What’s “NXT” For WWE?

The sirens can be heard in Stamford, as this week’s Raw garnered a record-low 1.5 million viewers, prompting many to suggest that something drastic must take place within the corporate organization to boost the sluggish ratings. A record-low rating certainly doesn’t help the stock price.

In truth, this news shouldn’t be all that surprising because the numbers have declined at a more or less steady pace for the past few years, a trend that was accelerated by the pandemic era. During the past few months, I’ve written about the scenarios that have contributed to this situation, and unless WWE brass can find something to spark a renewed interest in the brand, the shows will continue to generate dismal numbers. Of all the problems mentioned previously, the biggest problem might be the fact that the office continued in the same direction despite the slipping numbers. That being said, some have used this week’s low rating to claim that AEW will somehow surpass the WWE because of the demo numbers. I’ve written several times in the past year and a half that the importance of AEW to the industry can be understated because for the first time since WCW folded, it gives fans and wrestlers legitimate options. However, those that want to cite the demo numbers as some indication of the collapse of Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment empire are simply trying to spin the narrative. The problems for the WWE should be addressed, but to put it in prospective, the WWE’s current TV deals are worth a combined $2.4 billion for a five-year contract, generating roughly $240 million per year in TV rights fees for Raw and Smackdown respectively. On the flip side, the TNT extension that AEW signed earlier this year brings the organization about $45 million a year. The TNT deal made AEW a profitable venture, which is the determining factor of success from a business prospective, but to claim that they will surpass WWE in terms of profitability or brand awareness is very misguided. That being said, Vince McMahon might be taking the big money now for a product that might hinder the company in the future because it’s doubtful the promotion will sign another billion dollar TV deal if the ratings don’t improve in the next few months.

When I mentioned that so much of the product is stagnant because a viewer could skip a month of the shows and tune in again without missing any key points, it highlighted the lack of “must see” television within the WWE landscape. One of the prime examples of this during the pandemic era was the random three-week title reign that Randy Orton had, which didn’t nothing, but halt any momentum of Drew McIntyre, who is supposedly one of the top priorities of the organization. Drew has the talent, but the way he was cast since almost the beginning of his title run did him no favors. The Raw after WM 36, an impromptu match between The Big Show and McIntyre was shown that took place after he pinned Brock to win the title where Drew was scripted to say that he didn’t want to fight the Big Show. A similar line was used in a promo with Seth Rollins a few weeks later. A baby face champion should NEVER try to avoid a challenge for the championship. Would Stone Cold, The Rock, or Mick Foley be scripted to say something like that? Granted, Drew was dealt a rough hand because he was finally given the chance to get a main event push during a global pandemic that shut down the entire world, and there still isn’t a measure of how over he would be as champion in front of a live audience. Still, he had to play the cards he was dealt, is he going to turn down the chance to be WWE champion?

For his efforts, Drew has probably done the best he could under the circumstances, but the booking of not only his title reign, but the brand as a whole has been lackluster. As mentioned earlier, the Orton title switch was pointless. Most importantly, it stopped Drew’s momentum and took away the importance of his run as champion because a long title reign can be used to hype an important title match in the future. There would be something important at stake, another aspect that is almost non-existence within the current product. Furthermore, Orton is already a star and as over in his career as he’s going to be in terms of star power so another title win did nothing for his status. Ultimately, Orton’s three-week detour with the belt meant nothing, and when the results don’t have consequences, what’s the reason fans should to tune in to see the show?

So, what should the WWE do to improve the numbers?

Obviously, everyone will have a different answer, but I will mention my two cents on this rather complex situation. First, I don’t think you will see any major improvement in ratings until after there are live crowds in the arena again so management will just have to tread water until live events can resume in typical fashion. This might be the toughest hurdle for the office, but the usual paint-by-numbers approach that the corporation has used for its agenda should be changed to something more organic and flexible. Another aspect I’ve written about often is that the WWE got too comfortable with its level of dominate market share and an unintended level of complacency surfaced within the product. The writing team isn’t pressured to “sell” a pay-per-view because those events don’t have to justify the traditional $40 price tag anymore, but rather the $10 for a network subscription that includes thousands of hours of classic footage as well. The 50/50 booking keeps almost everyone on the roster at roughly the same level, and when you take into account the John Cena is still the last legitimate money-drawing star the company made, it speaks volumes about the inability of the current WWE philosophy to make stars that fans are will to pay to watch. Realistically, who will sell more tickets, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, or Drew McIntyre? While some might make a choice based on character or in-ring style, their marketability is basically the same. Any of them vs. Brock Lesnar will do roughly the same business because Brock would be the difference maker since he was presented like a star. The reason that Drew, Finn, and Seth are all at more or less the same level of star power has nothing to do with their tremendous in-ring ability, but rather with the fact that the WWE brand is usually promoted as the draw instead of individual stars with a few exceptions. The fans connect with and rally behind the characters, not the brand so there’s a ceiling on how much of a draw the brand will be for fans.

Aside from the booking and the presentation, the sheer amount of content that the WWE machine churns out to satisfy the previously mentioned TV contracts might be a part of the problem as well. Too often, it seems like there’s quantity over quality for the television product. Sure, the reason those countless hours are produced is because of the major money it brings, but the less than stellar content might actually diminish the audience in the grand scheme of things. Speaking of the amount of WWE shows, it’s also very possible that the WWE roster is simply spread too thin and perhaps management should shuffle the deck so to speak to put some of the marquee talent on the two main shows. For example, NXT was put on USA network to compete with AEW, but WWE’s third-tier brand is it’s least-watched show and it rarely draws more viewers than Dynamite so there’s not much of a Wednesday night war.

In my opinion, the top stars on Raw need to be fresh and presented as important competitors for the brand. Adam Cole is in the prime of his career, but has spent his entire WWE tenure on the niche NXT brand. While there’s only ever going to be one Shawn Micheals, Adam Cole is the closest thing that there will be to a next generation HBK so he shouldn’t waste more of his prime on a third-tier show. Cole can cut a promo, he can go in the ring, and he has all the tools to be a much bigger star for the organization. I don’t know if Drew’s status can be solidified at this point or not, but for my money, bring The Undisputed Era to Raw and push Adam Cole as the top star on the brand. The office fumbled Rhea Ripley’s push terribly earlier this year, and much the way that Orton beating Drew for three weeks did nothing for him, Charlotte defeating Ripley was a critical mistake. Charlotte is a great performer, but she’s already a star and didn’t need the win. The victory at Wrestlemania could’ve elevated Ripley’s status. Put her on Raw and let her work a title feud with Asuka, who is a true MVP of the champion. Don’t get me wrong, the casual fan doesn’t care how many stars a match is rated so Raw shouldn’t use the NXT style, but the brand could certainly use the NXT star power.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta