Brian Damage and Jamie Lithgow
In recent weeks, WWE has shown a desire to listen to fans to a greater degree. Is that merely a reaction to ratings or is something else at play? That’s the focus of today’s Sunday Sermon.
Brian: When Vince McMahon appeared on Raw a few months ago and declared that WWE would give the fans more of what they want and less of what they don’t. It really seemed that the McMahon family saw the dwindling ratings as a major warning sign that things needed to change with their company.
Fast forward to now and we have fan favorites like Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch and Kofi Kingston as champions. The quality in matches have seemed to greatly improve as well. Despite all of that, WWE ratings still seem on the decline. The stocks dropped a bit and McMahon blames it on the lack of star power.
The question I pose is, does the WWE have a legitimate cause for concern? What are they still doing wrong? What are they doing right? And what needs a lot of work?
Jamie: WWE has plateaued. They are a well-established entertainment brand that has reached its ceiling. The reason I believe they are no longer growing in terms of viewership and fan base is largely because of my previous sentence; they are well-established. Everybody knows who WWE are and what they do. There are no surprises anymore. It is no longer the 1990s when one minute Hulk Hogan is telling you to take your vitamins and say your prayers and seemingly overnight Steve Austin is drinking beer and swearing. They have become a mature adult after having gone through the awkward roller-coaster of puberty in the 90s and 00s. They have ‘found themselves’. As an established brand people know what to expect from them, which is either something people like or do not like. I can’t imagine too many curious people out there tuning into Raw and wondering what this WWE thing is all about. People either watch because they like it or just do not, it’s not like there’s a shortage of entertainment catered towards people’s needs these days.
As to why ratings appear to be dropping off, I think it is related. Some people do like WWE but they, more than anyone, know what to expect. I feel like WWE is taken for granted, which is fair enough because I take it for granted myself. I do not feel the need to watch Raw or Smackdown every week. If I hear of something that truly interests me then I’ll seek it out but other than that I do not feel the need to religiously follow something I feel like will always be there – I mean it says ‘Forever’ at the start of every show. As to why I feel that way? Because, once again, WWE is well-established, it’s consistent or to use a more blunt term; it’s the same. It’s the same as it was 10 years ago. A lot of wrestlers have changed but the vibe of the shows has not. It’s the same reason I do not particularly care for Disney movies. If I’m not into the family-friendly vibe of one movie I doubt I’ll like too many of their other movies because it’s the same formula, just like what WWE does.
But hey, that’s just me. Like I said, WWE is well-established, it has a formula and a lot of people like it. Me not liking Disney has hardly held them back because plenty of other people do. I just think WWE has a ceiling. We’re not talking about movies because there’s a movie for everyone. We’re talking about wrestling, which not everybody is into. Maybe WWE’s failing is that they do not take this into consideration quite enough, despite what they say about ‘giving fans what they want’.
Brian: The thing about WWE’s ratings that I found particularly interesting was something I believe Dave Meltzer said. When somebody asked him if WWE’s poor ratings recently could have a ripple effect for All Elite Wrestling getting their television deal…Meltzer didn’t discount it. Meltzer believes that it could indeed hinder some things for them getting the best possible deal as networks are paying close attention to how WWE fairs.
I mean as crazy as it sounds, it does make sense to me. They are the WWE after all. If they are struggling with ratings despite being a well-known brand…what does that say about AEW which is completely unproven at this point? Jamie does make a lot of valid points about WWE and why they may be struggling, I just don’t know if networks and advertisers see it the same way.
Jamie: WWE impacting AEW does make a lot of sense. If networks can see how well or badly the market leader is performing, that has to trickle down and play into the thinking, if not the conversations, regarding AEW’s TV deal.
As for WWE, I guess there is a difference between fans, viewers, networks and advertisers. They are all related but will look for different things from a wrestling show. Fans will watch regardless while viewers will come and go depending on how hot the product is. Obviously, WWE is not attracting a huge number of viewers to compliment their fans that tune in each week. That basically tells us that the actual TV shows are not capturing the interest of the casual audience. However, at this moment in time, it probably doesn’t matter because advertisers know that WWE has a very consistent fanbase. If more people start watching Raw next week then so much the better but I think advertisers will be happy enough to consistently reach the X million fans who watch WWE’s shows each week without fail. I guess by my logic, WWE will only really start to find itself in trouble when previously loyal fans start disappearing – ahem, right here – or advertisers become anxious about reaching more people than WWE can cater for.
Brian: Great points Jamie and I may add that I think right now it seems to be the “cool thing” to do is rip apart WWE. Much like during the days when the in thing was ripping apart WCW or TNA wrestling. Hardcore fans need something to rebel against and WWE certainly fits the bill. WWE lately has been giving fans more of want they want like making Seth Rollins and Kofi Kingston pushes, while satisfying a small minority of fans, they aren’t hitting the mark with the majority of people who watch. All Elite is the cool thing to talk about now and deservedly so. They have a wealth of great talent and resources at their disposal.
Will all those hardcore fans make a dent in the pro wrestling television landscape is a whole other question. I just don’t know the answer to that right now.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.