WWE ratings have been in a freefall since the Monday Night Wars of 1997-2000, but the last year has witnessed an especially significant drop causing some to question whether the industry is on its last legs.
The last episode of Raw averaged just 2.54 million viewers — its smallest number in 2017, which is a record-low year for the company — while SmackDown Live brought in 2.07 million, which was down from the previous week’s 2.35 million, as reported by WrestleView.
Considering the company’s base was holding at over 3 million one year ago, and considering these numbers are down from all-time highs of 10 million viewers back in the MNW days, according to Nielsen, there could be cause for concern.
If WWE ratings are not coming back, that will be a problem when it’s time for the company to renegotiate its contract with USA Network. And while the McMahon Family still runs the professional wrestling industry, it’s a rapidly diminishing pie as the aforementioned numbers will attest.
Is there a fix for WWE ratings? It could be too early to tell. The company is doing fine financially thanks to its direct consumer relationship through the WWE Network, but Cageside Seats reports that the powers that be (aka the McMahon Family) are growing increasingly concerned with the lack of viewership.
Adding to their fear is the fact the live venue for Money in the Bank continues to be undersold.
So are WWE ratings coming back? To answer, it’s important to understand the challenges they are facing.
One of the biggest is the WWE has no real competitor stateside.
The company’s play into international waters is a worthy challenge because it forces them to compete with promotions like New Japan and WrestleKingdom on those companies’ home turfs.
However, stateside, they have been unable to find a worthy competitor because they have spent much of their time squashing them since the closure of WCW.
The end of the Monday Night Wars effectively gave the McMahons 100 percent of the U.S. market; however, the U.S. market shrunk in the process and is now less than one-half the size it once was.
— Bayley is back???? (@BayleyPromoWWE) June 13, 2017
While companies like Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling have endured, and Lucha Underground has brought in a few hundred thousand eyeballs on El Rey, the indie scene has been unable to mount a challenge to WWE in production quality and quantity.
WWE ratings improved for just a bit when the company decided to compete against itself through the separate SmackDown and Raw rosters, but today’s audiences are too smart to buy into the notion of an actual rivalry since the shows are under the same umbrella.
Furthermore, kayfabe is dead, and the company is making no efforts to put the genie back in the bottle — if that’s even possible.
The days of kayfabe — when wrestling was considered “real,” or at least no one was confessing to it being a work — had the allure of trying to figure out where fantasy ended and reality began.
Even if you disbelieved in the outcomes as a whole, you could see a crazy move or hear a promo get personal and think, “Those guys must hate each other.”
The suspension of disbelief was essential to the product, and the end of kayfabe stripped that away. Now fans get the same effects with actual fighting through UFC or boxer-MMA hybrids like the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight on Aug. 26.
WWE ratings have seen spikes when they play back into kayfabe with moves like the planned Brock Lesnar elbow that legitimately split open Randy Orton’s head.
The company has another opportunity with Lesnar and Samoa Joe. The work the two stars have done thus far has been convincing even if it hasn’t yet crossed the same Lesnar-Orton lines.
A final reason WWE ratings could be suffering: too many Band-Aids, not enough starmaking.
The company has been criticized for throwing together legends like Lesnar and Bill Goldberg instead of using the two to try and create new stars.
— DWI WrestlingPodcast (@podcastDWI) June 6, 2017
Some pundits, like Kevin Sullivan, the former head booker of WCW and current co-host of the MSL & Sullivan podcast, have observed it is a testament to the product’s staleness that at WrestleMania 33, the major draw — Lesnar vs. Goldberg — was a clash between two stars popular in the Monday Night Wars era. See the March 30, 2017, episode for actual discussion.
WWE ratings can improve if the company can take its time to develop new talents into the stars of tomorrow and continue to flirt with kayfabe when they can.
But what do you think, readers?
Are falling WWE ratings an indication that professional wrestling’s days are numbered, or is there a vibrant future still to be had? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by WWE]