It’s easy to look back on the massive TV viewership numbers for pro wrestling during the Monday night war from the late 90’s and conclude that pro wrestling today is nowhere near as popular as it was then. You don’t even have to go back that far to see it. WWE adding a permanent third hour of Raw in 2012 meant that it was going to be even harder to maintain their average viewership and ratings levels.
I remember in 2015 when Raw was struggling to reach an hourly average of four million viewers during Seth Rollins’ WWE championship reign, and thinking that this was an alarming trend. Fast forward to today, and Raw doesn’t even bring in an average of two million viewers most weeks. House shows were no longer helping WWE’s bottom line before the global pandemic, and it made business sense to cut down on the number of non-televised live events being run. WWE Network’s subscriber numbers were such a joke compared to the heavyweights in streaming that WWE essentially abandoned their own streaming service in the USA.
Some of the common responses to these signs of declining popularity are that WWE doesn’t have any true stars, the brand is the draw, pro wrestling has gone too far in breaking kayfabe, Vince McMahon is out of touch with today’s audience, it’s impossible to compete with texting, etc.
But we also live in a world where WWE is reaching record profit levels thanks to separate billion dollar television deals with NBCUniversal and FOX. On a much smaller scale is AEW, who scored a $175 million television deal just a few months after Dynamite debuted on TNT. The absolute number of viewers may be way down from previous years, but WWE and AEW often do very well in the ordinal rankings for ratings in the key 18 to 49 year old demographic.
Perhaps high profits and revenue don’t necessarily imply a matching level of popularity, but the financial success of today’s pro wrestling cannot be denied.
I imagine this is what Matt Hardy had in mind when he tweeted the following:
It’s shocking how unaware people are of the TV landscape. TV wise, wrestling is very healthy & extremely profitable, especially considering it literally survived a business-killing pandemic. There are a 1000 times more options, on multiple competing platforms, to watch in 2021. https://t.co/GRf4zoS1Mv— MATT HARDY (@MATTHARDYBRAND) May 11, 2021
There are way more options for entertainment these days than there used to be, with most of it literally at your fingertips when you are holding a smartphone or tablet. The financial side of both WWE and AEW is doing just fine competing in today’s market for delivering eyeballs. In fact, WWE is absurdly profitable.
Do you agree with Matt about the current landscape of pro wrestling and television? Or will the lucrative television money bubble have to burst at some point?