Edit: YouTube views in the table below have been corrected, which overcounted YouTube views for Q2 2021 and prior, resulting in negative comparisons for 2021 and 2022.
All Elite Wrestling made splash play after splash play over the past year. It began with CM Punk’s return to pro wrestling and debut with AEW in August. That moment was followed up by the double debuts of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson at the end of All Out in September. Since then, fan fervor for AEW has been on up the upswing as more talent continue to be brought into AEW.
It’s less likely the company that launched in 2019 will be very profitable until it gets a significant upgrade in U.S. media rights fees, which could be the result of negotiations that happen in the next year or two. But the data shows AEW’s revenues and other key metrics have grown over time.
The metrics measured above are TV ratings, pay-per-view buys, YouTube search and Google web search. It is worth noting the numbers for Friday night program Rampage are not included in the data because the show is not a year old yet.
For AEW Dynamite, the show has seen a 29% growth in overall viewership through the first quarter of 2022. In the P18-49 demo, AEW’s flagship program has experienced a 28% growth through the first quarter of 2022. These numbers coincide with Dynamite’s move from TNT to TBS and having a strong lead-in from The Big Bang Theory. AEW also benefited from full-capacity crowds compared to limited crowds in 2021.
For AEW’s main four pay-per-views, with the exception of Double or Nothing, every show saw at least 50% growth in pay-per-view buys. All Out 2021 exceeded 200,000 pay-per-views, the most for a U.S. pay-per-view since 1999. In the first quarter of 2022, Revolution did not see the same growth in 2021, but it still was up 17% from 2021.
YouTube views and Google web search are not an exact science, but they do provide a view on how often people are watching content and how often a topic is in the mind of consumers.
YouTube views have grown 8% through the first quarter of 2021, but Q2 and Q3 do not seem to be great quarters for AEW, according to 2021 numbers. While Dynamite has seemed to have found a groove on cable television, it appears there is a lot more room for improvement when it comes to the digital space in places like YouTube.
YouTube data was sourced from Social Blade, which takes a daily count of the public video view count on a channel’s page. That data was adjusted by Wrestlenomics to correct for videos removed or re-added, which influences the view count.
In April, Brandon Thurston tweeted an analysis of worldwide Google web search for “active” wrestling personalities through January and March 2022. The top three of the list featured WWE talent, with Cody Rhodes taking fourth, though Rhodes now is with WWE.
To be clear, WWE is ahead of AEW in all categories discussed here, in some cases by multiples, with the exception of pay-per-view. WWE distributes its pay-per-view equivalent events primarily on streaming services like Peacock.
However, AEW itself has seen sharp growth in Google web search. In worldwide searches, AEW has grown 50% through 2022 Q1, and in the United States, AEW has grown 57% through 2022 Q1. While these numbers are promising, like YouTube, there is room for improvement in the digital space for AEW.
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,”
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.
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.”
Reruns of “The Big Bang Theory” are now Dynamite’s lead-in since moving to TBS. Dynamite’s opening minutes are seeing huge viewership relative to the overall telecast.
In May 2021, it was announced that AEW would move Dynamite to TBS starting January 5. Dynamite’s TBS debut achieved the show’s highest P18-49 rating with a 0.43 rating and nearly matched total viewership from an episode two weeks previous at 1,010,000.
When Dynamite was in its previous timeslot on TNT, it was typically preceded by a movie. Often “The Equalizer” or “The Accountant” aired. Now Dynamite has a new lead-in, and it has, so far, proven to be a significant benefit.
The first three weeks so far on TBS have resulted in Dynamite opening with the strongest disparity to its audience relative to the telecast’s overall average, with the exception of twice when NBA games were a lead-in for preemptions.
“The Big Bang Theory” has at least a two-hour block on TBS from Monday through Thursday. According to data from ratingsryan.com, Dynamite likely inherits a comparable audience in the coveted 18 to 49 age demographic and a larger total viewership from the end of “The Big Bang Theory”.
On January 5, Dynamite’s debut on TBS, “The Big Bang Theory” started out at 910,000 viewers on average with a 0.27 rating in P18-49 and increased to 1,468,000 viewers on average with a 0.34 rating in P18-49 before Dynamite aired. These numbers are the typical averages for “The Big Bang Theory” during their weeknight block on TBS, and they’re among the most-watched non-original telecasts on cable, despite the final first-run of the sitcom airing on CBS in 2019.
The next week saw a similar boost. The January 12 night block of “The Big Bang Theory” went from 840,000 viewers on average with a 0.21 P18-49 rating to 1,507,000 viewers on average with a 0.42 P18-49 rating. Dynamite was watched by 969,000 viewers on average and had a 0.39 P18-49 rating nearly matching Raw that week in P18-49.
