The future of WWE NXT 2.0 on the USA Network

During “The Gullo Report” on the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed WWE NXT 2.0 and what the future holds for the brand. The show is now more of a developmental show with young wrestlers like Bron Breakker leading the way, and many fans have wondered what this change into a more developmental brand means for WWE. Thurston gave his thoughts first by explaining where WWE is with NBC Universal and their deal for NXT.

“I’ve heard some discussion earlier this week about what the future of NXT is,” Thurston said. “NXT has a multi-year deal that was renewed in March that has just begun in fact, has just gone into effect. Term one just came to an end, which was a two-year deal, and whenever I go through all the data, when I’m looking back at when Dynamite started, and I have to be like, oh, yeah, NXT had these two weeks in September 2019 where they had one-hour episodes that were unopposed, yada yada.

“I wonder if the deal starts there and ends two years later in the middle of September, and for some reason, the timing of that is the reason why they did NXT 2.0 when they did, if that coincides with the beginning of the second term or second deal that we’re now under for WWE and NBC Universal for NXT. I don’t think WWE is getting that much revenue for NXT being on the USA Network.

“I think they were originally taken off the WWE Network to go on linear TV for the notion that Triple H had this overperforming developmental brand that was doing really well and maybe we could grow its popularity, and oh yeah, by the way, we don’t want to compete with AEW. That had nothing to do with it, god, no, but I think they wanted to compete with AEW.

“And that reason combined with the opportunity to maybe grow a third brand that would generate major media rights fees like Raw and SmackDown have, I think that was the play, and NXT did not win the Wednesday Night War. They got handily beaten most weeks in total viewership. I think every week except for one in the demo out of the 70 some odd weeks that they were running head to head, and it didn’t work out.”

Thurston continued as he talked about the new change in direction for NXT post Wednesday Night Wars. He then discussed if he sees NXT 2.0 on the WWE Network or remain on USA Network.

“There doesn’t appear to be a huge media rights value opportunity here related to the NXT brand,” Thurston stated. “The play, at least now, is to sort of hand wave Triple H’s vision of doing cool wrestling and to really make it a developmental brand that serves Vince McMahon’s wants for talent. As far as a media property, what is the goal for NXT?

“Let’s say this is a two-year deal. Who knows? But let’s say three years from now, when, if this is a two year deal, then the two year deal will be expired, is NXT still on the USA Network? What’s the viewership like? I don’t know. When you’re the USA Network, you could put what was in the slot before, Law and Order SVU reruns or something, which don’t cost you really anything because you probably own that intellectual property.

“I don’t know if there’s royalties that you have to pay out associated with that or all the costs are, but it’s not an original program they have to produce, and it’s probably quite profitable now. It’s probably got a pretty low demo rating. I don’t know if it’s got a better demo rating than this, which is a 0.14.

“I could see NXT being back on the WWE Network in a couple years, but I don’t have a strong feeling that NXT is going to be cancelled by NBC Universal / USA Network. I think it helps, even if this is sort of a breakeven for the USA Network in terms of what revenue they’re able to get out of NXT. Even if they’re not making money here, it’s still deepening their partnership with WWE, which is important to them, for Raw, which is by far their number-one program on the USA Network.

“It’s important for them with Peacock, which they need to grow for the future, and WWE is a significant part of what’s keeping people using Peacock, probably at least a million people who were used to watching WWE stuff on the WWE Network and now have got to go to Peacock to do that.”

WWE President Nick Khan has revealed in interviews that PPVs like Money in the Bank and SummerSlam have done better viewership on Peacock than on the WWE Network compared to 2019 numbers. Thurston then explained further why he sees NXT staying on USA Network.

“It may be just linear TV’s need for live content as we’ve seen the explosion of the number of wrestling programs that are on television,” Thurston noted. “Maybe the the bar has been lowered for how high you have to jump to get over to get on to linear TV, because linear TV needs live programming.

“It needs programming that people want to watch live now more than ever. So I remain somewhat optimistic.

