When you think of professional wrestling, and you stop smirking, you think of Dave Meltzer. Meltzer is arguably (and many would say inarguably) the most trusted voice in the world of pro wrestling reporting, specifically as the editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and WrestlingObserver.com and a writer for MMAFighting.com.
Meltzer appeared on the Sports Illustrated Media podcast with Richard Deitsch to talk about what’s going on in the world of the WWE. There’s certainly a lot of fantastic nuggets here for fans of pro wrestling but there was one statistic that he mentioned that stood out to us.
Wild stat from Dave Meltzer on @richarddeitsch podcast: Average age of WWE viewer from 97-01 was 23. Now, it’s in the 40s.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) August 31, 2016
If that’s true, there is a lot we can extrapolate from that.
It’s been hard not to notice that WWE TV ratings have been steadily declining for the better part of the last few years, seemingly hitting new lows every couple of months. There are positives here and there, but they seem to be the exception and not the rule. You can make a pretty clear correlation between the rise in average age of the WWE viewer and the decline in ratings and it makes you wonder how they’ll ever be able to reverse the trend (or if they’d rather start focusing on other things like their own network).
The company has been reporting record profits in recent years, so knowing that the ratings are declining and the average viewer is getting older, they must be thinking about the breaking point where that number creeps up towards 50. Does USA Network really want a show that only appeals to 50-year-olds? (No offense to 50-year-olds).
What’s really fascinating about those numbers is that it means the average WWE viewer peaked around 2000-2001 and then those viewers grew up continuing to watch while the younger generation zoned out. As much as the WWE has been pushing to attract a younger audience, and boy do they, it’s clearly not working anywhere near as well as they’d like.
It also speaks to the frustrations many of those average viewers have with WWE programming. That era when they peaked was the Attitude Era when the programming was geared towards being bloodier, sexier, and something closer to R. Compare that to the recent years, which are actually known as The PG Era.
From that, it makes you wonder. If The Attitude Era was when WWE pulled in the strongest young audience, and they haven’t been able to recreate that success as they’ve softened their product to some extent, why not try to go back to that? Why shy away from what worked so well and instead work overtime to get over with kids and teens? In a way, the WWE’s push to attract a young audience appears to have repelled them.
Meltzer himself probably sums it up best.
“The fanbase has changed. Some will argue for the best. Some will argue for the worst. And I think Vince [McMahon] has been very slow to change with it. There’s definitely been a disconnect between Vince and his fanbase in the last couple years. Vince thinks he knows best and the fans think they know best. I’m not sure who knows best…”
Those demographic numbers are probably the key to knowing who actually does know best. If they keep creeping up, clearly that hardcore, dedicated audience is trying desperately to tell Vince the undeniable truth that they’re going to stick with this product they love, so WWE might as well consider catering to them sooner or later.