Vince McMahon is in a panic.
Ratings for Raw and SmackDown Live are dropping at a rapid rate. Reportedly, WWE’s network partners are getting worried at the dropping viewership and the company begins a multi-billion dollar deal with Fox this fall. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
In the past, that’s ushered in things like the Attitude Era, when WWE pushed the envelope on television thanks to stiff competition from Ted Turner’s WCW. It resulted in a boom period for wrestling, with as many as six million people per week tuning in to USA Network on Monday night to catch WWE’s flagship program, Monday Night Raw.
Today, that number has dipped under two million.
Now, television habits and ratings are much different today than they were 20 years ago. But there’s no denying WWE’s downward trend. Last week, Raw had 2.16 million viewers. One year ago on the same week, Raw had 3.01 million viewers.
The drop is similar on SmackDown Live, where WWE drew 1.8 million viewers last week, compared to 2.4 million in the same week one year ago. Raw and SmackDown are down a combined one million viewers since the week after WrestleMania last month.
Vince McMahon ushered in the Attitude Era when he was 53 years old. Even then, he was probably slightly out of touch with what was hip with the younger audience, but he made it work. Younger talent like Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and Shawn Michaels knew what the audience wanted and Vince put more trust in the talent to direct the storylines. As much as people hate to give him credit, Vince Russo’s attitude in writing promos and pushing the envelope on television also helped get attention and capture the imagination of the 18-24 male demographic.
Vince is now 73 years old. He thinks he has his finger on the pulse … but he doesn’t.
Monday night on Raw, WWE ran a segment where the Usos put “Ucey Hot Cream” in the tights of the Revival, which forced their nether regions to get hot and itchy in the ring, and they began dragging their behinds on the mat like dogs. Vince, who thinks like farting and pushing people into pools fully clothed is hilarious, was probably rolling on the floor.
The segment was stupid. It solved nothing, other than to embarrass the Revival, who have asked for their release.
Vince’s other big idea? Wild Card rules!
WWE has a brand split where wrestlers are signed to one show or the other. Vince’s idea is to tear that down, just like he did with the brand split years before. Now, up to three talents can appear on the other show each week!
That’ll put a lot of butts in front of their TVs …
So on Monday, Vince’s big idea was to take Roman Reigns, who has barely been a needle mover in television ratings and advertise him for Raw. Then last night on SmackDown, some Raw talent migrated over to SmackDown for one night.
WWE ran WWE Championship matches on both Monday and Tuesday. They’re hotshotting, which might work for a week, but it’s not going to fix anything long term.
The problem here is that none of this is new. The talent on Raw, which is losing viewers, isn’t going to suddenly build viewers on SmackDown. WWE needs a fundamental change in the way they tell their stories. All they’ve done with the Wild Card rule is put lipstick on a pig. You can try to make it look pretty, but it still stinks.