“Although, I wouldn’t be shocked if NXT is no longer on the USA Network a couple years from now, but I remain optimistic that that’s going to continue to be the case, even though NXT is not this more ambitious brand in itself in terms of getting itself. Its priorities seemingly have changed to serve the main roster proclivities.”

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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Return of live fans may not have the long-term effect on TV ratings some expect

On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed the possible effects the return of fans at shows will have on television ratings. AEW will resume touring starting with Road Rager in Miami on July 7, and WWE will kick off a multi-city tour on July 16. Thurston and Gullo broke down what effect they think fans will have on TV ratings for Raw and Smackdown.

Since recording the episode, Thurston has added predictions for monthly averages for AEW Dynamite, WWE NXT, and AEW Rampage, seen in the charts below. Rampage debuts on TNT on Friday in a 10pm Eastern time-slot, beginning August 13, before both AEW weekly shows move to TBS in 2022.

Averages for Smackdown and Rampage in December will be challenged by running on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, which fall on the last two Fridays of the year. Thurston anticipates Rampage will begin by performing close to Friday Night Dynamite’s Hour 1 average (562,000 viewers total, 277,000 in 18-49), and wane from there. The amount of time viewers are willing to spend watching AEW will be spread more thin, which will cause Dynamite’s viewership to be slightly lower than it would be otherwise as well.

By the end of the year, he sees Dynamite and Raw’s 18-49 viewer counts drawing close to one another, but not quite overlapping.

Chris Gullo: Fans are coming back. We had a Dynamite in front of fans on Wednesday, and we’re gonna have fans in WWE crowds in a couple weeks. How much of an effect do you really think it makes on the ratings because you’ve heard, ‘Oh, wrestling’s hard to watch with no fans, or in Thunderdome or with the same fans at Daily’s Place.’ Well now, we have live audiences all around the country.

They’re going to fill arenas. Do you really think it’s gonna make that huge of a difference on the ratings? I think because it’s summer, it won’t, but that’s just me. I don’t think, after a year and a half, someone goes, ‘I think I’m gonna watch Raw again because they have fans.’

Brandon Thurston: I was looking at what the month-to-month trends usually are, and usually, July is up from June and then August is up from July. I just sort of went through each week and tried to do a rough prediction of what I think is going to happen, trying to take into account holidays and things like that.

General overview, I think that there’s definitely going to be a short-term bump with Raw with its first event in front of live fans. It will pop a pretty big number over what it had been doing in the weeks leading up to it. Smackdown, same thing. I don’t know this, but I think they’re going to bring in John Cena and probably advertise him ahead of time and maybe he’ll start a program off with Roman Reigns heading towards Summerslam.

I think there’s going to be a short-term boost, and after that, both of these programs are just not good enough and don’t make people feel like watching them enough to sustain a long-term increase in ratings compared to their trends over the last year and a half during the pandemic.

Thurston noted WWE investors have high expectations for TV ratings when fans return.

Thurston: In July 2020, Vince was grilled on the earnings call about ratings and the excuse was that, well, once we get fans back in attendance, ratings will improve, and the Thunderdome was introduced partly to address that.

And the Thunderdome did coincide with ratings stabilizing. But I think investors are really expecting a major boost in ratings when fans return.

With the prediction that Raw and Smackdown will have a short-term boost, Thurston explained predictions for total viewership numbers for Raw and Smackdown for the remainder of the year. These predictions also take into account the NFL season where there will not be a lead-in during the holiday season like there was last year that led to a big number for Smackdown on Christmas.

Thurston: Let’s talk about what the averages were for June. I’m just gonna talk about total viewership here. Raw averaged 1.67 million viewers. Smackdown averaged about 2 million flat, which I think is the first time that the average comes in below 2 million on Fox. I think in July, about 1.7 million for Raw and 2.1 million for Smackdown, so they’re both up. This is for the second half of the month only, including live fans in attendance again, and then in August, 1.75 million for Raw and 1.20 million for Smackdown. And then in September, we’ll start to get back into the season of Monday Night Football, in the case of Raw, and I see it falling about 1.60 million for Raw and then maybe Smackdown, I feel like this is being generous, but Smackdown staying above 2.1 million.

