The average age of wrestling fans has changed, and so has the average product. Photo by KD Ládví, Prague, Czech Republic on Unsplash.
By Daniel Diaz, Staff Writer
Sports entertainment can be a confusing subject for those who are not fans. It is the idea that a sport, like wrestling, has predetermined winners. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is the biggest company in professional wrestling, and they switched to sports entertainment as they let the world know, “Hey, what we do is staged.” Emphasis on staged. Many have a belief that everything wrestlers do is fake. While most storylines and punches are fake, you cannot fake falling through a table from 15 feet in the air. That pain is real.
Even so, why did college students stop watching wrestling? Was it the product itself being boring?
According to wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, the average age of viewership has doubled. A tweet sent out by reporter Chris Vannini of The Athletic informed his followers of Meltzer’s comments on a podcast he was on.
“Wild stat from Dave Meltzer on @richarddeitsch podcast: Average age of WWE viewers from 97-01 was 23. Now, it’s in the 40’s.”
This means that viewers who used to watch the product when they were younger still watch it now that they are much older adults. It could be for nostalgic purposes or just a pure love of the sport. It could also mean that these older viewers are watching it with their children or families now that the product is cleaner compared to previous years.
WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross spoke to Stone Cold Steve Austin on his podcast “The Steve Austin Show.” He said this has to do with WWE’s lack of reeling in new viewers.
“They lost interest, and nothing changed,” Ross said. “There was nothing new, nothing fresh and they lost interest. It was the same thing. I’m not knocking ‘Monday Night Raw’ but they are always going to get the first knock because they are the biggest dog in the yard.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, WWE viewership was at an all-time high. It was named the “Attitude” era and was filled with edgy content and bloody matches. Superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock were household names. What brought in new fans was the edge and crazy stunts they were allowed to get away with at the time.
The late 90’s ratings war with rival wrestling company WCW took the product to new heights; World Championship Wrestling (WCW) ended up being bought out by WWE. This ended the Monday Night War’s and left the direction of the company in question. WWE top guys were leaving one by one. The Rock went to make movies and Stone Cold left due to creative differences. What happens when your biggest names leave? What happens when you have no one to compete with?
The era following Attitude was named “Ruthless Aggression” led by superstars like John Cena and Batista. Vince McMahon challenged everyone in the locker room to grab the “brass ring” and lead the company into a new era. The Ruthless Aggression era had its share of company-changing issues, like the death of Chris Benoit and more problems with steroids. Because of this, they were forced to change a lot of rules. Chair shots to the head were not allowed to avoid concussions. Anti-drug and steroid use was enforced strictly.
As the rules changed for a safer work environment, WWE had to make a judgment call. They cannot do what they did in the past, and they are losing their former core audience because of it. Enter the “PG” era. Children have always been fans of wrestling regardless of era. Most of them are unaware it is fake and cling to their larger-than-life characters. WWE realized that kids would ask their parents to come to shows and buy pay-per-views. Kids will ask their parents to buy t-shirts, championship belts, and toys.
They made their product kid-friendly so the whole family could enjoy a wrestling show. No longer did parents have to avert their children’s eyes as the divas had a bra and panties match. Kids get entertained by new stars while parents reminisce and remember the old days of Macho Man Randy Savage and Razor Ramon.
This explains the new average age in the demographics. WWE’s ratings have fallen, and they are in a transition phase. John Cena, easily recognized as the current face of the product, has stopped being a full-time wrestler to pursue his acting career. He comes back every now and then much like the Rock does. With the top guy gone and even the Undertaker retiring, the company is looking for the new top guy. They have a lot of A- talent. They either have entertainers who cannot wrestle or wrestlers who cannot entertain. When they stumble upon the man who can do both, they will have their new big name who can carry them into the next era of wrestling.
For now, they are skating by with names like Drew McIntyre, Roman Reigns, and AJ Styles.
WWE now has its own streaming platform, the WWE Network. In more recent news, the company signed a five-year deal with Peacock who now owns the streaming rights to the WWE Network and its content, which Peacock will begin streaming on March 18.
The most recent pay-per-view to stream on the WWE Network was the 2021 Royal Rumble. The Rumble came and went on Jan. 31, and had its ups and downs. There were some great moments, like surprise returns from old-time favorites and entertaining championship matches. They were able to get Bad Bunny, one of the biggest names in music, to have multiple segments with different wrestlers.
Despite the language barrier with Bad Bunny speaking mostly Spanish, he delivered fresh and entertaining segments and performances throughout the night. On the flip side, we could see the holes in WWE’s production and why they are not having as much success. They buried talented wrestlers like Cesaro and Ricochet and every match had its share of botches and mistakes.
Whether WWE returns to its former glory, it is tough to say. This will depend on their creative direction and their talent. Whether or not the demographic changes and young adults begin keeping up with the product again is even harder to gauge. WWE needs to iron out their future plans soon. Competitors like All Elite Wrestling (AEW) smell blood in the water and believe a new top brand in wrestling should be introduced.