MR. TITO: Friday Nights are NOT Alright for WWE or AEW Television Shows

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During 1999, the Internet Wrestling Community was REJOICING at the fact that Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) had just signed a new Cable television contract with TNN (later became SpikeTV). Prior to that, ECW had no deals with any television channels and became popular based on word of mouth or from a late night Infomercial that they sent to various markets. Starting in 1997, ECW was trying to become a national wrestling promotion, much like WWE and WCW, and getting a channel on Cable television was the next step in that evolution. By 1999, ECW also had toys, a video game development deal, and Pay Per Views. The TV deal was supposed to catapult them to the top like WWE or WCW.

However, in my Mr. Tito’s Phat Daily Columns that I wrote back then (believe it or not, I began writing as Mr. Tito during October 1998 for Lords of Pain), I told the whole internet that this TV show would FAIL because it was on FRIDAY NIGHT. Why? Because of High School Sports and Friday Night being the primary Date Night for many couples. High School Football is played every Friday night (hence the book, TV, and movie called “Friday Night Lights”) and it’s usually the social event of the week for high school kids. Everybody attends football games, whether you are on the field or trying to score a date in the stands. Then, we transition into the Winter months and High School Basketball games are primarily played on Fridays as well. For many couples, they are working all week and Friday is their release… Friday night used to be the biggest timeframe for Theaters.

But nobody listened to the younger Mr. Tito back then… “ECW is in prime time, people will watch”. Oh, but they didn’t watch…

By the Summer of 2000, Viacom and TNN were ready to ditch their ECW contract after 1 year because a higher drawing wrestling promotion wanted to join their network. WWE moved from USA Networks to TNN that year which meant that ECW was out. However, had they been drawing on Friday night, maybe something could have been worked out?

Get this… ECW on TNN consistently drew above or slightly below 1 million viewers each week. That was considered a FAILURE during 1999-2000, even for a Friday night, and reportedly the show barely made TNN any money due to that viewership.

Think about THAT when discussing All Elite Wrestling (AEW)‘s viewership on a WEDNESDAY night… They consistently draw above or slightly below 1 million viewers. Oh, maybe ECW had a low 18-49 viewership? My bad…

FAST FORWARD to 2019… The Internet Wrestling Community was REJOICING at the announcement that WWE was going to finally air weekly on Network Television on FOX. “What great exposure for the WWE!”, the proclaimed. And then I saw the day of the week that their programs would air, FRIDAY NIGHT, and Old Man Tito wrote in his columns that Friday nights were for High School Sports and Date Nights. Of course, the WWE marks attacked me for even DARING to say that…

2 years into that TV deal, where are we with WWE Smackdown on FOX? Let’s see here… Consistently above or below 2 million per show. Now, while that might seem OK, the WWE marks were telling me that the WWE would GROW with this FOX deal. After all, FOX is available in 115 million households in the United States. Therefore, it should draw significantly more than Monday Night RAW on the USA Networks with its 85 million available Cable/Satellite households, right?

And before you start, don’t give me “watch it later on DVR” argument. WWE’s replay numbers from Cable/Satellite companies are DOWN in comparison to what they were during 2015. Their DVD numbers went from 400,000 to 500,000 per week to now being in a range of 300,000 to 400,000. I looked into the Hulu viewership and found that WWE shows aren’t even close to the top weekly show rankings. Then for YouTube, WWE officials quoted to the Observer that 70% of their video viewership is International, as WWE programming is often on premium cable channels in other countries.

Not to compare the WWE with the NFL, but Sunday Night Football on NBC (also available in approximately 115 million households) just drew almost 28 million viewers for its recent game between New England and Tampa Bay. Aside from that, this prime time game consistently draws double digits per game. Many other TV shows also draw double digit millions consistently as well. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT ON FRIDAY NIGHTS!!!

Now, we have AEW Rampage on LATE Friday Nights, with their secondary show starting at 10pm on TNT. Yeah, what a shocker, this show draws poorly… Most people are “delivering the goods” with their girlfriends or spouses by that time. For anyone to even compare AEW Rampage to Smackdown on Network TV or even try to thump their chest that it’s beating NXT is ridiculous. NXT is on Tuesday Nights where more households are available to watch television. On Fridays, PEOPLE ARE NOT WATCHING TELEVISION.

Furthermore, let’s get back into that DVR argument… So you go out for a Friday night and if you partied hard, you’ll be recovering on Saturday. But you might continue that partying for a Saturday and/or Saturday night as well. If you’re married, you know what Saturday is… You’re catching up on things around the house, going places with the wife, taking your kids somewhere… Maybe watching College Football? Then by Sunday, NFL Football is on. Oh, and you may attend Church on Sunday morning, too… When exactly are you going to find time to watch (a) 2 hours of WWE Smackdown and (b) 1 hour of AEW Rampage? Then, by Monday, oh crap, you have Monday Night RAW to watch along with freakin’ working during the day!

