As I sit here contemplating my life as a professional wrestling fan, I think about how I have seen a lot of things like the Rock & Wrestling Era of the 80s in the WWF, the NWO angle in WCW, etc, etc, etc. I can go on and on with my wrestling memories, and how hot the business was during those eras. I can remember when wrestling was doing combined ratings between WWF & WCW in 7s, 8s, and even the 9s. There were so many more people watching wrestling back then. Now Raw is considered successful when they break into the low 3s in regards to ratings.
60% of the audience from the late 90’s and early 2000’s is gone. Where did everybody go? What is it that caused people to turn away from the wrestling product in droves? There are so many schools of thought on this. I can go on and on about it, but I don’t think anyone wants to read an essay on the subject. I will just go over some of the reasons that I feel people stopped watching the product.
During the Monday Night Wars between the WWF Monday Night Raw and WCW Monday Nitro, more and more casual fans were into the product. WCW started bringing in the older audience when they noticed that for the most part the WWF was still catering to kids. And the WWF seeing that they were falling behind changed their creative and booking philosophies in order to catch up which ushered in the “Attitude Era” of the WWF. When names like Stone Cold Steve Austin & The Rock took the ball and ran with it, WCW failed to change their own philosophy with the times as those guys got hot, and as we all know in April of 2001 Vince McMahon bought out WCW.
I thought it was an awesome idea at first because I thought we were finally going to see some supercards, but in hindsight this was probably one of the worst things that could have happened to professional wrestling. While WCW was pretty bad near the end, they were still doing ratings between 2.6-3.0 range (where WWE Raw is now). What this tells me is that WCW, no matter how bad, still had a loyal fanbase. They tried WWF, and when the Invasion storyline failed because WCW guys were made to look like wusses compared to the WWF guys, they stopped watching wrestling altogether. That is about 3 million people right there who stopped watching wrestling. What people need to understand is that at one point WCW was considered on equal footing with the WWE no matter what revisionist history tries to tell us. That competition brought out the best in everyone. People watched to see how each company would top the other. The lack of competition has made WWE complacent, and instead of giving us great matches we get projectile vomiting, played out evil boss angles, and dance offs. With that lack of competition we get things that are only entertaining to “The Family” and no one else because they know the hardcore wrestling fans have NO WHERE ELSE TO GO because somehow the stuff on Impact Wrestling is worse.
When I talk to people who used to watch wrestling, some of the biggest reasons I hear for people no longer watching the product is “I stopped watching when Stone Cold Steve Austin left” or “I stopped watching when The Rock left”. These guys were larger than life characters that everyone even outside of wrestling recognized. I know that some of you LOVE John Cena, and I know that some of you are huge Daniel Bryan fans (including myself) but neither of them are truly crossover stars recognized outside of wrestling. John Cena is close, but unless you know him as “the guy from that shitty movie The Marine” you probably don’t know nor care who he is. The larger than life character is another thing that is missing from professional wrestling. WWE relies on the larger than life characters from the past to draw for them! Look at how WWE relies on part-timers like The Rock for Wrestlemania! For the tour to Japan, they are bringing Hulk Hogan along because WWE business has been down there and they know the Japanese love the Hulkster! It’s hard to see who is going to be the next Rock or Stone Cold when WWE has a current roster who is threatened by the originals!
Since 2001, the viewership for wrestling has dropped almost year by year. I was talking with my buddy Joshua Stewart from World Wrestling Junkies about this. He had an excellent analogy on the subject “It’s no surprise. It’s like a large boulder...the more the earth erodes the worse it slips. Same with wrestling, the more the quality [diminishes] the worse it slips...when that boulder finally drops it could mean the end.” Now I am not saying that WWE is anywhere near the end, but I just wonder what it will take for those fans that have long left to return. Maybe the ratings have to dip below a 2.5 before the brass at WWE decide to take any measures to make things betters. I am not sure if the huge fan base that existed in the 80s and 90s will ever come back. Let’s be honest, the product just isn’t that interesting right now. I feel like I only watch because I am waiting for it to get good again. I am part of the 40% who are left and if you are part of the 40% left you fall under one of those categories: the hardcore fans who watch in rote, the fanboys who think WWE can do nothing wrong, the marks, and the kids who don’t know any better.
What do you think it will take for professional wrestling to have another boom period? Will there ever truly be serious competition again? What do you think caused wrestling to lose such a huge segment of its audience to begin with? Give me your thoughts either on Twitter @whosantcox or you can email me at email@example.com.
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