Ever since World Championship Wrestling was purchased by WWE, there has only been one top tier company for professional wrestlers to aspire to work for. Let’s be honest, TNA isn’t, nor has it ever been, a serious competitor.
Despite the WWE roster slowly becoming the be all and end all for professional wrestlers wanting to reach the pinnacle, due to the expansion of NXT and the subsequent acquisition of numerous well-known independent talents, RAW has been bringing in its lowest ratings numbers since moving to a three-hour format in July of 2012.
While Paul Heyman has indicated the ratings drop is due to the generation transition of one generation of fans moving on and another coming in, the drop is considerable enough for WWE to be experiencing its lowest TV ratings since the mid-90s prior to the Monday Night Wars.
To be specific, the Monday October 12, 2015 edition of RAW fell to a new low of 3.27 million viewers, the lowest audience the show has drawn since 1997.
RAW, WWE’s flagship program, is consistently being out-rated by NFL’s Monday Night Football and SportsCenter, and is dropping down the rankings in the 18-49 age demographic.
Furthermore, WWE officials continue to indicate that the WWE Network subscriber rate isn’t as healthy as they would like.
So what’s spurring this considerate drop, especially after the recent mainstream success of SummerSlam?
It’s a pretty blunt answer: fans are bored and frustrated.
In a time when kayfabe is six feet under, the aforementioned 18-49 age demographic isn’t tuning in to be thrilled by the theatrics, it’s now all about execution.
How talent is managed and positioned on the card, execution of manoeuvres, microphone skills – these are some of the things those between the ages of 18 and 49 are most interested in, and for the most part, have been neglected.
In trying to appeal to a younger demographic and manage its relationships with investors, WWE has lost sight of what made the company so great in the first place.
Although WWE isn’t exactly about to go out of business, that 18-49 age demographic has to be retained if the company is wanting to keep its ratings from further plummeting.
We all love to play fantasy booker, but this issue goes further than just how the card is shaped; the ratings drop has been caused by a poor company-wide approach.
These are 15 ways WWE can drag its TV ratings back up.
15. Fans, Not Investors
Although it can’t be understated how important it is WWE keeps a good relationship with its investors now that it is a public company, it can’t be the be all and end all. What made WWE such intriguing viewing through the mid-to-late 90s was knowing that anything could happen. In this PG age where the storylines are booked in accordance with sensibility requests from investors and sponsors, the age of WWE being truly unpredictable is long gone; as a result, you got a predictable product. To be blunt, you can’t expect a Saturday morning children’s show to be a ratings success with older audiences. WWE has become a company that caters to its own wallet, rather than providing entertainment – with that in mind, it’s no surprise the ratings are dropping significantly. It may cause short-term pain for WWE to be a little more risqué, but it’s what the fans clearly want.
14. Legitimate Divas Rivalries
While WWE continues to crow about how it is completely revolutionising women’s wrestling, what’s missing is some serious, genuine rivalries. While Nikki Bella and Charlotte’s tussle for the Divas Championship was enjoyable, it wasn’t built up as “this woman vs this woman,” the simplest and most effective formula in wrestling history. Rather than throwing all the women in a ring and parading them around all at once, actually spend some time developing a number of serious rivalries – Nikki Bella vs Charlotte is a good start. The platform has been set for Paige to feud with either Charlotte or Becky Lynch away from the Divas Championship picture, and Sasha Banks and Naomi are both ready to be given the spotlight. Dispose of the bowl of spaghetti-type approach to the Divas that is far too confusing to follow and give the women a chance to show off how good they are in all aspects of the business.
13. Do Anything Possible to Bring Back AJ Lee
Now that the Divas Revolution is starting to simmer down from the aforementioned bowl of spaghetti, there is a clear ranking for Divas starting to establish itself: Charlotte, then Nikki Bella, Paige, Sasha Banks, then the rest. It would be unwise to throw all four into the ring at the same time and while Charlotte and Nikki Bella appear to be continuing to feud with Becky Lynch and Brie Bella/Alicia Fox at their sides respectively, there is one woman being severely left out: Sasha Banks. Simply put, the crowd wants her after the incredible matches between herself and Bayley in NXT skyrocketed the status of women’s wrestling. She needs to continue to be at the forefront of the women’s division without holding the Divas Championship. Enter AJ Lee. Although AJ has retired and this is incredibly unlikely, a short-term contract return to feud with Sasha Banks, and potentially Tamina while we’re at it, is a guaranteed ratings winner.
