WWE ratings for both Raw and Smackdown Live seem to be staying below the company’s recent benchmark of 3 million viewers.
For the last couple of weeks, the flagship show, Monday Night Raw, has dipped below 3 million and appears to be staying there at all-time lows.
Smackdown Live on Tuesday nights has historically performed worse than Raw, though previously it aired on Friday nights and only recently made the jump, so there isn’t a lot of data available for an apples-to-apples comparison.
As a general rule, and consistent with this past week, it came in about 300,000 shy of the average Raw viewership.
— The Fan’s Podcast (@TheFansPodcast) October 13, 2016
While some have looked at these dwindling WWE ratings and decided that it’s a new business model with the WWE Network going the subscription route and thus shifting revenue from television advertising to direct-to-consumer, others, like one wrestling legend on a recent MLW Radio podcast, thinks the sky is falling, and it will get here sooner, rather than later.
Kevin Sullivan, speaking on the latest episode of the MSL & Sullivan podcast, said that the WWE ratings free fall was something that needed to be addressed because the numbers are eroding the programs and taking the business with it.
“And it’s not going to be in the next 10 years,” Sullivan said. “It’s going to be in the next three years or so.”
Sullivan, the lead booker of WCW Monday Nitro during the highly rated “Monday Night Wars” era when the company was actually beating WWE ratings week after week, painted a dire scenario of what the falling numbers truly mean for both shows.
Sullivan said that if WWE ratings continue to decline, this new floor of 2.7 million viewers for Raw and 2.4 million for Smackdown Live could soon reach depths of 2 million and 1.8 million. And from there, “you have contract renegotiations,” which would not go as well for the WWE when it comes time to renew with USA Network.
While it’s true the company has hedged its bets by charging $9.99 per month and porting many of their fans over to the WWE Network, that places a greater demand on content creation, which means more overhead.
To pay for that overhead, Sullivan attests, you have to create as much revenue as possible, and if WWE ratings continue to fall, then the company is in danger of losing one of its more lucrative sources of revenue in their deal with USA.
— Doug Martin (@martindoug53) October 11, 2016
It creates an interesting dynamic for the world of professional wrestling/sports entertainment. If WWE ratings do continue to falter, what happens to the business?
There are two main scenarios.
The first is WWE retools, makes cuts, and does enough to sustain its product through leaner contracts and maximizing audience revenue from house shows, live events, and the WWE Network. This would allow some smaller players in the professional wrestling market — ROH, Lucha Libre, New Japan, and TNA if it survives — to step up and grab a market share.
The second indicates that WWE ratings imply a general erosion of the wrestling fanbase that is too much for the company — and the business — to sustain. World Wrestling Entertainment overextends itself on content creation and goes out of business, while indie promotions die slow deaths playing irregularly to high school gymnasiums of 50 people — a sort of modern day equivalent of the old carnival sideshows from the early-to-mid 20th Century.
The future that Sullivan paints as a result of the WWE ratings decline is a scary one for professional wrestling fans, but the continual move from national acclaim to niche seems to be on pace.
But what do you think, readers?
Do the declining WWE ratings mean the end for professional wrestling as a whole? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Featured Image by WWE Official Website]