So, tell me again how the WWE expects to grow their fanbase by placing WWE Smackdown on FOX for Friday nights again? And remember, WWE has to fill an arena, too, with fans that are also interrupting High School Sports games that they could attend or dates that they could go on. Trust me, if you’re going to score later that night, you’re not taking her to a wrestling show, let alone a BAD one. You can make the argument, all you want, that “ladies like Roman Reigns”, but how excited will she be when it takes an HOUR to exit a freakin’ parking garage and then yet another HOUR to exit a city. Oh, and it’s not so easy getting to that arena, either, as traffic is always a nightmare. You’ll be exhausted from the evening by the time you get home.

Heading into this past WWE Draft, I was really wondering if the WWE was about to “abandon ship” for WWE Smackdown on FOX. Reportedly, the following issues came up regarding FOX executives communicating the following to WWE officials:

(a) Viewership for WWE Smackdown is lower than expected.
(b) For the WWE Draft, FOX did not want to lose Roman Reigns but they also wanted Charlotte Flair added.
(c) Kept asking about where is Brock Lesnar (he’s back now, but this has been going on for a while)
(d) FOX wanted CM Punk to be signed by the WWE.

If Roman Reigns went to RAW during the WWE Drafts, I was wondering if that would signify the “beginning of the end” for the FOX television deal. After all, there are reports that the WWE is looking deeper into STREAMING services ahead of the 2024 television deal expirations. Yes, that’s 3 years away, but these deals take years of planning to execute and negotiate. What WWE has to consistently show shareholders is long-term planning and how to maximize revenues available to them. However, Roman stayed on WWE Smackdown and that brand drafted Charlotte Flair as expected. Looks like WWE and FOX are going to try it one more year.

If Roman gets moved to RAW anytime over the course of this year or maybe during next year’s DRAFT, look out! Unless the WWE grows a star equal to Roman in the future (highly doubtful, as WWE is rebuilding its Talent Developmental), Roman is the guy on what WWE perceives is its top show. Keep an eye on that.

While the WWE is enjoying the $1 billion over 5 years that FOX rewarded them, in my opinion, they have limited their LONG-TERM grows by being on Friday nights. Where WWE significantly grew during the 1990s was with TEENAGERS, as it was cool to like Degeneration X, Stone Cold, the Rock, or other stars of the Attitude Era. Anytime what happens on a wrestling program is talked about in classrooms and during lunchtime, it’s a big win for the wrestling business. Those younger fans don’t have bills yet and will therefore use their disposable income to buy merchandise. WWE exploded in growth with younger viewers because their show not only appealed to them, but was conveniently on MONDAY NIGHTS for them to watch.

Now, however, according to this Forbes Article, “the median age of pro wrestling TV viewers jumped from 28 in 2000 to 54 in 2016”. How is that median age going to be helped by WWE Smackdown being on Friday Nights when much of the youth and the parents supporting that youth watching High School Sports? If you look at WWE Smackdown’s numbers, the back-end of the 18-49 demographic is heavier than the front-end. I would imagine the teenage demographic, if available on the ratings reports, would be very low for WWE Smackdown on Friday Nights.

Sure, WWE Smackdown will consistently score 2 million viewers. Congrats to them, but there are 115 million households available for FOX channels to air. There’s a reason why Networks avoid placing their top shows on Friday nights. There’s a reason why NBA Finals tries to avoid Friday nights, if humanly possible. The NFL doesn’t mind that none of their games air on Fridays… They are OK with it. It’s not just a thing to honor High School Sports, but they know that FRIDAY NIGHTS HAVE THE LOWEST VIEWERSHIP FOR THE ENTIRE WEEK!!!!

WWE won’t grow if their Flagship show is stuck on Friday nights, period. You’re asking your audience to stop socializing with other High School kids or sacrifice a big Date Night to attend or watch a WWE show live as it happens. Furthermore, watching DVR replays over a weekend is no simple task, either, as demand to watch a 2 hour show during a weekend isn’t always the desired thing to do.

Short-term, yes, the WWE is making $200 million per year to air on FOX. Long-term, they are missing out on reaching a younger audience with their programming because it airs on Friday Night.

AEW is wasting their time, as well, with AEW Rampage on Friday Night, especially with a stupid starting time of 10pm. You should try Saturday or Sunday mornings on TNT/TBS as a recap show with bonus matches added in… As a kid, I consistently tuned into WWE All American Wrestling on the USA Network during Sunday Mornings before NFL games came on. Think about that…

But hey, “those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it”, as George Santayana famously wrote during the early 1990s. Just like ECW couldn’t grow on Friday nights, WWE and AEW won’t grow on Friday nights.

And the data shows that people aren’t rewatching on DVR, Hulu, or YouTube either (remember, WWE projects that 70% of YouTube viewership is International).

As with everything, WWE goes for the short-term buck while being completely absent of long-term planning. They are missing out on generations of potential younger wrestling fans by airing their programming on Friday nights.

So just chill… Until the next episode!

Comments and feedback are welcome. Follow and Tweet me @titowrestling or login in below to post comments.



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