MR. TITO: Is Cody Rhodes to Blame for Post-Wrestlemania 40 Declines in Viewership and Attendance?

Do you remember just after Wrestlemania 40 when the WWE said they were going to adjust their televised sets for RAW and Smackdown to allow for more people to attend live shows? After all, WWE was seeing 15,000 people attending television episodes, especially when featuring the Rock. For example, on a few shows, you could actually see fans sitting around the wrestler entrance way which was the first time WWE shows did that in decades.

BUT that was short lived… WWE has brought back the larger entrance ways and that entrance way has been moved in, blocking off 1/4 of the arena again.

If you need a great X/Twitter follow, I’d advise following @WrestleTix. This guy follows live event attendance and provides updates on tickets available. Amazing service that I, as a numbers guy, very much appreciate.

Looking at the information presented by WrestleTix, I’m starting to see a decline in attendees of WWE shows. We went from pushing 15,000, to now trying to hang onto 10,000.

If you look at WWE’s viewership for RAW and Smackdown, they’ve come down to earth, too. RAW is back under 2 million and Smackdown is coming down to being flat just above 2 million.

Don’t give me the “NBA Playoffs” or “NFL Draft” excuse, as NFL Draft was down 3% this year and the NBA Playoffs are way down compared to what they were just 5 years ago, let alone 25 years ago when a certain Michael Jordan existed or hell 20 years ago when Shaq/Kobe ruled the NBA. The NBA’s television viewership has declined so much and I’m seriously laughing at Comcast/NBC/Universal for legitimately wanting to pay $2.5 billion per year for airing NBA games. NBC overpaying for the NBA could ruin TNT’s awesome coverage of the NBA and end the great “Inside the NBA” that has seriously kept this league alive during its darker years of “Load Management” and lack of bigger stars compared to previous years.

What’s driving the WWE decline? Well, Rock and Roman Reigns aren’t there. Rock showed up on the RAW following Wrestlemania 40, while Roman hasn’t been on any WWE shows since Wrestlemania 40. For all we know, neither man is scheduled to be on WWE television anytime soon. Furthermore, Seth Rollins had knee surgery and he’ll be out for a while. In my opinion, Seth Rollins doesn’t get enough credit for carrying the RAW brand on his back and making the World Heavyweight Championship title seem credible.

And that leaves Cody Rhodes, WWE Champion on the Smackdown brand as pretty much the top star of the promotion. And he’s really not left to work with that much, as his first PLE opponent is an older AJ Styles who has told people that he’s close to retirement. With due respect to AJ Styles, but Cody deserves a stronger opponent. This feels like Chris Benoit, Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins after they won the World Title at Wrestlemania. What, was Kane not available for Cody Rhodes to wrestle?

On RAW, we have Drew McIntyre and CM Punk. Both guys are injured, and thus cannot wrestle at the moment… But screw it, just let both guys ramble on the microphone. Honestly, and this is what AEW has YET to figure out, is that wrestling’s growth has been as a result of non-wrestling stuff getting better and not the in-ring stuff. Compare the promo work of 2020-2024 versus 2015-2019. It’s REMARKABLY different, folks. The second the WWE gave Roman Reigns some creative freedom on the mic, things improved greatly and then anybody feuding with him had freedom, too. Grew from there.

So yeah, we’re declining after the BIGGEST Wrestlemania of all time… But we shot upward because of that event. If you take out this “Wrestlemania 40” event from the data, WWE during late April and early May 2024 looks very similar to data seen through late 2023. Things were steadily increasing as Roman and the Bloodline were compelling, more wrestlers were elevated, and younger wrestlers began receiving opportunities through late 2023 anyway. The Rock becoming a regular character just flipped the model on its head, as his interactions with Roman, Seth, and Cody were huge.

Let’s be honest, Cody isn’t the WWE’s biggest draw. He’s just not, as HEEL Roman Reigns with Paul Heyman at his side pulled the WWE out of the COVID-19 timeframe along with the horrible late 2010s WWE. Reigns and the Bloodline put butts back in seats, saved Smackdown from declining below 2 million, and re-established merchandise sales after years of decline.

In my view, and I explained this logically in my columns repeatedly, Cody Rhodes benefitted from WWE fans liking him for ditching AEW as an EVP and for wanting to win the WWE Title for his deceased father Dusty. Well, it’s been 2 years since he bolted from AEW (they’ve gone downhill since) and by winning the WWE Title, the chase is over. Now what?

Well, Pro Wrestling takes a village. That’s what needs to be truly said about this industry.

