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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

SLAM! Wrestling Editorial: WWF down to the core?
By ALEX RISTIC -- SLAM! Wrestling

Before the last couple of weeks World Wrestling Federation storylines had been stagnant, and depending on who you asked, had been so for months. No arguments here. In direct correlation, it appears that the people who have been bored with WWF programming have been turning off the tube when RAW or Smackdown! comes around.

Of course, theories have abounded all over every dirtsheet, web site and publication as to the stagnant storylines, and many have added their own theories to the equation, including those of supposed glass ceilings, lack of competition, yadda yadda, blah blah blah.

Look, I'm not one to say that any of these issues don't have some bearing on the ratings. In lots of respects they do, but as theories, without any real facts, it is nearly impossible to gauge these factors. Instead, let's look at what we do know.

Wrestling, in terms of the world-wide exposure it's receiving, is still in a learning process so to speak. Until Vince McMahon took it to vast audiences in 1984, wrestling was almost always a regional television production.

No one knew what would draw in ratings, at least no one knew for sure. Everything was trial and error, and if there was a dip in the viewers, what could you actually attribute it to? It was almost never broadcast live at that point, and even though it reached a far wider audience, it was never in a timeslot where you could actually measure it against the heavyweight television shows of the day, to see and measure what the audience reaction would be.

So, when sports entertainment took a downturn in the early-to-mid-'90s, in actuality, it was the first real slump that professional wrestling had gone through.

Now, while the Monday night wars heated things up, and with the formation of the n.W.o. and elevation of some talents, things roared up again. But you know what? That's hardly a proven formula. Since the n.W.o was formed, not every super group created is guaranteed to drive up ratings (see the Magnificent Seven, Nation Of Domination, et al), nor is the elevation of certain talent. And the fact of the matter is, conditions today, especially with no independently owned WCW, or ECW for that matter, are not the same. Wrestling is on its own, with no real benchmark or proven formula to right the course of the downward spiral in ratings.

So here's the deal. I actually suggest to you that everything is fine, and to be honest, the ratings that you are seeing are, in all actuality, the true audience that is out there for sports entertainment. While the numbers are worrying from a network television standpoint, they are actually indicative of what the scope of the North American wrestling audience is.

Here are the facts behind my reasoning.

Looking at WCW for a second, before the company was expunged from AOL/Time Warner, for the last few months of its existence, Nitro was hauling down about a 2.1 rating. Now, a rating is the percentage of American households, estimated to be about 102 million homes -- each point represents a little over 1 million viewers, so WCW was hauling in roughly 2.5 million people to see every show.

You notice though, no matter how bad the shows got, no matter what action packed card the WWF put on, no matter how many times stars like Goldberg, Nash, etc. weren't on Nitro, it never really dipped beyond 2.1. Why is that? Because that was Nitro's core audience, its cult following, the people who would tune in no matter what.

This is important to note, and certainly more important than people give it credit for. Fact of the matter is, it's only the true die-hard fans that tune in every week. Technically speaking, if WCW got higher than a 2.1 rating, in all actuality, anything above that is gravy. Even though that number sucks, in terms of sponsorship and competition with other TV shows, it is an indication of how many real WCW fans are out there.

Same thing with the WWF. The rating for the May 24 broadcast of Smackdown! was 3.9, and for the May 21 RAW it was 3.6. And you know what? Those numbers are going to get lower, and it really shouldn't be something to get concerned over, because in reality those numbers are still inflated in comparison to what RAW and Smackdown!'s true numbers should be.

You have to remember, the WWF is the only game in town for the moment. They've hired a bunch of ECW wrestlers, as well as WCW grapplers, so they're bringing in viewers who may not necessarily have chosen the WWF as its prime wrestling programming of choice. In my opinion, a truer number to reflect the core WWF audience would be between a 3.0 and 3.2 rating. Once again, the number sucks in terms of dollar value and measurement, but that would be a true indication of the number of wrestling die-hards that tune in.

And there is nothing that the WWF can do to change that figure. Yes, you read right -- no matter who they push, who they sign, or what top draw matches they put on, there is nothing they can do to permanently change those figures.

