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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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, email@example.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
Don Stradley, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com