Race demographics in TV wrestling viewership: AEW is still behind WWE with Black viewers

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.

“Cable primetime PUT” refers to people using cable television from 8 to 11 pm.
Smackdown airs on broadcast network Fox and is not a cable program. The other programs referenced above are cable programs.

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.

Source: Nielsen
Chart & analysis: Brandon Thurston / Wrestlenomics

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.

Wreddit Census

U.S. respondents to "Wreddit Census 2021", by race. User survey of reddit.com/r/SquaredCircle.

Black: 4%; Hispanic: 9%; Other races: 5%; White: 81%.

Valid U.S. responses: 5,518. Surveyed July 29 to August 16, 2021.
Chart: Brandon Thurston / Wrestlenomics

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.

Our analysis of the 2021 Wreddit Census, originally published for subscribers on Patreon, is now publicly-viewable.

Chart: Brandon Thurston / Wrestlenomics

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.”

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.

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What We Learned: Net Promoter Score Survey on Wrestling Programming

Here I’ll share some analysis of the “Net Promoter Score” survey that was distributed from late December 2020 to early January 2021.

More than 500 valid responses were obtained through a Facebook ad in effort to obtain a more random sample than would be obtained through organic social media sharing of a survey.

A Net Promoter Score survey commonly asks respondents on a numbered scale how likely they would be to recommend a product to a friend. With those results, the percentage of high responses (in this case ‘5’) is subtracted from percentage of low responses (‘0’ to ‘3’).

Results were originally published in the Wrestlenomics Pro Wrestling Industry Report 2020, which you can get ($6) via Payhip or by becoming a patron ($5/monthly).

There are other interesting analyses to gather from the dataset beyond what was shown in the Industry Report.

For instance: What are the age demographics of viewers of each wrestling program?

Contrary to linear TV viewership, WWE and AEW appear more similar in age. In fact median age across all programs landed in early 40s, with Ring of Honor on the high end and NXT on the low end.

If we breakdown viewing habits by whether you watch “regularly” or “occasionally”, there’s some variance in median age, but it’s not dramatic.

My sense is this is more reflective of the actual fan’s age, as linear measurements skew old, simply because linear TV use skews old.

Still, among those who say they currently watch any wrestling program, the overwhelming majority say they have access to linear television.

Smackdown viewers were slightly less likely to have cable access, which makes sense since Fox can be reached with an OTA antenna.

Turning back to age: Younger AEW viewers were most likely to recommend the program to a friend. In fact, age group seems to be a better predictor of likelihood of recommendation than any particular program. The 50+ age group in general was less likely to recommend any program.

Women were more likely than men to say they would recommend WWE programs, and were more positive on Raw and Smackdown than AEW, which was the opposite for men. Differences were smaller for other programs, but generally men were more enthusiastic about AEW, ROH, and NJPW.

Hispanic/Latino fans were most enthusiastic about NXT. Black fans were slightly less likely to recommend AEW, That may be reflective of TV viewership data, which show AEW has a smaller percentage of African American viewers than WWE programs.

What’s the sentiment of viewers toward different programs? For example, are AEW and WWE fans as opposed in their tastes as they seem sometimes online?

Regular viewers of AEW were less likely to recommend WWE programs. But WWE viewers are positive on Dynamite.

The latter result may be skewed, though, since nearly as many respondents said they regularly watched Dynamite as those who said they watched Raw or Smackdown. That’s certainly not reflected in TV viewership. Raw and Smackdown each double or triple Dynamite in weekly viewers.

At least among this sample (which again, I went to some effort to try to get out of an echo chamber by reaching unacquainted respondents through paid advertising), the greatest enthusiasm was for AEW. Still, the majority of current WWE viewers were supportive of their shows too.

The fewest “promoters” (those who rated ‘5’) were among viewers of Impact and Ring of Honor. And while New Japan viewers were 43% “promoters”, there were more ‘0’ responses among those viewers than that of any other program.

I’m glad to have been able to put monetary support from our Wrestlenomics patrons to use to accomplish this research. I hope to repeat this survey periodically, so we can study how any of the results change over time.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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Key demo and total audience: What are they and how much do they matter?

The metrics we’ve followed throughout the last few decades of wrestling television history have changed. In the “Monday Night War” era, amid the competition ultimately won by WWF Raw over WCW Nitro, reports dwelled on TV ratings: a number with one or two decimal places. Those numbers measured a program’s total audience.

But around the end of the WWF vs. WCW competition in 2001, the television advertising business changed.

[T]he weight placed on absolute household eyeballs during the 1980s and 1990s has given way to a more narrowly defined, demographic-oriented focus. Networks now try to convince advertisers that they’re reaching viewers that can draw premium CPMs (costs per thousand), and no demographic is more desirable than 18-to-49-year-old adults.

