There's been a great deal of discussion throughout the summer on the relationship between the WWE product and the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC). The discussion perhaps reached a head with Grantland's recent interview with Triple-H, in which Triple-H said, "I mean, yeah, we see where the Internet is going," in reference to the relationship between the product and the "smark" fanbase.
While Triple-H was a bit dismissive of how much the fans actually know and scoffed at some of the conspiracy theory stuff that gets written about, it's telling that the brass is acutely, and admittedly, aware of what the internet thinks.
That dynamic is a discussion that's been taking place here at CSS since at least early July, when Hulk Holland first looked at Daniel Bryan's push in these terms. A commenter then hit a home run with a response, specifically by highlighting the like-minded nature of groups on the internet. It follows, then, that such like-minded groups are unlikely to be representative of those non-like-minded individuals that make up the (likely) majority.
To diverge for a second, the relationship between the internet and wrestling, in general, is that the internet can be bad for business, using a very narrow lens. It's been shown that pre-taped Raws see a slight downturn in viewership, likely owing to "spoilers," although this isn't a new or strong phenomenon. The length of time between taping and air also has an impact, which supports the claim. SmackDown ratings and comment volumes also tend to be much smaller than their Raw counterparts, though this probably owes more to different air times globally and it's reputation as a B-show as much as it's pre-taped nature.
So, we know that the internet can have a small negative impact by disseminating information ahead of broadcasts. It's also a near certainty that torrenting and the presence of tools like Hulu and other streaming sites (legal or otherwise) hurt the published ratings, since they can't be accounted for at present. All of that is "bad" using this narrow lens, in so much as ratings are the company's goal.
But the "internet" is not a synonym for the IWC.
Going back to the commenter's point, the idea that the community is like-minded is a fair one, and the extrapolation that it is non-representative is also probably fair in theory. But what if the IWC is representative of the population as a whole in terms of level of interest, if not the actual ideas and ideals for the product? This is something that can be measured, albeit in a very rough way given the data available.
Thanks to Geno and the archives, I was able to go back and look at CSS' comment volume for every Raw results/live blog post since three-hour Raws began on July 23, 2013. I pulled all of the comment totals for those posts and compared them to Raw ratings over the same time period.
My initial thought ("hypothesis," if you want to get scientific with your nerdy wrestling data) was that there would be little relationship between the two. Comments can be generated by any number of things - strong shows, poor shows, controversial angles, collective boredom or just conversations that occur in the threads separate of the product's quality.
However, the data for the last year points to the IWC's active participation (in this case, CSS comments are used) having a strong positive relationship with Raw ratings. This doesn't indicate causation, but an R-squared of .44 is fairly strong (it suggests a correlation of about .67). That large outlier in the upper-right hand corner is the 1000th episode of Raw. Even if that's removed, the relationship remains strong (R-squared of .35, correlation of .59). While neither of these relationships enter the generally accepted "very strong relationship" area (you'd hope for an R-squared of .49 or higher), they're still quite telling.
Again, this is some rough statistical work here. CSS comments might not be the best gauge of IWC interest (but it's the only data readily available to me) and the causation can't be inferred from the relationship.
However, if I'm the WWE and I see this relationship -- and you can bet they have the resources to find better data than I do -- it tells me that even if I want to discredit what the IWC is clamoring for, the amount of clamoring they're doing appears to be important.