WWE SmackDown achieved impressive ratings when it debuted on the USA Network this week, scoring the best numbers since the episode following WrestleMania 31.
WrestleZone reported that SmackDown drew an average of 2.757 million viewers and 1.93 in the cable ratings. This was the highest ratings score for SmackDown since the post-WrestleMania episode, bolstered by a red hot edition of Raw; it registered a 1.94.
The SmackDown ratings had been decreasing at an alarming rate during the later part of the show’s tenure on the Syfy channel, achieving a record low viewership figure for the Thanksgiving episode, according to WrestlingInc.
WWE heavily promoted the move to the USA Network in a grab for ratings and sold SmackDown hard on the basis of two blockbuster championship matches. Newly-minted heel Charlotte successfully defended the Divas Championship, with her father Ric Flair at ringside, against former friend Becky Lynch.
In the main event, meanwhile, Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose fought to a double countout with long-term rival and former champion Kevin Owens. Their wild brawl around the arena culminated in both men crashing through a pile of equipment tables in the entranceway.
WWE also brought out recently injured franchise player John Cena in an attempt to boost SmackDown ratings on the USA Network with a burst of star power. Cena goaded United States Champion Alberto Del Rio and played ringside cheerleader for Del Rio’s non-title defeat to surging high-flying star Kalisto.
What Culture, reporting on the SmackDown ratings boost, said that WWE would have to do more to keep the blue brand flying high on USA Network.
“WWE clearly wants SmackDown to be viewed as more of an “A show” now that it has moved to the USA Network alongside RAW. The show has been cast as a “B show” for many years, so it will take several good shows and much advertising to change the fan’s perception and make Thursday night wrestling must-see once again.”
Chris Mueller, over at Bleacher Report, lauded this week’s episode of SmackDown and suggested that the sort of strong booking on the show could keep the ratings going in the right direction.
“The first episode of SmackDown on the USA Network could have gone two ways. WWE could have either packed the show with too much to handle or given a few select matches and storylines enough time to play out properly. Thankfully, we got the latter. All four contests were enjoyable for different reasons, and the two title bouts exceeded expectations.
“As a whole, it was a fun show to kick off the new year. If WWE continues to put more effort into SmackDown, it could become almost as important as Raw.”
There was also a new face behind the commentary table for SmackDown, with former NJPW commentator Mauro Ranallo taking on play-by-play duties. He was joined on the first USA Network broadcast by Byron Saxton and Jerry “The King” Lawler.
Mueller wrote that Ranallo “brought an energy and a more traditional approach to the commentary table,” which could help move ratings onwards and upwards as the company attempts to combat its 2015 viewership slump. His style leaned toward calling wrestling moves and telling simple stories, rather than the bizarre tangents and social media plugging that have come to characterize Michael Cole’s work as lead announcer on Raw.
The episode of SmackDown was a strong one from an in-ring perspective. Fans seemed to dig it, which was backed up by the increase in ratings.
It will be interesting to see whether SmackDown ratings will hold up in the coming weeks as the show settles in to its new home on USA Network.
[All photos by WWE]