12. Promote Finn Balor and Samoa Joe
While there is a plethora of characters for the younger viewers to gravitate to, the number of characters for older fans to be strongly invested in is significantly smaller. Meanwhile in NXT, Finn Balor has become a sensation, with his extravagant entrances and excellent in-ring work making him the perfect candidate to hold the NXT Championship. Then there’s Samoa Joe, who has had his own cult following for years on the independent circuit and in TNA. When Joe was signed to WWE, he brought a number of his own fans over to NXT; being a bruising submission specialist, he is the perfect kind of character older fans want to get behind. Promoting both Finn Balor and Samoa Joe would provide an instant boost to RAW ratings, especially if both are booked correctly.
11. Continue to Push Kevin Owens
Carrying on from the same point made regarding Finn Balor and Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens provided a heel character fans could truly back for the first time since CM Punk’s anti-WWE shtick. His matches with John Cena were all right out of the top drawer and Owens could be the company’s top heel and generating plenty of buzz had he been able to win that feud. Instead, he is back in the midcard, and despite currently holding the Intercontinental Championship, he is not being used to his full potential. The appeal of Owens is that he isn’t your run of the mill character, offering a breath of fresh air from the same old garbage. As a main eventer, Owens could easily pick up from where CM Punk left off.
10. Forget the Old Talent
As much as the long-time wrestling fans might not like it, the wrestlers that carried the torch in the last two decades need to be put to bed. The Undertaker is clearly not what he used to be, Sting has one or two big matches left in him, and the likes of Mark Henry, Big Show and Kane serve little to no purpose. As another band aid solution, WWE brought back The Dudley Boyz, and while it’s exciting to see a legendary tag team back together, the buzz was always going to disappear quickly. There needs to be a line in the sand drawn to signal the changing of the guard; there is more than enough talent to take the reins from those who have controlled wrestling in the past.
9. Turn John Cena Heel
It’s the old debate that has many pros and cons, but the bottom line is that a John Cena heel turn, even for a short period of time, is exactly what older fans have been begging for. The obvious risk is losing the income from John Cena merchandise and having younger fans turn away, but the younger generation is rather fickle. Not to mention WWE has built an arsenal of children’s superheros for them to support. Cena turning heel not only brings a tidal wave of interest back to the programming, it opens up numerous booking opportunities. Face Cena vs just about anyone has been done to death; heel Cena is a completely new ball game. It’s completely unlikely, especially considering Cena’s involvement with charity organisations, but Cena has stated he supports the idea on numerous podcasts and interviews.
8. Forget Gimmicks, Focus on the Wrestling
It appears that since Vince McMahon couldn’t continue his gimmicky characters back in the 90s, he is making up for it by turning modern WWE into a parade of gimmick matches. Take a look at the pay-per-view names and you’ll understand. Since the ratings have continued to slide, WWE has relied on gimmick matches to bring back some of the audience; it’s all completely unnecessary. While there are a number of guys and girls on the roster who are ordinary in the ring getting pushes because Vinnie likes the look of them, NXT has become the place to go if you want to watch enjoyable wrestling on a popularity scale similar to main WWE programming. Match gimmicks simply aren’t that interesting anymore; on the other hand, difficult and impressive wrestling is and always will be.
7. Allow the Roster Some Character Control
Unless a wrestler is super, super, super popular outside of WWE, ala Samoa Joe or Sting, that wrestler should be prepared to have its character taken, thrown in the bin and replaced with another gimmick upon entry. However, what’s slowly starting to become evident in NXT is the amount of personal creative control wrestlers have. Rather than being handed a character and being told to “dance, monkey, dance,” wrestlers are either bringing over the independent characters that made them so enjoyable or getting a say in how they are portrayed when they make their TV debut. More of this needs to happen at the top tier of WWE to allow the characters to be more believable, and one example of it happening is The New Day. Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E were thrown together as a soul group pushing ‘the power of positivity’ – it sucked. The three added their own subtle elements and took them from a boring, gimmicky group into a genuine highlight of WWE programming. More of that, please.