Multichannel.com, 2/24/2002

In recent years Showbuzzdaily.com has become a reliant source for wrestling news aggregators and more influential sources like the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Showbuzzdaily, launched in 2014, reports cable and broadcast viewership data tables most afternoons for the programming that aired the night before. It’s the longest-running active and most consistent public source of TV viewership data I’m aware of. But Showbuzzdaily doesn’t report an overall TV rating of the kind that were so honed in on by WWF and WCW observers from 1995 to 2001.

By the way, what is a TV rating? All TV ratings (including the demo ratings we see today from SBD) are essentially percentages. The denominator — what the rating is actually a percentage of — may vary. In other words, there are different kinds of ratings, depending on the denominator being used.

  • A national rating is essentially a percentage of the national population that’s viewing.
  • A coverage rating is a percentage of the population viewing who has access to the program’s channel.
  • A household rating is a percentage of the households viewing.

What does Showbuzzdaily.com report?

Even after trying to reconcile them against Census Bureau data on the U.S. population by age, I honestly don’t know what kind of ratings are being represented in the demographics data Showbuzzdaily reports. If they are national ratings, Showbuzzdaily’s report that, for example AEW Dynamite did a 0.28 in the coveted P18-49 demo, means that 0.28% of people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 49 were watching Dynamite.

Most of the data published in Showbuzzdaily tables are demographic ratings. However in the rightmost column (seen above in Tony Khan’s tweet), SBD reports a metric we sometimes call “total viewership” or “total audience” or “P2+”. That number isn’t a rating, but rather the total number of people watching who are age 2 or older. SBD lists the number in thousands (with the last three zeroes cut off).

Wrestling companies, likely via their broadcast partners, get U.S. viewership reports generated directly from Nielsen data. At least some of this data, broken down by demographics, is reported in the form of viewers, not ratings. In other words, wrestling media aggregators and readers who rely on Showbuzzdaily are largely looking at ratings; those inside wrestling companies may be largely looking at viewers. Nonetheless, both parties are looking at similar demographic breakdowns that correlate strongly. For example:

With a new head-to-head competition for wrestling viewership underway since October 2019 between WWE NXT and AEW Dynamite, many have emphasized that P18-49 viewership is more important than that of the total audience, which is particularly true for attracting advertisers to the programs’ networks.

This distinction has caused debate because, paradoxically, some weeks — including the last two — AEW lead in the demo (P18-49) while NXT lead in total audience (P2+).

It seems the importance of the P18-49 demographic above the total audience is particularly important to AEW’s broadcaster TNT and the network’s parent company WarnerMedia.

It’s not clear WWE NXT and Raw broadcaster USA Network takes the same approach with advertisers and thus values the P18-49 to the degree TNT does. Some USA Network press releases celebrate both P18-49 and P25-54 performance, although it’s not like NXT is beating AEW in the latter demographic either.

Outside of advertiser-supported media business, the wrestling business is still partly a consumer business as well. It stands to reason any age consumer could buy (or compel parents to buy) a pay-per-view or streaming subscription, merchandise, licensed products, or — in a time not marred by a pandemic — event tickets.

Total audience and P18-49 viewership for WWE Raw however have declined worse than some wider TV trends for years. Smackdown has been a different story as it moved across networks and time-slots.

WWE Raw and Smackdown quarterly & annual trends

1. WWE Raw total audience (P2+) quarterly and annual trends, compared to top 100 broadcast & cable channels. “P2+” refers to all viewers age 2 and older. [Open data]
2. WWE Smackdown total audience (P2+) quarterly and annual trends.
3. WWE Raw P18-49 demographic quarterly and annual trends, compared to top 50 broadcast & cable. “P18-49” refers to viewers between ages 18 and 49.
4. WWE Smackdown P18-49 demographic quarterly and annual trends.

Note (3) above compares Raw P18-49 rating to Top 50 broadcast & cable P18-49 viewers. This isn’t an ideal comparison, but it’s the best data I’ve been able to find. Such an imperfect comparison, however, if anything, should favor Raw in a TV universe with declining traditional cable or satellite access.

For several years WWE has published similar comparisons. WWE matches up national TV ratings for Raw and Smackdown against that of an average of the top 25 cable networks in the Key Performance Indicators PDF posted on WWE’s corporate website. From 2016 to 2019, all of which are archived by Wrestlenomics, this was shown in the form of national TV ratings. These tables below derive their data from those KPI documents.

