WWE Smackdown and AEW Rampage set for “The 30-Minute War”

This week’s episode of Smackdown is set to run for an extra half hour on FS1, commercial-free. Game 1 of the ALCS will occupy Smackdown’s normal timeslot on Fox, so a “super-sized” episode of the WWE show will be broadcasted on FS1. This means Smackdown is set to go head-to-head against a live broadcast of Rampage for 30 minutes, from 10 pm to 10:30 pm on Friday night.

This will be the first time a main roster WWE program will go head-to-head against an AEW program on national TV. With viewers aged 18 to 49, the valued demographic for advertisers, AEW’s Wednesday night program, Dynamite, twice edged out WWE Monday Night Raw in the same week in September.

AEW President Tony Khan’s tweet, welcoming the challenge, came before fast national data was reported on Saturday, and then final ratings data come out on Monday, showing Rampage viewership was down significantly, while going against MLB playoffs on Friday.

Smackdown viewership was lower than usual, too, but not to the degree Rampage suffered. Compared to the median of the prior four weeks, Smackdown was down 13% in the 18 to 49 demographic, and Rampage was down 37% by the same comparison.

This past week’s Smackdown on Fox was watched by an average of 2,147,000 viewers and did a 0.52 rating in 18 to 49. AEW Rampage was watched by 502,000 viewers and did a 0.17 demo rating. The showed ranked at 15 among cable originals for the day, according to Showbuzz Daily.

The MLB playoff games had a strong effect on these numbers. The Dodgers-Giants game on TBS was the most viewed, and the Red Sox-Rays game on FS1 aired during all of Smackdown an most of Rampage. The games were watched by 3,982,000 (1.08 demo rating) and 2,618,000 viewers (0.65 demo rating), respectively.

This resulted in the least-viewed Rampage in the show’s nine-episode history in both total viewership and in the 18 to 49 demo. For Smackdown, it was the lowest total audience number since September 24 and the lowest 18 to 49 number since July 9.

On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed “the 30-minute war,” specifically what numbers both shows could likely do.

When on broadcast network Fox, Smackdown is usually the most-watched weekly wrestling show on television, seen by more than 2 million viewers live and same-day. On the lower profile FS1, though, Smackdown’s ratings will likely be much lower.

This is not the first time Smackdown has been on FS1, and Thurston looked back at how Smackdown has done on FS1 when preempted in 2019 and 2020.

Brandon Thurston: “There are three occasions so far in the history of Smackdown, and what’s it done in the past?

“888,000 viewers, 885,000 viewers, just barely over 1 million viewers. There was a Pac-12 college football championship game that it was preempted for in December of last year. But I think more importantly, yes, we need to look at the demo. What were the demo ratings?”

Chris Gullo: “For 18-49: 0.27, 0.25, and 0.30.”

Thurston: “Okay, and read to me what the last three demo ratings have been for Rampage.”

Gullo: “0.28, 0.29, and 0.25.”

Thurston: “Those are pretty similar numbers aren’t they?”

Smackdown having an extra 30 minutes, which will happen to air simultaneously with the first-half of Rampage, makes it more likely Smackdown finishes ahead of Rampage in the 18 to 49 demo on Friday.

Apparently to counter, AEW will stream an extra 60 minutes of action live on YouTube beginning at 9 pm.

Before the final numbers were released on Monday for this past Friday’s programs, fast national ratings came out for Smackdown and Rampage on Saturday, first reported by Wrestling Inc.

The kinds of ratings normally reported by sources like Wrestlenomics and Showbuzz Daily are called “final ratings”.

Fast nationals, though, are different. They’re a kind of “overnight” rating that’s requested and paid for by a Nielsen customer so the customer can get viewership data sooner than they would otherwise.

Thurston predicted we’ll see more of these early reports in the coming weeks.

Thurston: “I would expect these fast national ratings continue to come out in the weeks to come throughout October, not only for the programming on Friday but maybe for the Saturday Dynamites too, especially if the fast national data can be read in such a way that it looks favorable for WWE or unfavorable for AEW.”

Due to NHL hockey on TNT on Wednesdays this and next week, AEW Dynamite will be preempted to Saturday on October 16 and 23.

Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.

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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3 Metrics That Will Determine the Future of the U.S. Wrestling Business

Wrestling media focuses too much on linear viewership trends. It’s allowing us to see a mirage of consequence that isn’t really there.

I, too, am guilty of “analysis” announcing that the latest week’s Raw is the nth-lowest viewership ever. Or that some week of Smackdown is the lowest ever since the move to Fox. As if that’s the story most relevant to the economics of the wrestling and TV industries.

Sources: gerweck.net and estimates based on viewership from Showbuzzdaily.com

Graphs like the one above read like doom for WWE. And such analysis is met with dismissive reminders that “all TV is down” or, alternatively, that WWE is about to go out of business; the latter usually companied by a Vince McMahon GIF.

Leading up to the 2018 TV rights negotiations, some commentators decried the latest episode of WWE’s poorly-received programming and the news of the nth-lowest rating ever, and remained skeptical networks would reward the company with an increase in rights fees. Yet NBCUniversal and Fox together agreed to give WWE a 3.6x increase that spring. We are going through a similar exercise as 2023 negotiations approach.

WWE’s reporting methods for television revenues have changed over the years.

