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What Do Declining Ratings Mean For WWE And Its TV Deals?

WWE TV Deals might need to alter is RAW's ratings continue to decline.

WWE ratings have seen a massive decline over the past few years and with the recent Wednesday Night War battle with AEW, in which WWE is beaten regularly, there’s a lot of discussion and chatter as to what will happen with WWE TV deals when they come up for renewal if the ratings continue to decline.

If you look at “legitimate sports” as an example, even MLB, NFL and the NBA are suffering declining ratings. But in MLB’s case, this doesn’t seem to have affected their TV deal renewal at all. Turner Broadcasting, as confirmed by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, has renewed for $535million. This is up 65% from their old deal of $325million. The deal runs from 2022 to to 2028 and will see Sunday afternoon games moved to prime time Tuesday nights.

In 2018, WWE negotiated record-breaking new deals with FOX and NBCUniversal that will run until 2024. Having signed those deals with declining ratings, will WWE be able to attract similar deals if the downward trend of viewership continues at such a sharp rate?

For example, Raw’s ratings have declined by almost 60% in the last 6 years. In 2014, the show averaged around 4 million viewers, yet this week, it was only able to attract 1.66million.

Wrestling does not have the same prestige that MLB, NFL and the NBA has, even with their declining ratings.

There has also been a big internal change within NBCUniversal itself. Meltzer reported that the company is focusing more on streaming rather than cable as they look to overhaul their entertainment division.

This could work in WWE’s favour though, as, in terms of streaming and online media, their YouTube snippets of segments on Raw regularly draw more views than Raw itself, indicating a big shift in the way fans are consuming wrestling. For example, this week’s segment with Aalyah and Rey Mysterio drew 1.8million views. More than Raw drew on TV.

The money WWE gains from YouTube, however, does not compare to those TV deals, and advertisers are still spending big money on traditional TV advertising.

What the TV industry may have to look at more closely though, is the general downturn in viewership overall. Using the same comparison, in the 6 years since 2014, the US broadcast networks have seen a decline of 20% in overall viewership.

Linking this back to wrestling, the 18-49 demographic which promotions strive to capture the attention of, and one which advertisers massively covet, declined even steeper, falling by 35%. (Source: The Hollywood Reporter).

While that declining viewership will explain some missing viewers from WWE, their decline is still much sharper than it is for general TV viewership overall, and that’s very worrying.

Whether or not WWE can overcome this obstacle remains to be seen. And while AEW is holding strong against NXT in the 18-49 demographic, it’s still a concern that the number of viewers within that demo is declining at an alarming rate.

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how long advertisers will be willing to spend huge amounts of money on an 18-49 demographic that is slowly dwindling away, and with that, might come changes in their TV deals as well.