6. No Part Timers in Main Events
While it’s great to see the stars of yesteryear featured in today’s product, WWE has truly gone to the well too many times. With Sting, The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar all working with the company on a part-time basis, it’s concerning to see all three featuring prominently at the top of the card, especially in the midst of WWE possessing its deepest, most talented roster ever. The appearance of the three aforementioned wrestlers provides a guaranteed short-term boost to the ratings, but it’s a band aid solution when the real cure lies in the talent sitting down the card. Keep all three on TV, but it can’t be in a main event capacity. Undertaker vs Brock Lesnar is still a major draw anywhere on the card.
5. Unify the United States and Intercontinental Championships
There has always been far too many championships in WWE anyway, which takes away from what they are meant to represent. WWE has shown that it wants to add prestige to its championships by investing in more long-term title reigns, but it doesn’t necessarily seem to be working. In a way, the John Cena United States Championship Open Challenge has somewhat cheapened the US Title by allowing anyone on the roster to challenge for it and ultimately lose. Meanwhile, Ryback recently spent a number of months with the Intercontinental Championship and he is about as hot as a bag of frozen peas; hopefully WWE uses Kevin Owens correctly while he has the title, but that’s doubtful. The company should simply unify the two championships and now would be as good of a time as ever. Cena and Owens put on three of the best matches seen in recent time, and a fourth a few months down the line with both as champions would offer a huge ratings boost if booked correctly.
4. Better Manage the Midcard Logjam
As has been mentioned, WWE is doing a terrible job managing the growing pool of midcarders it has on its hands. While the old guard is being given main event opportunities, the likes of Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt are all just trying to keep afloat when they possess the qualities to flourish higher up the card. More importantly, all of the aforementioned names have the backing of the fans – that may be a stretch for Roman Reigns – and any one of them feuding with WWE Champion Seth Rollins would go over well, as was proved by the Rollins-Ambrose rivalry.
3. Daniel Bryan Must Return in Some Form
While a number of the reasons behind WWE’s decline have been due to lapses of judgment, Daniel Bryan’s constant run of injuries is just a stroke of bad luck. Heading into WrestleMania XXX, there is no doubt Bryan was the company’s hottest asset. Upon returning to action and heading into this year’s Royal Rumble, the clear calls for another Daniel Bryan push were obvious to all and neglecting those cries saw a number of fans completely jump off the bandwagon. However, you’ve got to assume Bryan was sure to rejoin the main event picture after a run with the Intercontinental Championship, but due to the injuries that have plagued him over the last 18 months, Bryan is quickly becoming an afterthought. The simple act of Bryan returning to action would significantly boost the interest in WWE’s product, and if he is to make a comeback, the company must fit him straight into the main event picture. If not as a wrestler, Bryan needs to be on camera in some capacity.
2. Better Utilise SmackDown
SmackDown may be WWE’s second banana, but make no mistake about it, the show serves little to no purpose. Aside from offering Seth Rollins a weekly redemption for his weekly loss on RAW, playing out no-decision championship matches, and allowing the Divas some camera time, the program that was must-see TV from its debut up until the mid-00s is now totally irrelevant. You could quite easily never watch SmackDown again and still be completely caught up, and there lies the problem. Say what you will about Triple H’s wrestling career, there is no denying he has created something that’s cool and exciting by bringing top indy talent into NXT. However, as NXT only has a one-hour weekly timeslot on the WWE Network, the majority of the talent is only seen bi-weekly at best. Why not bring some of that talent to SmackDown, integrate main roster talent lost in the midcard, and allow Triple H to manage both NXT and SmackDown?
1. Intriguing WWE Championship Rivalries
It’s a no-brainer: don’t expect your ratings to be soaring when your company’s top prize is a non-factor. It’s not a knock on Seth Rollins as a champion – though the “I’m the greatest of all time, come watch me lose on RAW every second week” act is hardly convincing – but on the obvious booking that doesn’t allow fans to get excited. Rollins was never going to lose the title to Dean Ambrose or Randy Orton so soon after WrestleMania, there was no chance Sting could be the company’s top man, fans would straight up walk out the door if John Cena again wins the title, and we all know Kane sure as hell isn’t winning it (pardon the horrible pun). The only legitimate contender for Rollins’ title since his reign began on March 29th has been Brock Lesnar, who was unlikely to claim the WWE Championship given his part-time run as champion didn’t go over with fans. It’s not about having Rollins drop the title, it’s a simple matter of providing rivalries involving the championship that are believable. This is the quickest way to bring fans back to the product.
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