Coming off a string of three pay-per-views that weren't especially well-received, WWE Survivor Series is this Sunday, and it isn't exactly generating a lot of positive buzz.
Heading into tonight's Raw (Raw Country -- I've never been a fan of gimmick shows heading into a pay-per-view, although hopefully this doesn't extend beyond an appearance by the band Florida George Line and some bad comedy from 3MB and Santino) there are only three matches announced for Survivor Series.
One is a World Heavyweight Championship rematch from last month's Hell in a Cell pay-per-view between John Cena and Alberto Del Rio. It doesn't even have a gimmick to get people excited for the rematch, and we've seen this pairing quite a few times already over the years. Oh, and there is only the minute chance that Cena doesn't win.
The second is a WWE Championship match with Randy Orton defending against Big Show. This is the culmination of the Big Show-is-fired-but-not-really storyline that's been going on pretty much since after "The Authority" took over at SummerSlam. The feud is really between Big Show and Triple H/Stephanie, but the Game isn't going to put his wrestling boots on until WrestleMania, in my opinion, so Orton serves as the Dragon to his the Authority's Big Bad. And once again, there is a good chance of having non-decisive finish to keep the strap on Orton.
Finally, we have Daniel Bryan and CM Punk teaming to take on Luke Harper and Erick Rowan of the Wyatt Family. Yawn. This feels like it should be a main event on Smackdown, not one of the top 3 matches on what is, allegedly, one of WWE's "Big Four" pay-per-views. Had Bray Wyatt been added to the fray to make it a 3-on-2 handicap match or had the 6-on-6 elimination tag team match that was teased on the end of last week's Raw been booked, this might have a little more juice.
None of this is exactly can't-miss.
Survivor Series needs a major shot in the arm right now, and I don't suspect anything WWE books tonight is going to save it. Even changing the Bryan/Punk vs. Wyatts match into a traditional Survivor Series tag team elimination match won't be enough, although it'll probably mean better wrestling on the show.
Beyond the poor card, the WWE is also going up against the marquee match-up of the NFL season on Sunday Night Football when Tom Brady plays Peyton Manning (there are 52 other guys on both teams too, but if WWE has taught us anything, it's all about the marquee names).
All of this means Survivor Series could be one of the least watched pay-per-views in recent memory. As it were, last year's Survivor Series did just 212,000 buys. Two years ago, featuring the Rock's return to in-ring action teaming with John Cena and emanating from Madison Square Garden, Survivor Series did just 281,000 buys -- by and large a disappointment considering what WWE invested in that show.
In 2010, WWE considered putting the Survivor Series horse out to pasture. But fan backlash caused them to rethink the decision and keep the branding of the company's second-longest running PPV behind WrestleMania.
Personally, I don't think branding is the issue. If anything, the Survivor Series brand is likely keeping the show from dipping even further into B-level PPV buyrate numbers (for example, September's Night of Champions did just 175,000 buys according to WWE's recent earnings report).
Something else that we've learned in recent years is that gimmick PPVs don't necessarily sell better over time either. After the initial success of the first Hell in a Cell event in 2009, the buyrates for it have steadily dropped (the exception being last year, when a then-undefeated Ryback was thrust into a WWE Championship match with CM Punk and curiousity got the better of many fans). So it's not a matter of revamping the Survivor Series gimmick to save it either.
Honestly, I almost wonder if WWE isn't mailing this one in knowing it's going to get clobbered by the NFL and just taking the money of the nearly 200,000 buys it will generate from hardcore wrestling fans who buy all the shows anyway? Could that have been the thought process on the last three pay-per-views as well by putting meta-fan favorite Daniel Bryan in the main event? It's not unthinkable.
With about a month-and-a-half left in 2013, WWE may just glide its way to the end of the year with nothing major happening, then amp things up again as the Road to WrestleMania begins starting with the first Raw of the 2014 (in Baltimore no less) and really kicking into gear after the Royal Rumble.
There might not be an offseason in WWE, but there is certainly a down season, and we're right in the midst of it.