Rob breaks down the reality of exactly where professional wrestling lands in the greater scope of entertainment.
The ratings news this past week should serve as a dose of sobering reality to those who have been obsessing over pro wrestling breaking out and having another boom period.
Even though the World Series game is the likely culprit behind the total audience drop for both shows, the trend leading up to this past week suggests that neither show is must see TV beyond whatever number they will eventually settle on (around 1 million for AEW and 700 thousand for NXT sound about right). People have seen what both to offer and lots of them have decided that either they’re good or that they can catch it when they catch it. Which runs contrary to the idea that there’s this large group of people ravenous for something other than WWE (AEW) or ‘WWE done right’ (NXT). Meanwhile the Raw and Smackdown audience numbers seem to have stabilized around 2.5 million, give or take a few thousand here and there. Outside of them no one else even submits their shows for ratings measurements so who knows what they’re doing outside of YouTube numbers that we can all see.
What does that mean? Nothing nefarious or scary, really, but something we all need to keep in mind: pro wrestling is a niche entertainment option. Yes there are ways for several companies to make money off of it and one or two to make a lot of money off of it. Yes a select few of it’s practitioners can get rich doing it. And yes at any given time you can find yourself in a large group of fellow travelers. But the number of people of who are into it full time, go to shows, and have a working knowledge of anyone currently active outside of a few people just isn’t that big. More people have heard of Ant Man or Gamora than Seth Rollins or Kenny Omega, and more people will watch movies that are deemed box office failures than wrestling shows that are considered highly successful. More people know the lyrics to a second tier Taylor Swift song than who won the main event of WrestleMania. It’s about high time we accept that.
I bring this up because it’s not uncommon to see people on Twitter stressing over when wrestling is going to become mainstream again, and blaming it not happening on WWE’s perceived booking failures (y’all know I’m in the camp that doesn’t think they do a bad job at all). And now that AEW has not reignited all the fires that many thought Vince McMahon put out, some people are legit worried. And to that I say……just stop already. WWE would not still be doing five million viewers if they’d just put the Universal Title on Braun Strowman or put Rusev in the main event, and AEW wouldn’t be doing three million viewers if they were running unopposed on Wednesday nights. There’s no magic booking that’s going to juice the numbers either way. Maybe with the right person poached from WWE can AEW get over a million and stay there, and maybe with the right set of cards falling in place WWE can get back over three million for a while. But that’s it, and with the TV schedule getting more saturated with Impact on Tuesday nights that’s not even likely.
So stop stressing over it. You like something that a lot of people know about but not a lot of people regularly partake in. And it’s okay! The faster you accept that the faster you can get back to enjoying it more. Wracking your brain over how this booking decision or that TV segment is an indicator of why things aren’t taking off the way you think they should is a waste of time. The business will get bigger than the usual wrestling bubble when someone comes along who makes it do that. And that takes more than booking the right way, whatever that is. If you want proof look at Steve Austin’s wins and losses in big matches while his popularity was rising. By 2019 twitter standards he would be getting called buried or intentionally derailed by Vince McMahon. Until that day comes enjoy what you have and stop chasing validation from people on the outside.
The business isn’t growing outside the bubble because it just isn’t. Some people that start as fans don’t stay that way, and some people just aren’t ever going to be interested enough in it to become fans. That’s got nothing to do with booking and everything to do with them. And quite frankly there’s no way you can book Cesaro or Hangman Page that are suddenly going to make millions of more people want to watch their respective shows on TV. One day someone may walk through the door that gets people to do that because of who they are and not whether they went over on a pay per view that time. Deal with it, people. You like some weird, wacky stuff that just isn’t gonna be it for everybody and that’s ok.