I’ve sat back and watched this thing we call sports entertainment/ professional wrestling, pick your poison, for the last several years on auto pilot. I definitely made an emotional investment in the Pipe Bomb Incident and CM Punk thinking that perhaps WWE would be moving in a more progressive direction. That pay off never really came and I’ve found myself just watching week to week for the sake of watching, more because I was a loyal fan of the World Wrestling Federation from days gone by.
The more I’ve interacted with the IWC and casual fans alike, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone. I think a lot of us kept watching, longing for the good old days of the 80s and the Attitude Era, waiting and hoping for another boom period or golden age. Historically speaking, if you want to measure it in terms of years, this should have happened at least half a decade ago. It never came so we’ve satisfied ourselves living big moment to big moment or big payoff to big payoff. The problem that I see is that it’s been a long time since we’ve really had one of those. In place of the “next big thing” or great “Wrestlemania moment” we’ve been saddled with returning stars turned actors of days gone by and business as usual with superstars we’ve been bored with for years.
Say what you want about John Cena, love him or hate him, in terms of a superstar’s shelf life, it was really over a while ago. He has been the “top dog” for about 10 years now. Hogan’s golden run lasted 8 years while Austin’s let’s say lasted 6 years (WM 13 to 19, I know there were a few absences during that time.) In an era where a superstar’s popularity doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to, due mostly to constant weekly television exposure, it wasn’t the best move for the machine to keep pushing a guy longer than his more popular predecessors organically lasted. It really is over for him and a lot of his hardcore fan base, blinded by dedication, just hasn’t seen it yet.
Unfortunately a lot of fans have seen it and have changed the channel. In responding to a reader’s post the other day, I pointed out that the ratings during the Attitude Era averaged between 5.0 and 6.0, often peaking to an 8.0+ and this was while they had direct competition from WCW. We’ve not really seen that since. Nowadays the ratings, I’ll get more into them in a bit, have been between 3.0 and 4.0. That’s a third to half of the viewing audience that has just drifted. And that doesn’t take into account WCW’s audience. Where did they all go?
For the longtime fans of back in the day that have stuck around, they’ve been, for the last several years, going through the grief process. They’ve been mourning the loss of the WWE that they fell in love once upon a time and have been cycling through the grief stages without really realizing. How did they not realize it? Well, because the first stage is denial. I sat through the Miz main-eventing 27 and two years of Rock/ Cena thinking it was just to buy themselves time to develop the next big superstar. They’ve had several opportunities now to move along and advance the product and haven’t. It took me a long time to come out of that denial and realize that WWE had morphed into a corporate conglomerate, much like the one they use to fight against in the mid 90s, and nothing would be the same again.
After denial comes anger. That was the Royal Rumble. That was the night that long time times had had enough and really lashed out, more at what WWE corporate decision making was doing to the product than Daniel Bryan, he was the largest example of a larger complaint. After the Rumble, fans bargained thinking Elimination Chamber was going to be the night. Obviously it was not and as we saw that night some fans entered the fourth stage, depression. For others, they cycled back into the anger stage for a bit, then back into bargaining thinking WWE would actually listen to them and so the hijack movement was born. The hijack was quelled and fans again entered depression. Some of them anyway, while others, the ones that suffered depression after the chamber had moved along to acceptance.
Where is the evidence of this? The Chicago Raw scored a 3.26 rating, roughly 4.58 million viewers. The March 10 Raw from Memphis, scored a 3.09 rating, roughly 4.368 million viewers. Finally we get to this past Monday, as the headline on PWMania.com read, “Monday’s WWE Raw Rating Fails To Score Above 3.0-Level.” That’s right, WWE scored its lowest rating in 2014, a 2.98, roughly 4.075 million viewers. In the course of 2 weeks, Raw lost 500,000 viewing households. In TNA terms, this would be roughly half of their audience.
For the viewership to drop this much in the weeks leading to their biggest event of the year isn’t good. Fans do not need to be smart marks to know what’s going on. After years of watching WWE, you become wise to booking patterns. After the last few years, fans have become wise to corporate planning. I said a few weeks ago that WWE backed itself into a corner and needed to put the title on Bryan. I’ll state for the record right now that I didn’t believe then, nor to I believe now that they have any plans to actually do that. I’d be more surprised if Bryan walks out with the title than if he doesn’t.
Raw this week was not about good booking, it was about testing the waters to see if they really have to put the title on him and laid the foundation to justify not giving it to him. If he doesn’t get the title at Mania, WWE is going to force the remainder of the long time fans to finally accept what has been happening and I believe we are going to see the ratings and overall popularity of WWE dip to an all time low. For certain websites of the IWC that function more as unofficial PR agencies for the WWE, consider that when interest and viewership in WWE goes down, interest and hits to your web sites go down. Maybe it’s time to stop defending WWE and come out of the denial yourselves.
WWE has bucked certain conventional traditions that have always worked in professional wrestling and have tried to artificially create and maintain the stars they liked. It isn’t working. I’ve had readers disagree with me about making it about wrestling again; let’s amend that to say it’s more about doing good business again. They need to cultivate and grow new stars the way they used to. They had two opportunities with Bryan and Punk and failed to do so sticking with business as usual. Consumers are only going to tolerate Grade M beef for so long before there is a demand for food that actually nourishes the body, reference Taco Bell. To assume that long time fans are going to stick around, no matter what, is a big mistake and foolish for any business to do.
Wrestlemania is their biggest opportunity to make and establish new stars. Fans are generally drawn to the big main event and with the biggest audience of the year watching, WWE, used to anyway, capitalize on it by positioning the mid card stars with opportunities to break out: Austin at 13, Triple H at 15, etc. The last few years WWE has squandered those opportunities on the biggest stage (reference 18 seconds and brogue kick) and appears to be doing that again.
We aren’t really sure yet what a lot of the midcard is going to be, probably because they don’t know yet. We do have an idea who is going to be in the big battle royal though, and it looks a bit discouraging. My biggest objection is the potential for the Intercontinental Championship to not be defended that night. That title used to be used as a stepping stone for the World title and top spot in the company. Now it seems like the World title itself is used to propel someone to that spot and I don’t believe a lot of fans go for that.
I’ve said before and I’ll renew it once again, Wrestlemania 30 needs to pay off. So far it isn’t looking good. I’ll reserve my judgment until it’s all over, and at this point I can’t wait til it’s over, this has been one of the longest and most painful roads to Wrestlemania ever. For those who have been quick to praise WWE and talk about genius booking and good for business stuff, I would encourage you to do the same. A lot of folks are celebrating the stock price being at an all time high. Honestly, it’s a bubble, one artificially inflated by speculation of WWE Network revenue. If they don’t meet or exceed expectations, it’s going to burst and WWE and its fans are in for a rough one.
In the mean time, sit back and be mindful of what is actually going on. For the Brock Lesnar Guy type fans, enjoy the ride and have fun, it’s cool, but for the fans on the fence about everything that’s going on, brace yourselves.
Andrew, Twitter @AJarczyk.
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