World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is the biggest pro-wrestling company today. After squashing World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 2001, the company has not seen any other company challenge its supremacy. The Vince McMahon-owned WWE has been the top dog since 1984. During the late 1990s, the rise of WCW has resulted in both companies fighting for ratings on Monday famously giving the tag “Monday Night Wars.” However, it was not long until WCW lost the war and then was bought by Vince McMahon himself. Since then, the quality of the product has unquestionably gone down which produced some very bad television viewership for the shows.
The major reason for this downfall is the product itself. WWE has seen its peak during the attitude era which lasted for five years since its start in 1997. The storylines were more realistic, the violence increased, the stunts were doubled and the superstars were allowed to use foul language whenever required. Once WCW was bought by WWE, the fans were left with no alternative. WWE also became more family-friendly and slowly the violence dropped. This realistic approach was new to pro-wrestling at that time and became an instant hit with the fans. By 2007, WWE turned PG and thus, foul language and blood were banned completely. The realistic feel was completely lost and the audience was getting the vibes of watching cartoonish storylines. The pro-wrestling show looked like the show aimed to attract children, which in itself is a shocking change considering that for decades, it was the adults that made it a success. The superstars who had a mainstream appeal like The Rock and Stone Cold left the company for better opportunities and other biggies like The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H were no longer working full-time. For over a decade, WWE kept losing millions of viewers. The most popular full-time wrestler was John Cena at that time, who hardly is half as popular as Stone Cold or The Undertaker. In 2018, WWE’s flagship show RAW crossed 4 million viewers just once. During the ’90s, crossing 4 million viewers was a regular feat. Not just the viewers, but the mainstream media attention that WWE used to get was lost too. The revenue of the live events also dropped by more than 20%.
But, the biggest shock for the company came in 2019, when another rival company called “All Elite Wrestling" (AEW) owned by Shahid Khan, the owner of the NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars, was launched. The difference between AEW and the other companies that came up after 2001, was that it is funded by a billionaire and has some of the best talents in the world.
The emergence of AEW has given die-hard pro-wrestling fans an alternative they have been begging for 17 years. The variety mentioned in their article titled “Vince McMahon Out of Excuses for WWE Woes” that WWE’s two main shows RAW and Smackdown have lost over 600,000 and 400,000 viewers respectively this year when compared to last year. WWE has been losing viewers for years but not at this rate. They cannot afford to lose more than 400,000 viewers when they hardly have 2.5 million viewers who tune in. Now, it is hard to say that those viewers have switched to AEW as their weekly show is averaging around 1 million viewers every week. But the fact that pro-wrestling fans get an alternative in AEW itself could damage the WWE. Moreover, AEW is producing adult content like the attitude era of WWE. This could bring back some fans who have lost interest in pro-wrestling. In another case, journalist Dave Meltzer tweeted that WWE was not able to strike a TV deal in the middle-eastern countries as the TV channels were skeptical about the product.
In the past, it has been proved that pro-wrestling fans are very passionate if you are willing to give them the right product. It is not very hard to impress them either. AEW just needs to give them proper storylines, blood, and violence whenever required, quality television and, equal chances to the ladies. If AEW manages to do that, it could increase its viewers and might attract some old fans who lost interest. They have debuted their weekly show “AEW Dynamite” in the first week of October 2019. It would be very interesting to see what happens in the next two months.