USA Network and Fox don’t have similar strong lead-ins for Raw and Smackdown. However, “Law and Order” appears to have given NXT an early boost back when the show was on Wednesdays.
The outlier for Smackdown that stands out in the chart below is when it followed an NFL game on Christmas 2020.
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.
BrandonThurston: “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.
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.
On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo took a look at the growing decline of Raw ratings. Raw recently hit a record low 1,472,000 viewers early this month. Many were quick to point out linear TV viewership in general is down in large part due to streaming, which is true. However, Thurston addressed that argument.
“People have asked lately, I’ve seen people discussing, yes, Raw is at an all-time low, but is Raw really declining at a rate that is worse than comparable shows, worse than the decline of TV overall?
“I know we’ve talked about this with some regularity, but I think it’s worth revisiting and going into some detail to show the answer is, ‘Yes’,” Thurston said. “Raw is doing worse than other sports programs. Raw, over the last couple years, has been doing worse than TV in general.”
Thurston broke down how and compared Raw’s decline in ratings compared to other sports broadcasts using a timeframe from 2016 to 2020. Raw was down 41% during this period, and the NBA Conference Finals on TNT was down 55%. However, other telecasts like the NFL Draft are up 30%, and the NBA Conference Finals on ESPN was only down 30%.
“A lot of different sports telecasts have held up over these four years better than Raw has,” Thurston said. “So yes, ‘streaming is the future,’ but TV ratings still matter, and TV ratings for other programs have declined, but not quite as bad in most cases than Raw has.”
Thurston has also included 2021 in this timeframe as well. These numbers are as of June 30, and they show that Raw is down 42% from 2016 to the first half of 2021. The NBA Conference Finals on TNT are down 52%, but the NBA Conference Finals on ESPN are only down 1%. Thurston then took a deep dive on Raw ratings compared to non-news cable programs.
View charts:How much has sports television fallen since 2016?
“Now that’s just sports. Let’s say you don’t want to compare Raw to sports programs because wrestling isn’t real sports, and you shouldn’t compare Raw to other sports because sports are just more popular and they’re gonna hold up better,” Thurston explained. “Let’s make a stronger argument, people are more likely to watch WWE stuff on DVR than they are to watch actual shoot sports on DVR.
View charts: Top 50 cable originals (excluding CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) vs. WWE Raw, 2017-2020
“Let’s talk about non-cable news programs, the top 50 from Showbuzz Daily from 2017 to 2020. In ‘17 and ‘18 Raw did hold up better than the top 15 non-news cable programs, but in 2019 and 2020, Raw declined more sharply. Raw was down year over year in 2019, 14%. Top 50 non-news cable, only half as bad, 7%. That’s pre pandemic when they still had live crowds. 2020, Raw was down 22% compared to non-news cable, which was down 15%.”
Thurston transitioned into talking about the popularity of WWE compared to other sports leagues. He references a Seeking Alpha article he wrote in 2016 titled “WWE TV Ratings No Longer Reflect Popularity”. At the time, metrics like Google web search, live attendance and merchandise sales were not in line with WWE’s decline in ratings.
View charts: (1) U.S. Google Web Search versus U.S. WWE Raw TV Ratings; (2) WWE consumer trends
WWE consumer trends
However, looking at it in a more current lens, worldwide Google web search has now caught up to WWE’s ratings decline. Thurston found in his research that the Indian Premier League (IPL) was the most searched sports league in 2020. The cricket league that was founded in 2008 has seen a sharp rise in growth over the years and was valued at $6.7 billion in 2018 and had signed a $2.55 billion international media rights deal with Fox.
Coming in behind the IPL was the English Premier League (EPL) followed by NBA and NFL. After a significant drop, La Liga comes after. La Liga is the top division of Spanish football (soccer) and is home to top teams like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and one of the best players in the sport, Lionel Messi.
In 2015, when Thurston wrote his original article, WWE was one of the most searched leagues behind the NBA and the NFL. However, in 2016 and to today, WWE has declined in Google web search while leagues like the IPL, EPL and La Liga have grown.
Other leagues that are above WWE in 2020 Google web searches are Formula 1 (F1), UFC and MLB. WWE only beats out the NHL and NASCAR in this metric. Thurston gave his analysis of this data.
View chart: Worldwide Google Web Search for sports leagues
“It doesn’t seem very debatable to me that WWE has declined in popularity over the last four, five years,” Thurston said. “They’re amazingly popular on YouTube and on forms of social and digital media, which I think, in many ways, wrestling is predisposed to being popular on those media platforms. The trajectory is, in a number of ways, pointing downwards. You’ve got declining ticket sales before the pandemic. You’ve got declining merchandise sales before the pandemic. You’ve got declining licensing revenues before the pandemic.”