold wasn’t a good enough measure and instead had people vote for their favourite ever song, and in doing so created another chart, but based on a different scale. Sport is the natural product of this compulsion of people trying to identify what or who is the best. Every athletic contest is simply another way of trying to define who is better at a given discipline; who is the fastest? Who is the strongest? Who is the most accurate? And so it goes on.
The problem with this is that, a competition at a given time is simply a snapshot of who is the best at one particular point in history. That is where the debates begin about who is the greatest of all time. Whatever sport is in question, the answer is almost never found as there is simply no real way to compare like for like. For example in boxing how do you judge individuals who are competing at different weight categories? In baseball, how do you compare a pitcher to a great home run hitter? Even in something as straight forward as the 100m sprint, is it fair to judge athletes from the present day, with all the sports science techniques that exist now, against a sprinter from 100 years ago? The debate reaches its natural conclusion (or lack thereof) when those offering counter arguments agree to disagree.
When it comes to professional wrestling, the argument is even more complicated given the fact that win/loss records are only a small measure (and some would say no measure at all) to how good somebody actually is/was. Dependent on who you speak to, an individual’s quality could be dependent on any combination of the following factors: win/loss record, in-ring ability, promo ability, number of great matches, variety of opponents, amount of money made etc. The variables are too many to judge and the weight of importance of each of these aspects depend on who you are talking to.
One discussion I was involved in recently was based on the question of who is the greatest wrestler in the history of Wrestlemania, the true ‘Mr Wrestlemania’ if you will? Whilst it is true that the WWE did bestow this title occasionally on the ‘Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels, we were debating who truly deserves the moniker. When offering an idea for who people thought was the true king of Wrestlemania, the participants in the discussion had different ideas about what that person would need to have contributed. If, for example the title should go to the person who has appeared on more Wrestlemania’s than anybody else then The Undertaker would win hands down, but what if match quality was a more important measurement? Or even who has made the most money at Wrestlemania than any other?
This got me thinking; is there any statistical way that this question can be (in part) answered? What quantitative date exists out there which would allow me to make a judgement that could feed in to such a discussion? Somebody within the debate offered the idea that Hulk Hogan or John Cena were likely to have done more than anybody else to sell pay-per-views at the once a year spectacular. I had no reason to question this or believe it was correct and realised that this was potentially something that could be explored further. After all, pay-per-view buys are simply numbers, and numbers allow you to assign a value to each of the potential candidates of the title ‘Mr Wrestlemania’.
And so I went to work on this small piece of research, armed with only a laptop and an internet connection. Don’t get me wrong, what is offered here is not designed to answer the question comprehensively; it has merely been done to lubricate the continuing discussion of this very topic. Pay-per-view buys are the only factor that can be quantitatively measured to answer such a question (except win/loss records, and I think we can all agree that The Undertaker had this sewn up years ago) and I am a big mark for statistics so my idea was to try and get as close as possible to determining who has drawn the most pay-per-view buys in the history of Wrestlemania. I have chosen to use the number of buys, rather than the actual buy rate or the money drawn for two reasons:
If I was to use the PPV buy rate as a measure, this would only reflect a proportion of the people with access to PPV television at the time rather than the actual amount of people drawn to watch it. So for example, Wrestlemania 3 famously did a 10.3 PPV buy rate- the highest of all time by a long way, only, at the time that only equated to around 850,000 actual buys, roughly the same as Wrestlemania 26. Meanwhile measuring the events in terms of money made would massively weight the amounts in favour of more recent events due to the effect of inflation.
Firstly I compiled a list of the top 3 matches on each Wrestlemania in order of impact they had on the buyrate of the event. So for example, Wrestlemania 3 would be:
1. Hulk Hogan V Andre the Giant
2. Randy Savage V Ricky Steamboat
3. Roddy Piper V Adrian Adonis
Then decided that (as a generic break down) the biggest match of each Wrestlemania would account for roughly 75% of the buy rate, the 2nd biggest match would account for roughly 15% and the 3rd biggest would account for roughly 10%.
I then researched a figure for the number of people who purchased each event, whether on television or in closed circuit locations . These have been taken from credible sources and then cross referenced against other sources for the closest possible accuracy.
These figures were then calculated on the 75/15/10 scale to give an amount of buys against each match (so for example, an event with 1 million buys would provide the main event with a calculated buy rate for the match of 750,000). Each individual in the match would receive the figure of the match that they were involved in, so for example, Wrestlemania 14 received 730,000 buys and so both Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels get 547,000 (75% of the total amount of PPV buys) added to their total.
Then I added up all the figures to give each person a total number of PPV buys against their name.
Determining the order of importance to matches on the card is a subjective process at times. Whilst it is undeniable for example that The Rock V John Cena was the main event of Wrestlemania 28, it is not so straightforward to decide between the Undertaker/Triple H match and the CM Punk/Chris Jericho match as to which was the next most important. For the most part I have used a combination of common sense, position on the card and name value as the best way to decide the order of impact/importance on the PPV buy rate. As such, Hulk Hogan V The Rock is positioned as the most important match on the Wrestlemania 18 card, despite Triple H V Chris Jericho being the booked main event.
I have had to make a generic assumption about the importance of the main event and the 2nd and 3rd most popular matches on the card. Whilst I understand that it is not necessarily the case that 75% of the reason for a crowd buying a PPV is because of the main event this was, I felt, the least subjective way of calculating each individual score. For example, it may be obvious that at Wrestlemania 16, the importance of the main event accounted for much more than 75% of the reason for people buying the event, but at a show like Wrestlemania 19 where there were a number of matches that could be considered main event worthy, the main event itself may have accounted for much less than 75%. In order to allow for these fluctuations I would have to apply a personal opinion to the importance of every match on every Wrestlemania card, and therefore it would be very subjective. By assigning the 75/15/10 split, I am not applying a judgement to any of the cards individually, and instead giving each show a standardised calculation.
Though the pay-per-view figures have been taken from reliable sources and cross referenced against other sources, they are not from an official source (WWE for example) and therefore the number for each is not necessarily 100% accurate. Whilst all PPV buy figures are accurate from 1999 onwards (the year WWE went on the stock market and therefore PPV buys became public information), everything prior to that date is estimation due to the company being 100% privately owned at the time.
The method also assumes that each member of a match is as important to the buy rate as another. So whilst at Wrestlemania 17 it is likely that Austin and The Rock were roughly equal to thank for the fans purchasing the pay-per-view, at Wrestlemania 27 it is unlikely that The Miz made as much of a difference to the number of buys as John Cena. Again, this is done because otherwise I would have to apply my own opinions as to who was more to thank for the buy rate and to what degree which would have again brought too high a level of subjection to such an exercise.
Finally, this method does not take into account the increasing value of the Wrestlemania brand and what effect this will have had on pay-per-view buys as time has gone on. It is arguably the case that the simple fact that a show is a Wrestlemania is now good enough to sell the show to people, without taking into account what matches are on it and as a consequence the number of pay-per-view buys have been inflated in recent years. Again, as there is no way to measure the effect of this it has been ignored for the purposes of this study.
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