WWE Raw’s television viewership dropped to a record low point this week, and there have been rumors that “reactionary decisions” could be coming. I don’t think Vince McMahon can respond to the bad news by firing Paul Heyman from the creative team again, like he did earlier this year, so it’s not exactly clear what a reactionary decision would look like in this case.
But what if there is no reactionary decision coming? What if Vince McMahon has resigned himself to believe that Raw’s ratings simply are what they are, and it’s not a big deal? The reason I bring this up is because of this recent quote from McMahon himself, during late October’s investors call, addressing Raw’s downward ratings trajectory:
“Television ratings in and of themselves, that’s what they are. With us, it’s one of our many measurements. When you look at in total, everyone who looks at WWE through the course of the year, wow...we have far more fans now than we have ever had. So when you look at television ratings, it is what it is. Not to say we don’t want to increase them, of course we do. But aside from that, our total audience is much bigger. So you can’t just hang a hat on, ‘Okay ratings are down.’”
This is the chairman of the board, less than two months ago, claiming that WWE has far more fans than ever before. He embraced the idea that viewership on streaming platforms is just as important as television. If he truly believes that to be true, then maybe no reactionary decisions will be coming as a result of Raw’s record low ratings this week.
From that same call, here is McMahon describing how to improve WWE’s television numbers:
“As far as ratings getting higher, you know, we are doing everything we can. As far as the ThunderDome is concerned, it’s been received very well by our fans, brought more back. Again it’s better writing, better execution, and talent...so that’s pretty basic.”
Yeah, it’s pretty basic. It’s pretty basic that when you run so many of the same wrestlers and presentation out there for a decade, that the product will become stale and fans will check out. The bottom line is that WWE hasn’t embraced enough younger stars, and they have lost many younger fans as a result. Keith Lee being sent for additional training and then pinned by Miz and John Morrison this week has many fans rightfully concerned that the Limitless One will join the long list of NXT stars who fail to go anywhere on WWE’s main roster. That’s just one example of so many of WWE’s head-scratching decisions that can be highlighted in recent years that has laid the groundwork for their current dilemma with Raw’s ratings.
The ThunderDome reinvigorated WWE’s product for a brief period of time, but it’s no longer adequate to rely on that for maintaining a certain viewership level. It’s far from gloom and doom for WWE - their financial position is quite impressive, but it’s overwhelmingly driven by television rights fees. That means there is a powerful and obvious incentive to improve Raw’s television numbers.
It’s clear that Vince McMahon needs to learn some new tricks to turn things around with Raw’s ratings. The primary question is, is the old man willing to learn a new trick? Or is he so stubborn about his vision being the only way, that he has fooled himself into thinking that “it is what it is” is the best way to understand Raw’s current television viewership?