A study of sports television viewing conducted by Magna Global for Sports Business Journal is getting some play this week on the wrestling internet. The reason is that in looking at Nielson data on 25 different types of sports programming in 2000, 2006 and 2016, the median age of a pro wrestling watcher has skyrocketed, from 28 at the start of this century to 52 last year.
Wrestling isn’t alone in this. With few exceptions, the audience age for all sports is aging faster than the overall United States population - but still slower than the rate at which other primetime viewer are getting older. While WWE hasn’t commented on the study to anyone, that would likely be part of their response, and a lynchpin of their next negotiations with domestic TV partners... our ratings are down, but only as much as other sports, and not as much as other types of programming.
The SBJ story itself, and other outlets picking it up (like Deadspin) point out the other argument: median age of television viewers is rising because younger people are consuming programming via devices other than the ones Nielson tracks. WWE’s distribution strategy has clearly already changed to accomodate that trend, from big moves like their over-the-top Network to smaller ones like the initiative to create Snapchat programs.
Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, who Tweeted he believes the SBJ data skews a little high (he thinks the current median age of Raw and SmackDown viewers is in the 40s), has also said in the past WWE current business model accounts for these changes. There may be fewer fans now than in the past, but a perk of those fans being older is they have more money to spend. And the ones who’ve stuck with the product are willing to pay for more.
Still, it’s disheartening to some fans - and probably WWE executives - to see the efforts made to deliver a PG product not translating into the TV viewership data.
Are there other ways to attract younger wrestling fans? Or are they just never going to pick television as the primary way to watch, and better questions for WWE to be trying to answer?
Give us your analysis, Cagesiders.