Voice Of Reason 11.3.00: Exodus

Wade Keller posted an interesting link on PWTorch.com a few days ago. In his report of the ratings, which saw Raw get a 4.9 to Nitro’s 2.5, Keller also linked the ratings report from May 2000, only six months ago. On that Monday Night, Nitro got the same 2.5 rating, but Raw’s was quite different.

On May 1, 2000, WWF Raw is War got a 7.1 cumulative rating.

In only six month, the WWF has seen its Monday night audience shrink from a 7.1 to a 4.9. In a quick mathematical analysis, that is a drop of 2.2 ratings points, or a staggering 31% loss.

In only six months, the WWF has seen it’s one third of its Monday night audience tune out.

Not to dwell on the Keller article, but in it he comments “the 9.1 overrun rating means it's feasible that if Steve Austin returns as part of a major angle, Raw could surpass the 10.0 ratings mark for the first time ever.” This wasn’t just Keller’s opinion, it was the consensus- the WWF was doing amazingly well.

Fast forward only six months, and with the returns of both Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker, the WWF is struggling to maintain a 5.0 rating, let alone popping a 10.0 rating for an overrun.

So what happened?

Diehard wrestling fans will stick around through just about anything. Witness the Nitro rating in the past six months. Sure it’s been a little higher, and dipped a little lower, but the fact that in perhaps the most tumultuous six month period in WCW history that they retained 100% of their audience from May to November speaks to the fact that diehard fans are here to stay.

On the other hand, a large portion of the WWF’s current audience are not diehard fans. They didn’t see Bret Hart’s title reigns, or Shawn Michaels as an active wrestler just three years ago. They jumped about the WWF bandwagon when it became cool. These “fad” wrestling fans are what get the WWF its mainstream attention.

There are enumerable advantages to padding your fanbase with fad fans. Through these people the WWF gets its SNL hosting appearance, its Playboy layouts and its major movie starring roles.

But as the WWF is finding out now, there are serious drawbacks. When the buzz of the fad is over, the fad fans leave. And they don’t leave in drips, they leave in a mass exodus. The same thing happened to WCW. It seems like all at once, the audience returns to the core wrestling fans that always are with the promotion.

Is that happening with the WWF now? Quite possibly. Unlike with WCW, the WWF didn’t do anything horribly wrong. But likewise they did very little to keep the fad fans thinking that the WWF was special. The Stephanie/HHH/Angle soap opera was so long and so drawn out that when the payoff came (HHH vs. Angle) it didn’t satisfy, and the fact that the angle still is ongoing with no end in sight shows that the WWF hasn’t learned.

Now it appears like McMahon is putting all his eggs in the Rock vs. Austin matchup basket. But do the fad fans want to see this matchup? Chances are that they were not around for Wrestlemania 15. Is there enough interest in a 5-month build to Rock vs. Austin? Is the end result of having one of them heel disastrous to the company? And if the fad fans leave even after this supposed dream match, is there any way to bring them back?

These are questions that are probably haunting Vince McMahon and his staff. In recent months, the WWF has almost gone full circle back to a traditional, conservative wrestling promotion, a far cry from the attitude-laden promotion from early 1999.

It’s ironic that the WWF’s attempt to re-interest the diehard wrestling fans by encorporating much more actual in-ring grappling will end up costing him the fad fans that maintain his billion dollar empire.

At this time next year, chances are that I will write a new Voice of Reason about how WCW can succeed again. And there is a good chance that many of 411’s readers will still be around. But a vast majority of the fad fans will be gone. And the WWF will once again be left scratching their head about what went wrong.

The exodus has begun once again.

And there’s nothing that can be done.