It certainly may have John Cena throughout August, but then I see it really slipping for Raw down to 1.5 million, and Smackdown getting to 2 million flat again. Smackdown, the way the calendar works this year, is going to land on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. So those ratings, almost certainly, are going to plunge. I see Raw doing 1.5 million through the prime of the football season so that will be scraping record lows again. To be fair, I expected that to happen last year, and it did not go as badly as I expected. I think that’s partly thanks to the Thunderdome, remember through the summer where they were panicking with things like Raw Underground.

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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The “Wednesday Night War” Is Over

Last night was the final encounter of the “Wednesday Night War”. Since October 2, 2019 through today, AEW Dynamite on TNT and WWE NXT on the USA Network aired simultaneously, competing head-to-head on 75 Wednesday nights.

NXT moves to Tuesday night next week, WWE announced recently.

Through 75 head-to-head Wednesdays AEW led NXT in total viewers on 63 of 75 nights. Both programs aired from 8:00 to 10:00pm. NXT often had an overrun of a few minutes past 10:00pm.

NXT led in total viewership ten times. One of those time was this week, despite the program airing simultaneously and without commercials as Peacock, as WWE and NBCUniversal push their fans to sign for the new home of WWE Network content ahead of Wrestlemania this weekend.

The shows tied to the nearest thousand twice: 12/11/2019 and 11/25/2020.

The ten nights NXT had a bigger audience than AEW were: 11/20/2019, 11/27/2019, 12/18/2019, 4/8/2020, 4/15/2020, 6/24/2020, 7/1/2020, 7/8/2020, 10/28/2020, and 4/7/2021.

The P18-49 viewership demographic, an important measurement to advertisers, was the subject of much consternation among fans and pundits as the competition went on.

In that category, AEW led on 74 of the 75 nights.

NXT led with adults aged 18 to 49 just once, on 12/19/2019.

Beginning in the summer of 2020, AEW extended its lead over NXT in the key demo, possibly as audiences in that group settled into watching AEW more regularly than NXT, at least in live and same-day viewing.

On the P2+ (total viewers) vs. P18-49 subject, Turner and therefore AEW are far more concerned with P18-49 than P2+. Advertisers never buy based on P2+; they buy based on demos.

It’s not clear to me WWE or NBCUniversal or other television networks view it quite as exclusively.

Recent WWE TV deals were made after including P2+ as well as P18-49 data in their pitches.

Younger viewers are more desirable, for sure, but all cable viewers are in a home with a cable subscription. And cable networks make the majority of their revenue from carriage fees supports by those subs.

Nonetheless, AEW dominated with younger viewers. NXT dominated with viewers age 50 and over.

“Unknown” cells appear in the tables below for some weeks because Showbuzzdaily reported limited demos for NXT when it didn’t finish among the top 50 cable originals in P18-49.

In recent months, AEW’s lead weakened. Dynamite lost viewers in the first quarter of 2021, particularly among younger female viewers.

Source: Showbuzz Daily / Nielsen

Meanwhile NXT better maintained its female audience while losing more of its male audience.

In the final quarter of the “war”, female viewers aged 18 to 49 accounted for about 40% of NXT’s audience was female and about 31% of AEW’s.

Source: Showbuzz Daily / Nielsen

And then there were quarter-hour numbers, first reported weekly by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (or on very rare occasion, Wrestlenomics/me).

Here’s how total viewership by quarter-hour sorted out.

P2+ (total viewership) quarter-hour comparison

NXT led in 110 of 592 (19%) quarter-hours in total viewers. AEW led 480 (81%). There also two ties.

P18-49 viewership quarter-hour comparison

NXT led in P18-49 viewers in just 13 of 592 (2%) quarters. AEW led the other 579 (98%).