While Hulk Hogan is arguably the biggest star in modern pro wrestling, look at who was around him during the 1980s WWE and then 1990s WCW. Hogan feuded with Roddy Piper, Mr. Wonderful, King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, and the Ultimate Warrior during the “Hulkamania” era. Then, he teamed up with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to form the New World Order to feud with the likes of Macho Man, Roddy Piper, Sting, Lex Luger, etc. Meanwhile, both the 1980s WWE and 1990s WCW had LOADED midcards of great wrestlers feuding over secondary titles and deep tag team divisions.

Steve Austin was great for WWE, but why didn’t “Stunning” Steve Austin draw in WCW? He was there throughout the early 1990s. No, he had major support from WWE management and tremendous players as opponents ranging from Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Mick Foley, Triple H, and the Rock while having Vince McMahon has a heel boss villain. The Rock had that same talent around him. WWE’s midcard was LOADED and had great tag team wrestling, too.

I would argue that after 2002, the Ohio Valley Wrestling “Class of 2002” helped carry things together (Orton, Cena, Batista, & Lesnar) combined with the remnants of the Attitude Era (Edge, Triple H, Undertaker, etc.). As the late 2000s wore on, many of those performers stepped back while John Cena was still firmly on top. That’s why I appreciate John Cena more than most, as I felt he really carried the WWE from 2010-2014. WWE was too dependent on him, hence why houseshow and merchandise numbers dropped when he wasn’t full-time any longer. During the 2010s, WWE declined, especially without Cena. Why? Besides Brock Lesnar, nobody had drawing power to replace Cena and furthermore, WWE let their midcard and tag division go to complete crap.

I don’t think Cody Rhodes can do it alone, as he’s NOT John Cena though he can fill that babyface void for Make-A-Wish, other charitable organizations, and appearances. Many WWE fans will come back by SummerSlam 2024 once Rock and/or Roman Reigns returns. I wouldn’t panic if I were WWE or wrestling fans. WWE will be just fine, and most will patiently wait Rock and Roman to return because Royal Rumble to Wrestlemania 40 was SO DAMN GOOD this year that it’s worth the wait. But context needs to be understood that Cody isn’t the superdraw kind of wrestler, but he’s a great complementary one for the likes of Rock or Roman.

I really think WWE needs Roman Reigns back, in particular. The guy makes everyone around him better, and that’s definitely a skill taught OR unlocked in him by Paul Heyman. Anyone who became a Bloodline member has thrived since 2020. Any opponent who has wrestled Roman since August 2020 has received a great match AND they were stronger afterward. Roman truly has become a modern day Ric Flair, who made boosted his fellow Horsemen members while making every opponent look great and with a belief that they could actually defeat the champion. Roman is that good, and I’d strongly argue that he made the Rock exceptional too. Rock isn’t this “final boss” without being in the Bloodline, period.

IN THE MEANTIME, this Spring and Summer should be the time WWE pushes newer stars rather than recycling the same old names at the top. Bron Breakker, Carmelo Hayes, Ilja Dragunov, Solo Sikoa, Dominik Mysterio, Logan Paul, Gunther, and many others should be getting pushed and tested to see if they can step up. WWE has lots of late 30s, early to mid 40s guys on their roster right now who own the top spot. If you’re going to keep growing, you HAVE to push some of the younger stars to top positions. And if younger wrestlers get to achieve something, then future athletes will see that and want to join the WWE too…

So yeah, Cody Rhodes couldn’t sustain 2.5 million viewers on Smackdown or 15,000 in attendance… But 2.1 million and 10,000 in attendance is pretty good. Furthermore, the Rock inflated numbers to those absurd heights this year. He became intoxicated with becoming a WWE superstar again and had fun with it, may have just delivered the BEST work of his career. Seriously…

THIS is what All Elite Wrestling (AEW) needs to realize, too… They need to produce their own homegrown guys or push guys acquired from a smaller system (like MJF) that they can claim as their own. We’ve seen Okada and Ospreay in New Japan already, while Mercedes was Sasha Banks in WWE for years. We’ve seen the best of Edge… Do ya got any more wrestlers like Wardlow whom we didn’t see elsewhere? AEW needs more of those guys who haven’t been a star elsewhere. AEW should be led by MJF and Wardlow among other wrestlers who may be considered “homegrown”, while being complemented by free agents or other veterans. Instead, AEW is too dependent on its veterans and ex-WWE stars of which we’ve already seen their prime years.

Cody can’t do it alone, and I just don’t think AJ Styles is that post-Wrestlemania answer. If Cody fails as a WWE Champion this year, it’s because 2 top stars vanished after Wrestlemania 40 and WWE didn’t have a good action plan for him initially as champion. The post-Wrestlemania opponents matter to firmly establish the champion as a credible champion. Otherwise, their win at Wrestlemania is deemed a fluke or a failed attempt at making a main eventer.

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