Moneyball is one of the best sports films ever made. Brad Pitt plays Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane as he takes the team from the bottom of the league to the playoffs, while changing the conventional wisdom of the sport itself. One scene in the movie sees Beane sitting with his scout team, trying to figure out the best way to approach the forthcoming season. As the scouts sit around and toss around baseball platitudes, Beane cuts to the heart of the matter by asking, “What’s the problem?” The scouts toss around surface-level analysis before Beane sweeps all that away to get to the core issue: they have no money.
The WWE are the Oakland A’s, and I am their Billy Beane. A bit better looking, but that’s besides the point. The WWE’s ratings are dropping rapidly. The September 10 Smackdown at Madison Square Garden has been outsold by AEW’s New York debut. Twice over. Monday Night Raw, a juggernaut with a nearly thirty year headstart, just scored its lowest rated show ever. And ratings-wise, AEW Dynamite is nipping at the heels of the market leaders. So, what is the problem?
The problem is the pandemic. No one wants to watch wrestling with no fans, so fans coming back will solve it.
AEW Dynamite and WWE NXT have both recovered nicely. Both shows are within 5% of their viewership from January 2020, while both Raw and Smackdown are down double digit percentage points. (c/o Wrestlenomics)
The problem is that cable ratings are dropping as a whole, and WWE is simply falling with the trend.
Monday Night Raw’s ratings are dropping at a faster rate than the rest of sports television on cable. (c/o Wrestlenomics)
The problem is that WWE were missing some major talent throughout 2020, so their returns will bolster fan interest.
Returning stars Goldberg and Edge have been on WWE television in the year 2021, to middling results. Roman Reigns missed the first three months of pandemic television, returning in August 2020. No other full-time WWE Superstar of note has missed significant time during the pandemic.
Having fans back for WWE shows is great. It injects their shows with life and energy, at least when artificial cheers aren’t being pumped through the TV screen. More importantly, It gets them out of the panoramic nightmare that was the WWE Thunderdome. But let’s not allow the emotion of the returning crowds cloud the facts. WWE ratings were falling long before March of 2020. WWE shows were routinely awful long before March of 2020, despite WWE sinking to unheard of lows since then. Company fanatics can look for every excuse in the book and try and deflect blame onto it, but that will not change the core problem with the WWE. What is the problem?
The problem is Vince McMahon.
Aside from NXT, Vince McMahon writes every WWE show that goes to air. He may have a team of dozens to physically write the show for him, but those writers know that they are writing for an audience of one. Vince McMahon is known for tearing up show scripts and re-writing them, even while the show is airing. Vince McMahon approves the shows that don’t get watched on television, that don’t sell tickets in the building, and that occasionally get hijacked by the crowds that do show up.
There is a section of wrestling fans that choose to blame their fellow fans for distracting from the show itself. What they fail to understand is that when a crowd hijacks a show by chanting and tossing beach balls around, that show has not entertained them. When people don’t buy tickets to go to the show, the show is not compelling to them. When people don’t watch the show on TV, that show isn’t interesting to them. Every core issue this company has can be answered by saying, “the shows are bad.” If Monday Night Raw was good, there may not have been a vociferous desire for an alternative. If Friday Night Smackdown was good, then the alternative that came wouldn’t be outselling it in WWE’s home market. That blame falls squarely on Vince McMahon’s shoulders.
The easiest solution is for Vince to remove himself from the writing process. However, any wrestling fan who knows who Vince McMahon is also knows that he will never cede control of his programming. Even his wrestlers know that, with Jon Moxley saying that Vince “will die in the chair.” So if Vince is the problem, and Vince is never going away, then what is the solution?
Now that is a good question.