It’s tempting to look to these quarter-hour data to make sense of which stars are big attractions to viewers and which are not.

More than any star, viewership correlated to time-slot.

The first 15 minutes, at least partly due to lead-ins, was often the most viewed quarter.

Quarter-hour viewership analysis is also compromised by needing to account for, not just time placement, but also commercial breaks. Quarters consisting of matches also tend to perform better than video packages or other pre-taped segments.

Minute-by-minute data is tracked by both companies. Datasets of entire shows for either AEW or NXT have never been reported. AEW vice president of business strategy Chris Harrington (and creator of Wrestlenomics) did a screen share video interview with me in December of one night of minute-by-minute data, the December 16 episodes of Dynamite and NXT.

How did the “war” start?

In May 2019, the week before AEW’s first pay-per-view event the company announced it would have a weekly program on TNT. Despite AEW previously filing for a trademark “Tuesday Night Dynamite”, the show was scheduled on Wednesday nights, beginning in October. NBA games often occupy primetime Tuesdays on TNT.

NXT at the time was a one-hour program, taped in multiple-episode blocks at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, and airing first-run on the WWE Network at 8:00pm Eastern.

Over the summer of 2019, WWE was reportedly in discussions with Fox to take NXT off of the WWE Network onto FS1 as a live two-hour program that would oppose Dynamite. But in August, WWE and NBCUniversal announced NXT would move to the USA Network.

NXT’s weekly program was one of the most popular shows on the Network at the time, so the move was met with some confusion by those in Wall Street. In a January 2020 conference talk, stock analyst Laura Martin mentioned to WWE’s then-co-president George Barrios (in one of his final public appearances on behalf of WWE) that taking NXT’s first-run off the Network was “one of my least favorite things you’ve done.”

WWE argued moving NXT was an opportunity to grow the value of NXT’s media rights, like Raw and Smackdown which had just attracted new U.S. deals worth in excess of $200 million per year.

How much NXT has been able to attract in rights fees from NBCU, in its original two-year deal or in the new deal just announced, is unclear.

When AEW started to decidedly take the lead in the ratings competition, some wondered if it was the best thing for NXT to move to a different night where it was not opposed by another wrestling program. Maybe Tuesday or Thursday.

WWE EVP Paul Levesque, in a September 2020 conference call with media, seemed to respond to the notion that WWE put NXT on Wednesday night on cable to compete with its new competitor in the wrestling space, but wanted to point out AEW put its program on a night NXT long occupied.

“It’s a funny thing. I don’t hear anybody else asking people about moving on Wednesday since we were always on Wednesdays,” Levesque said.

“But it’s not like every other channel just has free air all the time.”

Full audio of Levesque’s comments are here:

WWE EVP Paul Levesque is asked about NXT moving away from Wednesday night (September 30, 2020)

Why is NXT moving to Tuesday?

The impending close of the NBC Sports Network is probably the biggest factor leading to NXT move.

There’s little debate to had, while NXT was close on total viewers, AEW was usually winning in every viewership category publicly reported except for viewers age 50 and older.

But there’s a good chance NHL games will be coming to the USA Network in the near future. A deal between NBCU and the NHL is not finalized, but the NHL’s new deal with Disney and ESPN included the “A” package of games. It didn’t include the Wednesday night games currently carried by NBCSN.

While Fox is an outside possible suitor for a package that would include Wednesday night games, NBCU is still the likeliest home, and USA Network the likeliest network home.

NHL games on Wednesday nights on NBCSN do comparable P18-49 viewership to NXT, but NHL probably drives better ad rates. And USA Network is running reruns of NBC programs like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in primetime most nights when WWE programs aren’t scheduled.

What will happen to NXT and AEW viewership now that they’ll be unopposed?

In August and September, AEW and NXT were both preempted due to playoff games form the NBA and NHL, respectively. When left in their normal timeslot, the shows did drew more viewers than usual.