That said, two important takeaways sometimes misunderstood:

  1. This tells us about WWE’s linear TV consumption — and maybe the company’s popularity, or maybe we should call it, “brand strength”.
  2. This data alone doesn’t necessarily tell us much about WWE’s TV rights value, indeed it may mislead us.

How could WWE get an increase in TV rights fees when its viewership trends are declining?

During the timeline the above tables cover and in the market this data pertains to (the U.S.) WWE negotiated an upgrade to its TV rights fees for Raw and Smackdown. In spring 2018, WWE finalized a 3.6x increase in U.S. TV rights fees for Raw & Smackdown when WWE completed separate deals with NBCU and Fox.

[T]he new [Smackdown] deal is worth $205 million annually, and $1.025 billion over the life of the pact… Also on Tuesday, NBC announced that is has closed a new five-year pact to keep the Monday night showcase Raw on USA Network. Sources previously told THR that deal is worth $265 million annually.

The Hollywood Reporter, 6/26/2018

Part of the reason for this is because, despite declining TV audiences in the key demo and overall, Raw and Smackdown were still highly ranked versus other original programs airing on cable on the same night.

WWE Raw’s average P18-49 ranking versus other programs airing on cable on the same night, quarterly and annual trends
WWE Smackdown’s average P18-49 ranking versus other programs airing on cable on the same night, quarterly and annual trends. Smackdown moved from cable to broadcast beginning Q4 2019.

Consider too Raw is still by far USA Network’s leading show in both key demo and total audience. Smackdown when it was on USA was right there with it. NXT viewership is more in line with a normal USA scripted original.


Smackdown moved from cable to network when it moved to Fox in October. Even this past Friday night: while Smackdown was watched by less than two million viewers, it led in P18-49 among primetime broadcast TV. Dateline NBC equaled Smackdown in the demo, only after Smackdown went off the air, 10-11.

Nonetheless these two things can be simultaneously true:

  1. The quality of WWE programming is turning people off. No excuses. There aren’t sufficient external or cyclical factors to fully explain away the various declines in multiple areas for WWE.
  2. Linear TV Raw & Smackdown audiences are still big enough for WWE to benefit from exploding live TV value in an environment with fewer large, live audiences.

Linear TV is a real-time television service that broadcasts scheduled programs, conventionally over the air or through satellite/cable, not streamed to a specific user. Nearly, all broadcast television services count as linear TV.


Economic justice

This is frustrating for many wrestling fans. There’s not just anecdotal, but some survey data (to be shared in coming months) to show there’s at least a niche of fans increasingly disengaged with main roster programming in particular, a phenomenon less present a few years ago.

There are falling consumer trends to back that up as well, which are tied to revenue, and predate COVID.

WWE has enormous guaranteed revenue sources, largely in the form of multi-year contracts for Raw & Smackdown TV rights fees in the U.S. ($470 million, average annual value) and in many international markets like India ($50 million) and the U.K (~$15-30 million); plus $100 million annually for events in Saudi Arabia.

None of that money, as far as we know, is tied to viewership metrics or any measurement of engagement or popularity.

Decades ago WWE was primarily a ticket-selling business. In a sense, the company has never been less incentivized to grow its audience, much less appease it.

The U.S. TV deal is good through Q3 2024; the India deal, a quarter or two beyond that; the Saudi deal, through 2027. And (I remember saying this before the current round of deals were made) there’s no sign yet those deals won’t be renewed at equal or higher value when the margin between Raw and Smackdown live viewership and that of the rest of TV is so wide.


In wrestling, in a worked business, the economics are the only real scoreboard. Some fans want economic justice for what they perceive as the terrible content WWE has been putting out for years. But the old single scoreboard is bifurcating into two.

WWE is losing on the popularity scoreboard, but winning big on the financial scoreboard. The company could be winning on both, thereby winning even bigger on the latter. But ego (i.e., justifying the creative intuitions of the CEO) overrides even finances in this case.

Neither do any other economic forces — stock analysts, major institutional investors, business media — much distinguish the difference between good wrestling and bad; they mainly distinguish the difference between profit and loss.

And the coming years will be a more profitable time for WWE than even its highest peaks in popularity, coronavirus or not.

2020 and 2021 estimates based on mean analyst estimate of EPS via Refinitiv Stock Report

The longer WWE goes without repairing its resentful relationship with its consumer base — to which there is no end in sight — the greater opportunity there will be for others in the wrestling marketplace to serve the unserved base. That’s been the story of the wrestling industry for the last few years.

Another possibility too — and something that might be underway — is that the descent of WWE, which has for so long been so far ahead as the industry leader, may simply contribute to a decline in the popularity of not just its brand but of pro-wrestling in general.