With our Monday Night War educations, we’ve been focusing on linear macrotrends in viewership, which are decidedly down and to the right.

Wrestling media people may lack the lessons — but not the data — for assessing wrestling viewership in a context that’s more informative to the economics of the wrestling business.

So what’s the right way to analyze wrestling viewership? What factors truly indicate the value of future TV deals?

I’d hate to write something that’s basically a listicle but consider it a tribute to Wrestlenomics hero George A. Barrios, who in his many presentations as WWE co-president was fond of describing the company’s business as a number of “tiers” or “pillars”.

The future of the wrestling business will depend greatly on the outcome of future U.S. TV rights negotiations of WWE and AEW.

For WWE, those negotiations will likely happen around mid-2023.

For AEW, if WarnerMedia picks up the option to extend their deal through year-end 2024, negotiations for All Elite Wrestling U.S. rights will be happening around the same time as WWE, in mid-2023.

A period of three years is an eternity in the media business, but there are some key factors that we can watch to get a sense of how those negotiations will go — and none are an absolute measurement of viewership.

1. P18-49 Daily Rank

Not total viewership, not key demo viewership; the ranking of the key demo, compared to other programming. Viewership is interesting and important to advertisers, but we’re trying to anticipate the future of wrestling TV rights. What justifies huge TV rights fees for a program is that the given program is one of the most highly-viewed programs.

Former Fox Sports executive Patrick Crakes spoke to The Houston Chronicle recently about the NFL’s declining viewership and league’s future TV value.

“It’s all about what the NFL delivers compared to everyone else, and the gap in that regard has never been wider…”

“Even if the NFL declines by 10 percent, its value will remain to programmers and advertisers,” Crakes said. “The ratings are beside the point. The league still will be able to double its value in the next round of bargaining.”

So what are the trends like for this metric for various wrestling programs? Showbuzzdaily.com reports the P18-49 ranking for the top 150 cable originals every day. It turns out these rankings for WWE are much more stable than its linear viewership trends. Raw has been ranking between #2 and #5 since at least 2014. Although the slip to #5 for Q3 this year bears closer watching. Smackdown has been ranking between #1 and #5. Dynamite and NXT have clearly improved in Q3 from where they were earlier in the year.

Average Daily P18-49 Rank, by Quarter
*WWE Smackdown moved from cable (USA Network) to broadcast (Fox) in Q4 2019. These numbers consider where Smackdown would have ranked on cable on Friday if it had continued being a cable show while having the same P18-49 viewership it had on Fox.
**Only 2 one-hour episodes of WWE NXT aired during this period.
Data source: Showbuzzdaily.com

2. New TV deals for second-tier sports properties

What kinds of deals will WWE and AEW’s TV peers get between now and 2023? Big properties like NFL, NBA, MLB, college football, college basketball, and NHL will always be a priority over wrestling. How much money will be left over to bid on wrestling after, for example, billions are allocated for new NFL contracts, which might be completed later this year?

Some peers, like UFC (whose deal with ESPN is through 2025), have deals whose terms extend beyond when wrestling rights will be dealt.

But there are other deals that will be completed before wrestling comes due. Will other non-major sport properties — like NASCAR (the Fox deal expires in 2024), tennis (ESPN’s deal for Wimbledon ends after 2023), and various soccer rights — get an increase?

Are digital/streaming rights being sold on these properties too, as in the case of the NBA and NFL? Or are the secondary sports properties still too small to compromise on selling anything but exclusive broadcast rights on linear TV?

The speculation that the sports rights bubble is going to burst has so far been a myth. I tend to believe the demand for live sports will remain strong, indefinitely. The balance of dependency between partners like WWE and NBCUniversal has shifted greatly in recent years. Networks like USA have entered an era where they need their leading programs more than ever to sustain transmission fees and ad dollars. Consequently, for WWE, TV is no longer a low revenue funnel to drive sales for live events, PPVs, and merchandise; it’s the biggest revenue stream of all — even if the audience is a fraction of what it once was.

I think pay TV will increasingly become a medium that specializes in live content — mainly sports and news. And as the dependency on those types of programming increases, so will the economic value of the leading live content. Traditional cable/satellite subscriptions will cover a lower and lower percentage of households, for sure. But even if cable companies begin to face financial ruin, many major networks have pivoted to streaming and gone direct-to-consumer — fights with streaming devices notwithstanding. The potential migration of live sports rights from pay TV, exclusively, to digital — or some split of pay TV and digital — may only increase the number of bidders, the holy grail of course being if FAANG companies get involved.

3. The proportional delivery of the wrestling audience

Consider that, in the key demographic, Raw and Smackdown are delivering a combined 75% of the weekly viewership. But they are receiving a combined 87% of the rights fees. That’s if we take for granted NXT is getting as much as $30 million per year on USA.

WWE Raw gets $265 million AAV and Smackdown, $205 million (The Hollywood Reporter); AEW Dynamite gets $43.5 million (F4WOnline).

I struggle to see how this degree of imbalance is sustainable through a future round of TV deals. If so, this means a big increase for AEW and NXT, possibly at multiples over their current fees. It’s unclear what this means for Raw and Smackdown, which may have to come to terms before AEW since WWE flagship brands’ deals expire three months earlier (September 2024), in the scenario WarnerMedia options AEW through December 2024.

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