In August when NXT was twice unopposed by AEW on Wednesday, its viewership improved by 29% an 24% compared to the median of the previous four weeks. In P18-49 viewers, it improved 37% in both instances.

Based on recent performance, if viewership improves to that degree when NXT moves to Tuesday, the show could see total viewership of around 800,000 and a P18-49 rating of about 0.23 (about 300,000 viewers in that age group).

When unopposed on Wednesday on two occasions in September, AEW viewership was up 13% and 24% compared to the median the previous four weeks when it was opposed by NXT. In P18-49 viewers, it increased 13% and 16%.

And increase to that extent would mean total viewers of around 875,000 and a demo rating of about 0.33 (about 425,000 viewers), based on AEW’s recent performance.

In other words, audiences the programs deliver might be even more comparable when they’re on separate nights.

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

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Net Promoter Score: March 2021

Patrons got early access to this article on March 28 at

I collected responses for another survey that measures Net Promoter Score.

The results from the study done in late December to early January were published in the Wrestlenomics Pro Wrestling Industry Report (available via Payhip and Patreon).

I obtained responses through a Facebook ad again, to hopefully obtain a more random sample. I’m considering using Google Ads too in the future.

Monetary support from patrons made this study possible. Hopefully as we continue to produce valuable research, we produce a flywheel effect that drives interest and allows further investment in surveys and other research like this.

I plan to continue to do the NPS survey, maybe every quarter, so we can collect data points over time and evaluate trends. Below you’ll see the beginning of that as we now have two data points over time (for December/January [will be referred to as “December” for shorthand] and March).

It’s notable that the wrestling companies this time were listed in random order. In the previous survey, the wrestling companies were listed in this order for all respondents: WWE Raw, WWE Smackdown, WWE NXT, AEW Dynamite, Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

The New Japan sample small enough to not take very seriously, but it’s plausible that appearing last for all respondents in December and appearing in a random position for each respondent in March contributed to the lower scores for New Japan in December and higher scores for the company this time.

I discovered it’s probably more fair to break out regular viewers’ sentiments from those of occasional viewers, rather than combining them as I did earlier. Regular viewers, as you might expect, tend to be more positive toward the program they watch than occasional viewers. Plus, some programs’ respondents are mostly regular viewers (like WWE main roster shows and AEW) and others (like ROH and New Japan) were mostly occasional viewers. A relevant breakdown will be displayed below.

With the prospect of full capacity live events and hopefully a return to normal life on the horizon, I included in the same survey form a question about the respondent’s willingness to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Results for that are also displayed below.

Although I spent a similar amount of money on the Facebook ad this time, only about half the number of samples were collected. The sample was also adjusted for disparities in race and gender, as compared to reports of viewership data.

Instead of targeting multiple major English language countries, this time I decided to focus on the United States only. Therefore the December results were filtered to responses from the U.S. only.

NPS results for March 2021

Click to enlarge view

NPS results over time: 

Regular and occasional viewers

“Dec 2020” here refers to responses collected between December 30, 2020 and January 3, 2021.

Regular and occasional viewers

Regular viewers only

Regular viewers only

Occasional viewers only

Occasional viewers only

Lapsed viewers only

Lapsed viewers only

How willing are U.S. wrestling fans to get vaccinated?

The below chart measures responses only from U.S. adults aged 18 years or older. 

Realizing there may be other factors that consistently coincide with vaccine willingness, information about age, education level, and household income was also collected and shown below.

Click to enlarge view

These results are comparable to the general public in the U.S. According to a study by Pew Research Center in February, 69% of Americans said they would probably or definitely would get vaccinated or already had at least one dose.

Political affiliation

I anticipated political affiliation might relate to vaccine willingness, and it does among respondents to this study. Respondents who identified as Republicans were 8x more likely than Democrats to say they won’t be getting vaccinated. Nonetheless, as you can see above, I didn’t find strong differences in vaccine willingness among viewers of different wrestling programs. Nor did I find strong differences in political affiliation about viewers of different programs.

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

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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.

This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.


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