TV ratings will always fluctuate. Even if the WWF successfully runs a WCW invasion angle, and the ratings will go up, it is not a permanent change. Even if the ratings are hot and go to 6.1, representing over 6.5 million viewers, it won't be a permanent number. They haven't altered viewing habits of non-hardcore wrestling fans. All they've done is created interest for the moment, much like the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, and World Series ratings increase over the numbers for viewers during the regular season of the pro sporting world. They'll bring people in to watch the drama of the playoffs, but they won't get people more excited to tune into the next regular season.

Now for the nitty-gritty. The reason why I bring this up is because all the bitching and moaning in the world for the WWF to change its product is actually misplaced. Yes, without a doubt much of the programming has been sub-standard, but it doesn't really matter. The cyclical nature of wrestling's dominance in the cable realm of television will return once again, when the next generation of youthful viewers who like all things cool will tune in. It's no secret that one of wrestling's top brackets is in viewers between the ages of 18-34. And let's not forget seasonal changes, which are also a factor. The WWF, and any production company for that matter, is fooling themselves if they think they can get young people to stay home at night to watch television programming during the summer months. Most kids just spent nine month locked behind the doors of their schools and wouldn't waste their time when they have their freedom to exploit.

You see, change just for the sake of change is wrong. You're tinkering around with things that may not actually need fixing, which could result in permanent damage.

It seems like everyone is saying that the sole reason for the WWF's dip in TV popularity is because of the glass ceiling and lack of elevation of the mid-card. I hate to break this to you, but that's pure poppy-cock.

I am one of the biggest Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit marks I know, but if I look at things realistically, they are not currently the answer to a reversal of TV fortunes. You'd be lying to yourself if you think they are more popular than Steve Austin, The Rock, or the Undertaker, and if you don't believe me, look at those respective wrestlers merchandising sales -- they're still higher than Jericho's and Benoit's. What that indicates is that no matter how many people clamour for those to be pushed to the top, they're still not as popular as the people they are being groomed to replace. So, if you're the WWF, what would be the point?

It's nice for us "smart" fans to see the people who we think are the true backbone of the company to be elevated, but wrestling is a business. And the WWF, no matter what they tell you, is going to be more concerned with their bottom line than anything else. If Jericho and Benoit don't bring them in any extra dollars, that is an indication that they aren't ready to headline yet.

Need proof? Simple. We'll use Steve Austin as an example. He wasn't elevated into the main event, or heavyweight champion, until AFTER he sold more T-shirts than Hulk Hogan, and broke his merchandising records. And when The Rock's sales figures approached Austin's, he too was elevated.

You only have to look at the recent slide of Kurt Angle, from main eventer to current mid-carder, to see that elevation is not always the key to reversing television watching trends.

You also have to keep in mind that wrestling probably isn't going to get anymore exposure among the mainstream media than it already has. If you're a true die-hard wrestling fan, you'll buy the cable package that offers TNN so you get RAW, or UPN for Smackdown! In Canada, it's only about $10 more to get the medium channel package from Rogers which offers TSN, where RAW is broadcast, as opposed to the bare-bones basic channel package. If you're spending an average of $50 to go to a houseshow, wrestling on TV fits within your budget. The WWF going to a major network like Fox or NBC would not significantly increase ratings enough to make it worth it for the WWF to jump ship. There's no way NBC dumps a ratings hog like Friends for Smackdown!, so switching TV companies is actually not a winning situation, and may actually cause worse problems, bumping the WWF to midnight programming -- then you'll watch the ratings fall like never before.

Continuing on with the mainstream coverage, several WWF stars have been all over the map with movies, late night talk shows, political conventions, etc. If the WWF isn't getting new viewers from their stars' exposure through recent non-traditional wrestling avenues, then that should be an indication to you of how much the non-wrestling public actually cares. This just further proves that wrestling TV programming is for the die-hards, with transitional fans that tune in, or out, every few years or so.

Now, I'm not arguing against recent storylines having become more entertaining, and I will admit that the elevation of certain wrestlers is what I would personally like to see. What I am saying is that to use the non-elevation of certain people as an excuse for poor ratings is ultimately untrue.

Personally, I would rather see Jericho and Benoit elevated when they are truly ready to be elevated, instead being known as the two-month transitional heavyweight champions during the WWF dark times of poor ratings.

