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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: The National Football League - The REAL Reason for WWE Raw Ratings Declines Since 2006
By The Doc
Oct 10, 2013 - 9:36:16 PM


The Snowman is a genius


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I pay very close attention to what is going on around the internet, as it pertains to wrestling. Every year during the fall, the WWE ratings decline. It has been that way for a decade. And, every year, the internet loses its mind trying to name a culprit. Some have used the "autumn dip" as an excuse to blast John Cena's drawing power. More recently, we have seen the likes of Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan blamed. It's the same story in a different year.

So, let's put this argument to rest. There is one entity more to blame than any one superstar - even more than the WWE, itself - and that would be the National Football League. Nielsen ratings do not take into account what the world watches, but just what viewers watch, domestically. Here in the United States, American football is king. It is not the biggest, most popular sport in America; it is the biggest, most popular thing in America (many thanks, Scott Van Pelt). And it starts in September...and it dominates ratings. The same markets that the WWE covets are the ones that the NFL owns. $9.5 billion in revenue every autumn. The WWE's total revenue is less than $500 million per year. That means that the WWE makes 5% of what the NFL makes.

Like many things that we open for discussion with this column, this is a numbers game. Once upon a time, the WWE had a much larger audience and produced such must-see television that the ratings at least had the chance to hold during football season. However, two important facts emerged that are different now than they were. #1 is that the WWE is not what it was. That is not necessarily meant to be a negative statement so much as it is a statement of the reality. #2 is that, in the last ten years, football has grown in popularity to dizzying heights. Fantasy football, all day/every day access to sports talk, and a constant stream of information has made football (professional and collegiate) the undisputed king of American television. Last weekend, for instance, approximately one quarter of every American household had the Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos game on.

Back in 2006, ESPN took over the famous "Monday Night Football" brand, bringing it to cable TV for the first time. The NFL, of all the demographics that it attracts, predominantly overtakes the male attention span from September to December. ESPN scored a 10.1 rating for the season opener between the Eagles and Redskins a month ago. That is over 3 times the WWE Raw audience. I know a lot of casual wrestling fans. I honestly struggle to name one that is not a football fan and who wouldn’t rather watch the NFL during this time of year instead of WWE. In 2005, prior to Monday Night Football hitting cable, Raw ratings actually increased after August’s Summerslam, jumping from early June to pre-PPV average of 3.72 to 3.78 in the fall. A similar increase occurred in 2004. (Note that for the purposes of this argument, I left out the Attitude era and the two years that immediately followed it, establishing that what we have seen since 2004 is a better reflection of the core pro wrestling audience). In 2006, the NFL debuted on ESPN and Raw ratings decreased from a 4.02 summer average to a 3.64 average once football season began.

Do you remember that scene in Ghostbusters when the guys are trying to convince the mayor of New York as to the origins of the threat to their city? “The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…MASS HYSTERIA!” The internet freaks out over ratings. All week, John Cena’s return has been hyped from LOP to the Observer to the Torch as a “response to ratings going down.” Well, the average rating since the night after Summerslam (when Cena bowed out for a few months) is 2013 is 2.90. Though that statistic is sure to decrease as football season continues and we see more 2.68s than 2.9s, the bottom line is that the average rating during the summer was 2.98. Thus far, overall, ratings have not dropped all that much, especially compared to previous years. John Cena is coming back not because of ratings but because he’s a cyborg who rehabs harder than anyone else and loves pro wrestling more than anyone else.

Look at these figures:

End of August 2012 - Raw never reached 3.0 ratings again the rest of the year

In 2011, ratings dropped below 3.0 on a non-holiday weekend two times prior to the start of NFL season, then dropped below 3.0 seven times during the season

In 2010, Raw averaged a 3.36 rating for the 2 months leading up to and immediately following Summerslam, but dropped to 3.06 once football season started

In 2009, Raw ratings dropped below a 3.5 seven times in the first nine months of the year, but 13 times once NFL season began

In 2008, the Road to Summerslam garnered an average 3.36 rating, but dropped to 2.96 during the bulk of the NFL season

In 2007, the average for Summerslam season was 3.68, but once football season started the average dipped to 3.39

This is not a new trend and it is not going to stop. The NFL is going to utterly destroy the WWE and take from them – every season – a chunk of their most desired domestic target market. It is what it is. The NFL is a superiorly entertaining product in the fall than the lackluster WWE product is during the same time frame.

The WWE’s role in the fall decline has been their failure to maintain the stature of the Survivor Series. Is it a coincidence that Survivor Series began its steady decline in 2006 from a legitimate 4th fiscal quarter stabilizer to irrelevant shell of its once dominant force? 2012’s edition drew just over 200,000 buys, essentially making it the best of the rest on the WWE calendar and certainly no longer on par with the Big Three. It is as if the WWE saw “ESPN Monday Night Football Beginning September 2006” and just decided to secede from the race for the adult male demographic. Survivor Series 2006 did well at the box office, but unlike the strong Survivor Series numbers from 2004 and 2005, the Raw ratings did not hold up. The WWE put considerably less effort into the second yearly PPV that they ever established from that autumn forward. Why fight it? They were right to move out of the way. Football ratings have been on the up-and-up for the last decade. Steve Austin and The Rock were lucky that they did not have NFL football on cable to deal with.

In conclusion: there are numerous problems in the WWE, not the least of which is the overall declining interest in their product during non-Wrestlemania season months. But no one person in the WWE nor the WWE itself is to blame for the yearly drop in TV ratings, domestically. I might ask Calvin if we can sticky this to the top of the headlines every fall to remind every columnist and reader that there is really only one obvious culprit in the “Whodunit” blame game of WWE ratings declines: the National Football League.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you think that football at its current level of popularity would have put a damper on the ratings success of the Monday Night War had Monday Night Football been on cable during the same period?

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