The COVID era of professional wrestling has been a very interesting experience. From watching matches without crowds to further exhausting every discourse known to the wrestling fan, this has been an era unlike any other.
One of the discourses most prominent right now is the ongoing booking of the AEW women’s division. Has it been perfect? Absolutely not, but when you consider that AEW is building for the future and not right now, it becomes clear: AEW’s women’s division has been very well booked.
Yes, you read that right. Very well booked.
The Roster is Razor-Thin
One thing we need to acknowledge is that AEW’s women’s roster is not in the same league as WWE’s. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley were the catalysts to propel the WWE women’s division above the lower mid-card status that it had been during much of WWE’s existence. Ever since the debut of Flair, Banks, and Lynch on July 13, 2015, there has been a massive shift in how women’s wrestling was presented to the masses in the United States. Gone are the days of bra and panties matches and only getting five minutes during a cool-down segment. We have women wrestling in main events of RAW, PPVs and even WrestleMania. They aren’t being given these spots for publicity, but rather the stories of the matches and talents of the women equal the spots that they are booked.
This leads to the big question: what does this have to do with AEW’s women’s division?
Whether fair or not, the two companies will always be compared to each other, especially with the parallels AEW has to WCW. One of the biggest differences is that AEW simply does not have the roster to push the women’s division right now.
When AEW Dynamite first started, you could see that the women’s division would be a focus, utilizing stars from all over the world to build up a solid roster. One of the difficulties that AEW faced from the onset was the lack of mainstream star power. While the men’s division sported household names Chris Jericho, Cody, The Elite, and Jon Moxley, the women’s division featured no true star. Dr. Britt Baker was the closest woman to a star on the roster and she was mainly known for All In and being a dentist. Early on, you have to put your new talent on the show for exposure and for them to build up a crowd connection.
Ratings don’t mean a lot to the average wrestling fan but viewers—more specifically the 18-49 demographic—is the central focus for each segment. Why is it important? It’s how advertisers decide what shows they want to purchase ads for. The younger viewership you have, the more lucrative advertisers will buy ads to air during your show. For example, Tucker Carlson has drawn upwards of five times as many total viewers as AEW Dynamite. However, they draw about the same amount of people in the 18-49 demographic and have ten times as many viewers that are 50+. While having more overall viewers is good, not having them in the main 18-49 demographic limits the true earning potential on advertisements. All in all, it matters quite a bit even if the internet discourse becomes insufferable. Early on, you have to take your lumps and let it ride out so you can build new stars. Wrestlenomics host Brandon Thurston (@BrandonThurston) has compiled all of the ratings and quarter hours for Dynamite and found some very interesting results.
Early on, women’s segments were on the lower end of the show’s viewership numbers.
November 5 in the 5th quarter-hour featured Riho and Shanna vs Emi Sakura and Jamie Hayter. It did 798k (5th best quarter-hour of the night) viewers and 414k (6th best of the night) in the 18-49 demo
Two weeks later on November 20 during the fourth quarter, Britt Baker faced Hikaru Shida to 862k (6th) and 477k (6h) in the 18-49 demo.
The women’s segments struggled compared to the rest of the show but that is somewhat to be expected. This division is essentially being built from the ground up and they have to create all their own stars. Growing a division to prominence wasn’t going to happen overnight. Right before the pandemic started, numbers from February were showing signs of improvement.
In February, they gave the women’s title match with Riho and Nyla Rose two segments over the nine o’clock hour with good results. It started with 749k (worst quarter-hour) and 364k in the 18-49 demo (also worst quarter-hour). During the match, however, they gained quite a bit ending with 864k (best quarter-hour) total viewers and 409k (2nd best quarter-hour) in the key demo. The build of the division has been going very well up to this point and the beast Nyla Rose won the title in a very good match. When you are building up a company it is a slow process, but it was definitely working.
AEW was seeing growth in its women’s division until COVID-19 hit. While the division was doing really well, they were relying too heavily on outside talent. Bea Priestly, Jamie Hayter, Riho, Shanna, Yuka Sakazaki and several others have been unable to return to the US to compete for the foreseeable future. On top of that, rising stars Kris Statlander (torn ACL) and Dr. Britt Baker (knee/septum) have both been out for the better part of the summer.
As it sits right now, the AEW women’s roster has two stars—Hikaru Shida and Nyla Rose—a few up and comers who aren’t quite ready for major exposure—Anna Jay, Big Swole, Penelope Ford—and a small group who are seemingly only roster fodder. With a division this weak, it’s incredibly hard to feature it on Dynamite. Despite this, they have done a lot to keep the division relevant.
AEW has been utilizing the division with YouTube content with The Deadly Draw tag team tournament and matches on AEW Dark to keep them on screen without burning money matches or overbooking feuds. AEW has also made attempts to bring in outside talent such as NWA Women’s Championship Thunder Rosa challenging Hikaru Shida for the women’s title at All Out.
The recent ratings also reflect the current roster being razor thin. The July 29 Dynamite featured Hikaru Shida vs Diamante and the segment in quarter-hour six did not do well. It set a tone for the rest of the show where it dropped viewers during the two-segment main event after dropping 88k viewers to 790 along with losing 43k in the key demo dropping it to 410k. These numbers, along with the depleted roster, tell the story of why women haven’t had a more featured role on AEW Dynamite. I don’t believe it’s that AEW doesn’t want to feature them. In fact, it’s probably quite the opposite. AEW wants to feature the women’s division, it’s just a long-term play.
The Future Is Bright
Over the course of the last five months, we have seen all of the main talking points. They were only featured on one segment, the match length was way too short and AEW doesn’t care about the division. Sure some of the stats aren’t ideal compared to what we would all like to see, but it’s not because Tony Khan doesn’t care. In fact, he cares a great deal. Having appeared on Talk Is Jericho back in February, he spoke in-depth on the future of the women’s division.
“There is some amazing, amazing, amazing stuff being done in different places in women’s wrestling right now. I think there are enough athletic, enough talented, enough incredibly charismatic women to build a division, to me, that will be like the WCW Cruiserweight Division, a division populated with great athletes who haven’t had this kind of national exposure before, who are just gonna shine under the spotlight, and deliver really athletic, really fast-paced matches.”
With the roster they were starting to build before COVID hit, Tony was telling the truth here. From the monster Nyla Rose, Big Swole, Shanna, Riho, Anna Jay, and Penelope Ford there are many women who will emerge over the next couple of years as legit superstars.
The AEW women’s roster needs time to grow in front of a national audience: on camera, in front of the crowd, and most importantly, in the ring. Waiting until more of the roster can get back to the United States is a good thing because you don’t want to create an inferior impression to the viewer.
While things haven’t been perfect over the course of the near year-long venture that is AEW Dynamite, there are signs all over that the women’s division will be successful. As a wrestling fanbase, we have to fight the urge to want instant gratification because this is a venture set up for long term sustainability, not a short term payday.