To sum up, we as wrestling fans have to ask ourselves some serious questions. Should we let our personal biases blind us into choosing what we want to see on television? Or should we be more patient while the WWF rights its course, hoping to get a pay-off in the form of more entertaining wrestling in the future? Remember, the WWF is a business. The more it succeeds financially, the more the opportunity increases to see the cards we want to see in the future.

Reader Feedback

  • May 24:Cyrus is dead wrong


  • I agree with you whole heartedly. I think Cyrus and Lance Storm should seriously reconsider what they are saying. Isn't Jim Ross looked at as one of the the premier men in wrestling announcing. His opinions of wrestlers goes a long way with fans and with Vince McMahon, yet J.R. has never had any wrestling training and has never been a wrestler. Also, if Cyrus and Storm are correct in saying that people who have never trained as a wrestler have no right to judge wrestlers, than who is Vince McMahon to decide who should be the top men in the WWF? Vince has never been formally trained to be a wrestler. Let's not forget that Hulk Hogan was trained to be a wrestler and I'm sure that if he made a list of the top 500 wrestlers, Lance Storm would not be on it. Instead he would have men like Honky Tonk Man, Brutus Beefcake and the Big Show on the list (not too mention he would rank hinself as number #1. I think Storm and Cyrus both need to re-evaluate their thoughts, becuase in the end it is us fans, the ones without any training or experience, that decide who is "over" and who isn't.

    Kevin Foley, kevinandjenniferfoley@hotmail.com
    These guys should be happy that there are fans who care enough about the business to put the time into writing columns, reporting news, and making up lists such as DVD 500. Of course if you have a list of 500 wrestlers you're not going to agree with all of the choices. I've seen magazines like Maxim, Entertainment Weekly, and so forth compile top 100 movies of all-time. Although their writers are not involved in the movie business, I see no problem with them compiling their own list of good and bad movies.

    Tim Dudley, TimBigSugar@home.com
    I have to side with Callis on this one, John. While I agree with you that fans have the right to rate workers however they want, I think Callis (and Storm) are right on the money when they say fans don't see the entire picture. The scariest trend I'm seeing lately are fans (and columnists) who think they know more than the guys taking the bumps.

    Don Stradley, don.stradley@haledorr.com
    For the most part I agreed with your recent column that wrestling journalists are qualified to rate workers. However, I don't think that the Death Valley Driver top 500 list is the best example of an educated workrate evaluation. The fact that they have Steve Austin ranked at #81, well above at Perry Saturn at #494, and Rob Van Dam at #500 might make one think twice about the ability of certain journalists to rate wrestling ability.

    Certainly everyone is welcome to their own opinion, but this sort of thing makes me thing perhaps Cyrus has a point.

    Scott Francis, Franman2001@aol.com
    I'm sure you'll get a million e-mails on this topic, and I'm sure most of them will be along the lines of "Mr Molinaro, you're absolutely right, fans do have the right to rate wrestlers". I don't agree with either you or Cyrus entirely on this issue. I think he has a good point though -- fans can't really rate workers. He says we can rate the work they do (ie the matches) however. I ask you, how else can we rate workers other than by the work they do? If a builder builds a shoddy house, people would say that he's a shoddy builder. If a programmer writes a buggy computer programs, people would say that he's a poor programmer. If a wrestlers works poor matches, people would say he's a poor wrestler. So frankly, I disagree with Cyrus' idea that we can't get an idea of how good a wrestler is by how good his work is. But at the same time, I agree with him that we can't really rate them.

    Rating implies comparing a group of wrestlers against each other, and ordering them according to how good they are. That's a pretty big call to make, I believe. We can say "Benoit is a great wrestler. Billy Gunn is a terrible wrestler.", etc, but for fans to take a list of wrestlers and order them, with the best wrestler being first and the worst last, that would require more information than we have, at least to do it accurately. Fans can try to rate wrestlers, but we can't do it accurately, and if we can't rate wrestlers accurately, why bother doing something which implies such precision as rating them in the first place? We can all have our favourites and our pet hates. But rating wrestlers is just silly, there's just no accurate way of doing it. Not even for other wrestlers. There's no scale. There's no standard. So let's not "rate" wrestlers because rate implies something much more precise than just picking our favourites. Not that there's anything wrong with picking favourites.

    Andrew Marrington, Brisbane, Australia, marrington@one.net.au

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