Nobody with their finger on the pulse of the wrestling landscape would suggest that WWE is anything other than a thriving company. The stock prices are high, they’re making money, everything’s good. There is one weakness that’s noticeable to the general public, and its one that I just love talking about.
Wrestling fans are obsessed with the TV ratings. It started in the 1990s with the Monday Night War. The winner of the competition between WCW & the WWF was determined by the number of people watching Monday Nitro or Raw is War on a weekly basis. Whether it was the best way to judge promotion supremacy or not was irrelevant. It was the easiest way for us to judge who was on top.
I’m not sure why we kept caring about Raw ratings after WCW went out of business. I understand why WWE would care, but wrestling fans’ obsession with them is a bit confusing. I suppose it’s a force of habit. We’re so used to ratings being the mile marker of where the business is at that it’s tough for us not to care. When the ratings are up historically, we’re happy. When they’re down, we’re disappointed. Especially if we thought the show was good.
There are pretty standard reasons explaining why Raw ratings were historically low this week. These can be used pretty much every time something like this happens, with slight variations on themes, such as who the big star in the company is.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this. But there are a metric ton of channels on my cable service that I never watch. There’s Netflix. There’s Hulu. Sometimes there’s actual things to do that require getting out of the house. I hear some people actually leave their house during the summer months. I never do because I have fifteen weekly columns on eight different websites, but I hear it’s a good time.
There’s DVR. WWE Network gets the show a month later if you have the patience to wait. There are YouTube clips. There are plenty of ways to view Raw when it isn’t live on television. It’s usually better that way. I may yearn for the old days when we flipped back & forth between Raw & Nitro, but having choices is pretty cool too.
Brock & Ronda weren’t there
I admit to liking the idea of having a champion that didn’t defend the title all the time. Televised championship matches should be a big deal & not something that’s just thrown out there every week. I wouldn’t even get mad if the champion wasn’t in attendance every week, or if he didn’t wrestle every time he was there.
Seriously though, this Brock Lesnar stuff has gotta stop. They’ve put all their eggs in the Brock basket to the point where they won’t even let Roman Reigns beat him. On television they’ll act like the Big Dog got screwed somehow, but if you watch the PPV you know that Lesnar just kicked the guy’s ass. Roman has as much chance of beating Brock Lesnar as Charlie Brown did of kicking the football. Maybe Braun Strowman can cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase if Lesnar ever shows up, but that’s not exactly the compelling drama people tune in for week to week. Having Strowman kill his time with Kevin Owens & porta potties doesn’t exactly fill the void.
They’ve signed another part-time star in Ronda Rousey that does great numbers when she’s around. When she’s not around, there’s no reason to care about the Raw women’s division. Maybe if they can sign five or six UFC fighters that people care about & spread their time of service out over the year, they can consistently draw big ratings.
They’re not building a PPV that matters
WWE has made it pretty obvious that only a few events on their calendar actually matter. WrestleMania is obviously the biggest. WWE Superstars seem more concerned with having WrestleMania moments than they are with winning championships. The Royal Rumble & SummerSlam matter to a lesser extent. A couple of shows have matches that matter, like Money in the Bank & Elimination Chamber.
Does anybody care about an Extreme Rules match? Not really. The show’s been around ten years & there aren’t Extreme Rules Moments that get replayed over & over again. It’s just another show that they do once a year because they need PPV events to fill the calendar.
To be fair, WWE recognizes this problem and is addressing it by adding international versions of the Royal Rumble & WrestleMania.
Roman wasn’t around after the first segment
Raw started out pretty hot with a segment featuring Roman Reigns & Bobby Lashley getting physical to hype their match at Extreme Rules. A lot of people like Roman Reigns. A lot of people don’t like Roman Reigns, but seem to like complaining about his presence on Raw. You don’t see these people talking about anything else on the show either. They’re not praising Seth Rollins’ efforts. They’re not talking about anybody else on Raw except Roman Reigns.
Roman & Bob were each on briefly later in the show to do separate interviews with Renee Young. They were selling us on Extreme Rules, but not on the rest of Monday evening’s show. With no match announcement after the segment, we knew they were done for the evening and it was safe to turn the show off.
Having Reigns do more later in the show doesn’t guarantee that everybody will stick around. But you gotta fill the final two & a half hours of the show somehow.
News has a different audience now
If you look at the Monday night cable ratings, you’ll notice that the only thing that beat Raw in total viewers was news. I remember a time where people didn’t want to watch the news because it was too depressing. Now people want to watch the news because it’s too depressing, and they can complain about it on social media. It’s a pretty disgusting enterprise.
The top-rated cable show on Monday night was a Fox News Channel show hosted by Sean Hannity that drew over five million viewers. I can’t imagine watching Hannity bloviate about anything for more than ten seconds, but it’s a safe assumption that a lot of the people watching it come from the Southern United States area where WCW was so popular.
We all know that WCW fans did not follow the brand to WWE’s umbrella. Many fans checked out in the final years of the company. As wrestling fans, we would like to think they found other wrestling to watch. That’s not likely. Southern wrestling fans were bred to hate Northern wrestling, as it proved out in the ratings where WWE gained nothing from WCW’s dismissal. Given where most GOP votes come from, it’s likely that people that watched WCW back in the day are watching Sean Hannity instead of WWE in 2018. They’re seventeen years older now than they were when the company folded. That puts a lot of WCW’s viewing audience in the same age bracket as Fox News’ main demographic.
From what I can tell out here in flyover country, Fox News & right-wing media has done a pretty good job of talking the current President up as a Stone Cold Steve Austin-style working man that’s out to get the “libtard” establishment. He’s foul-mouthed. He calls it like he sees it. He always comes out on top. The MAGA hat has replaced the Austin 3:16 t-shirt as a fashion statement. The only real difference is that he doesn’t end his speeches with beer bashes. They’ve done a better job of building an anti-establishment babyface than WWE has in the 21st century. They’ve also created better heels in minorities & the Democrats. People are much more invested in them losing than anybody in WWE.
Things like Supreme Court appointments have replaced the big title change. Instead of celebrating Austin finally getting the strap at WrestleMania or Sting finally getting one over on the NWO, people celebrate new Supreme Court justices that will impose their values on their enemies. Out of all the reasons ratings might be down, this one bothers Vince McMahon the least.
The Main Reason Why
We can make all the excuses in the world for why people aren’t watching WWE television in the numbers they used to. At the end of the day, it really all comes down to something Bobby Heenan explained one time on a ROH Straight Shootin’ Series video with Jim Cornette. It was the typically unspoken answer when a promoter wondered why their show bombed. They would make plenty of excuses, but there was always one simple reason.
The fans didn’t want to see it.
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