Originally published at Boom Goes the Demo: A major week in the history of All Elite Wrestling
DYNAMITE TOPS RAW IN 18-49
The major story coming out of this week is AEW Dynamite’s success for the first show following All Out. The show hit its second-highest figures in history, only behind the premiere in October 2019.
The immediate take is Dynamite’s ability to narrowly edge Raw in the 18-49 demographic. It could be a one-week result of multiple factors from Dynamite’s buzz of the pay-per-view, the first appearances of Bryan Danielson & Adam Cole on the show, and Raw assumes the top spot after one week.
However, there are many factors arguing that this is going to be a close race for the remainder of the year given Monday Night Football’s return and its impact on Raw. AEW has loaded up this month’s shows with the Prudential Center next week, its largest show ever on September 22nd at Arthur Ashe Stadium, its first show in Rochester on September 29th, and Philadelphia on October 6th where the show marks its two-year anniversary that week.
Typically, Raw gets hurt with the return of Monday Night Football. Last year, the drop for Raw was offset by the addition of the ThunderDome and it was an unusual period to gauge the impact that the NFL had on Raw when WWE was coming off a terrible run of numbers in the empty Performance Center. In 2019, the four episodes of Raw preceding Monday Night Football averaged 2,574,000 viewers and 2,296,000 for the first four shows against the NFL, or a drop of 10.8 percent. (Credit: Showbuzz Daily)
Raw has been very stable since the return of live audiences in July with an average of 1,879,000 viewers and 0.54 in 18-49 since July 19th as a baseline going into the season. Has Raw reached a foundational audience that will limit erosion with football? We know this isn’t rock bottom because that was achieved during the pandemic where the lack of real crowds sent Raw to its basement and did its lowest number of all-time this past July 4th with 1,472,000 viewers.
AEW is at a point where they have greatly grown its foundation and has not fallen under 975,000 viewers and 0.43 in 18-49 since July 7th. The 0.53 (681,000 viewers) they hit this past Wednesday is a lofty mark and sustaining that level sounds ambitious but it’s all in the booking and the dynamic of all these new players to program within the existing AEW universe that compels a lapsed or new viewer to find the show and stay engaged.
Where Raw still commands the lead is with its female audience where this week saw Raw top Dynamite in females 18-49 (279,000 to 197,000), females 18-34 (121,000 to 73,000), and females 35-49 (159,000 to 124,000). Raw also dominates with the 50+ audience and more than doubled that of Dynamite this week even though AEW has seen that demo grow. (Credit: Brandon Thurston, Wrestlenomics)
If AEW can accelerate growth among its female audience while maintaining this surge of male viewership coupled with Raw’s competition from Monday Night Football, it could be an exceptionally close race in the months to come.
In that vein, it’s natural to wonder if WWE will make any significant changes on Raw or feel the need to widen the gap. This past Monday was business as usual on Raw coming off the buzz of All Out.
On Monday, we spoke on Rewind-A-Raw about the next question and that is, what are WWE’s options? It’s not like snapping your fingers and having all these available ideas at your disposal. Short-term, WWE goes to the well often with bringing back legends for one night (although the ones that have made a difference were Hulk Hogan, Bill Goldberg, and Ric Flair and Flair is no longer there).
Raw is caught between its place as the #1 program on cable (that ended this past week with college football and won’t beat Monday Night Football) that has a reliable audience but it’s also a show that is exceptionally difficult to create new fans with. The buy-in of a three-hour program is a non-starter for most and my largest concern of the past few years is how WWE creates new fans? It is why SmackDown and NXT are valuable to serve as standalone products without a new viewer needing to keep up with Raw with an easier entryway with the shorter commitment along with SmackDown in so many more homes.
It’s very easy to argue that Raw has great numbers by the current standards of television and Nick Khan has more than enough ammunition to go out and negotiate a tremendous renewal for the program when those talks begin. It’s a trickier debate to come up with answers if you were given the mandate of growing Raw’s audience 10-15 percent over the next year. That would require foundational changes to the way the show is produced, how talent is presented and it’s hard to change your ways when you’re viewed and see yourself as, rightly, the industry leader and that your way is the “correct way”. It’s the danger of being so good that you fall short of being great. Creatively, the company is stifling but financially, the company is a monster at its most profitable point ever.
The next seventeen weeks represent an opening for AEW when Raw typically takes a hit and based on the recent moves, that is a major initiative by AEW to go full steam ahead this fall. From talent acquisitions, major programs taking shape, the size of arenas being booked, attacking the Northeast market and the media that accompanies that, and expanding with Rampage, this is a pivotal point in AEW’s history and everyone is looking for the incumbent’s response.