All Elite Wrestling’s portion of viewers who are people of color is still well behind any of the three major WWE programs or Impact Wrestling, even as AEW Dynamite has increased viewership with Black and Hispanic viewers year-over-year.
The disparity for AEW programs is largely due to a lower percentage of Black viewers.
“I have noticed that,” AEW president Tony Khan said on the media call earlier this month ahead of AEW Revolution. “I study the patterns very closely, and it’s something I’m cognizant of, and it’s an audience that we really do want to grow and it’s very important to us,”
In December, Khan took to Twitter to respond to former AEW wrestler Big Swole’s comments about diversity in AEW and Black representation. At the time, Wrestlenomics looked at the viewership demographics of all the major TV wrestling shows and at the diversity of AEW’s roster.
We have limited data of viewership by race demographics over time, mainly consisting of averages for year-quarters, rather than data for each episode. That said, we have an update on that data for the current quarter.
Viewers 18 to 49
For Dynamite, 15% of the aged 18 to 49 audience consists of Black viewers in the current year-quarter to date, up from 11% last year in the first quarter. Hispanic viewers are 13% of Dynamite’s key ad demographic, up from 11% last year.
Black viewers in P18-49 by percentage for WWE programs NXT, Raw, and Smackdown have also grown year-over-year. More than 25% of each show’s viewers are Black. NXT’s demo in the current quarter is 30% Black viewers (up from 22% last year). Raw is 27% (up from 21%). And Smackdown is 29% (up from 24%). Rampage, which is not yet a year old, has 17% of its P18-49 from Black viewers.
Raw has the greatest portion of Hispanic viewers in the current year-quarter, with 21%, up from 14% a year ago. NXT and Smackdown are comparable. Of NXT’s P18-49 audience, 20% are Hispanic viewers (up from 12% last year), meaning 50% of NXT’s 18 to 49 audience are either Black or Hispanic. Smackdown’s demo is 19% Hispanic viewers (up from 13%). Rampage’s audience is 17% Hispanic viewers.
We didn’t get data by race in P18-49 for Impact, only in total viewership.
Total viewers (age 2+)
The makeup of total viewership (aged 2 or older), has lower percentages for Black and Hispanic viewers, but the differences between WWE and AEW programs is consistent in either age group.
WWE and Impact have an edge over AEW in terms of attracting Black viewers to their shows at a disproportionate rate relative to the general population. Black viewers make up about 14% of the cable audience. AEW’s shows line up close to that but Black viewers make up over 20% of WWE and Impact’s audience. The data also shows similar rates in Hispanic viewers for WWE where they had a slightly higher number of Hispanic viewers than the average rate of cable.
In more recent trends, comparing Q3 2021 (July 1 to September 12) to the current year-quarter, since the move to TBS, AEW Dynamite viewership has fallen 7% overall, the same decrease Raw has seen over that time period. However, Black viewership for Dynamite has fallen 22% along with a 14% dip in viewership from other race demographics. Dynamite saw a 4% rise in Hispanic viewers and a 5% dip in white viewers.
Rampage, on the other hand, removed from its stronger early months in August and September, has had a large decline in their viewers with an overall decrease of 32%, a 60% loss in viewers from other race demographics, a 39% loss in Hispanic viewers, a 31% loss in white viewers and an 8% loss in Black viewers, as illustrated in the table below.
So while Rampage has retained Black viewers better than viewers in other race demographics in recent months, the opposite is the case for Dynamite.
For other wrestling TV shows, Impact Wrestling has seen the most growth overall and with Black viewers, with a 25% rise. But Impact did see a dip in Hispanic viewers at 26%. Remember, Nielsen viewership measurements are based on a sample. Given Impact’s relatively small audience, the smaller samples determining these measurements could be resulting in a greater appearance of volatility than the actual viewership that’s taking place.
NXT has revamped itself as NXT 2.0 and has seen losses in all demographics except for Black viewers where they saw a 1% rise, contrasting against the show’s 11% overall decline in viewership between Q3 of last year and the current Q1.
Some online wrestling fan communities don’t reflect wrestling’s high TV viewership with people of color — quite the opposite.
The Squared Circle subreddit is one of the most popular online wrestling fan communities, with more than 615,000 users. Among those surveyed from the United States last summer, 81% were white, while 4% of respondents were Black, 9% Hispanic, and 5% identified as another race. The 2021 survey results for white respondents are actually an increase from 78% for the survey from the prior year.
Whether wrestling fans from more diverse backgrounds are gathering in other online communities instead or whether there’s something about online wrestling fan communities like Squared Circle that don’t attract people of color, isn’t clear.
The subreddit user base generally prefers AEW above WWE. 87% of U.S. responses said they “strongly like” or “somewhat like” AEW. Only 29% of responses said the same about WWE. Respondents were generally favorable toward AEW and less favorable toward WWE across race, but Black responses were slightly less favorable toward AEW and more favorable toward WWE than people of other races.
Growing the audience
Considering AEW programs lag behind with Black viewers compared to WWE and Impact, it stands to reason Dynamite and Rampage could improve their ratings by better appealing to Black wrestling fans.
“Not just growing that audience, I think diversity is very important to the company for a number of reasons, but absolutely, expanding our viewership, we think that is something that will help us,” Khan said in the same media call earlier this month.
“I think that AEW should do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis of their Black viewership,” says Dr. Kris Ealy, a professor of political science and co-host of the Nubian Wrestling Advocates podcast.
It’s possible that The Big Bang Theory lead-in could be contributing to an increase in the portion of white viewers watching Dynamite, although we don’t have data on that 7:30 pm airing by race to say whether that’s a factor.
“While the lead-ins to AEW programming might be out of [Khan’s] hands,” Ealy said, “I think it would behoove AEW to find the Black viewers who actually watch AEW and lean into those viewers.”
On the pre-Revolution call, Khan noted the diversity among AEW’s champions and in free agent signings. “When you look at who’s been coming into the company, and the profile of free agents we continue to sign, and the huge push that Jade Cargill is getting and a lot of the stars who have been getting pushed up the card and getting put in big spots, I think that is consistent with trying to grow that audience.”
In addition to Cargill’s TBS title reign, AEW has made prominent moves with Black wrestlers recently. Scorpio Sky won the TNT title this month. AEW debuted stars like Keith Lee and Swerve Strickland this year.
AEW has yet to have a Black wrestler consistently in its main event picture, however. The vast majority of matches for AEW’s men’s world title have been between two white wrestlers. Meanwhile WWE recently had its top men’s titles on the likes of Bobby Lashley, Big E, and Roman Reigns. Impact’s world champion is currently Moose and the title last year was held by Rich Swann.
Beyond representation in key roles, Ealy suggests AEW should appeal to different age and gender groups within the Black audience.
“Does TK even know the amount of Black men versus Black women or the ages of the Black viewers that watch his shows?”
Ealy likens appealing to Black wrestling audiences like how one would appeal to different Black audiences that have different musical tastes.
“My mom’s playlist is going to consist of the Temptations; Earth Wind, and Fire; Roberta Flack,” Ealy says. “My playlist is like Jay-Z, Nas, and Lauren Hill, and my nephew is gonna be into maybe Migos and groups like that. Our music sensibilities are very different and I assume it is similar with Black viewing audiences.”