AEW Collision debuted last Saturday night on TNT with significant hype behind it. The enigmatic CM Punk returned and was tabbed for the main event. Also, AEW Women’s Champion Toni Storm appeared in tag team action, international superstar Andrade wrestled, and the TNT Championship was on the line.
That amounted to 816,000 viewers on Saturday night for their debut edition. ShowBuzzDaily had them ranked #3 on cable television in the popular P18-49 demographic, ranking behind the College World Series and UFC Fight Night, both on ESPN, at 0.33.
The number is a pretty strong one in a vacuum. Saturday nights traditionally don’t always bring in extensive viewership. For example, only four shows ranked in the Top 50 on Cable on Saturday night topped 1,000,000 viewers. It’s not a great night on TV, so the fact that they brought in that audience is good.
The number they drew suggested a few things. Some of them are good, while others may indicate some worry or at least some questions.
In 2023, the average viewership for AEW Dynamite, the company’s flagship show, is roughly 882,888. They’ve recently seen an uptick, as no show has fallen below 814,000 since May 3. Their average in the P18-49 demographic has been approximately 0.30. This week, the show reportedly averaged 902,000 going into the Pay-Per-View this weekend, a number over its average.
So, in other words, the Collision debut essentially pulled an audience slightly below their average on Wednesday nights. You can frame this as a positive thing for the company. AEW has made an effort to find its hardcore fans. For almost four years now, they have found success doing that. Whether it’s been trying to find fans tired of WWE or a band of loyalists they had from the start, they’ve certainly held firm to their audience. The fans have stuck with them and, by and large, have no plans to leave either.
But this is where the line of demarcation with AEW and its goals, perceived or otherwise, always begins to appear. You can certainly say that it’s a positive that they pulled in their average audience for the new show. The counterpoint is that new shows have a different shine to them. They are familiar with this, as the debut edition of Dynamite averaged 1.4 million viewers. Rampage drew 740,000 its first week, then 1.129 million the following week for Punk’s return to a wrestling ring.
Since then, though, it’s been hard for the company to maintain those kinds of audiences every week. So Collision, mostly running unopposed on Saturdays until the fall, has its work cut out. You wonder, now, what next week looks like.
For starters, it’s hard to ignore that AEW’s main competition is red-hot. WWE Raw and Smackdown are pulling in substantial audiences, with their numbers up from 2022. Then a funny thing happened on Tuesday night: WWE NXT, the company’s developmental brand, pulled in its biggest audience since April 2021. The show drew 778,000 viewers and a demo mark of 0.23, which according to ShowBuzzDaily, ranked 2nd on cable TV.
A special World Heavyweight Championship match between super prospect Bron Breakker and fan-favorite Seth Rollins highlighted the show. According to Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics, by way of the Wrestling Observer’s Bryan Alvarez, the match peaked at 950,000 viewers.
According to Brandon Thurston, Seth vs. Bron peaked at 950,000 which is huge for NXT
— Bryan Alvarez (@bryanalvarez) June 22, 2023
Rollins is one of the most popular WWE wrestlers, so it is no shock that he helped deliver a massive audience for the show. Lately, that show has also been making more considerable inroads, though the average is still well below that big number they drew.
Wrestlenomics, a popular wrestling website that tackles television ratings, shows that AEW’s TV numbers have gone through a poor trend. Dynamite ratings are down 7 percent year-over-year from Q2 2022, and Rampage is down 15 percent from Q2 2022.
WWE NXT on USA Network, Tuesday (8-10:08pm):
P18-49 rating: 0.23
#2 in P18-49 among cable originals for Tue
Dark Side of the Ring on VICE (10-11pm):
P18-49 rating: 0.07
#57 in P18-49 among cable originals for Tue
— Wrestlenomics (@wrestlenomics) June 22, 2023
The show’s decline in viewership may be attributed to CM Punk’s disappearance. But other factors have remained that have hung over the television shows. Creatively speaking, the company has probably had better runs than the one they’ve been on these last few months. Punk resurfacing helped boost Dynamite’s audience this week from last week’s, as it went over 900,000 viewers. That is an early positive; make no mistake.
But a particularly glaring issue for AEW this year continued again this week. WWE has AEW beat significantly in one department in 2023: Female viewership.
It’s a point often not discussed and something that far too many people simplify. From a rating perspective, it’s because of a lot of fascination over the P18-49 numbers. But it hasn’t even been close when you look at Dynamite to Raw – two flagship wrestling programs on cable – in the F18-49 demographic.
Dynamite has averaged 0.18 in the F18-49. Monday Night Raw, meanwhile, has averaged 0.38, more than double AEW’s number (Collision did just 0.19 in this category on Saturday, although that placed them second on cable). 17 times this year, Raw has at least doubled that number, sometimes it completely soaring over. A specific case: the Raw after WrestleMania hit an average of 0.51 in the F18-49 demo to AEW’s 0.18. The following week, Raw averaged 0.4 in this category. Dynamite posted just a 0.16.
In the future, if AEW wants Collision to be a true, proper mainstay, they will almost certainly have to try and address that. They can get all the attention from their predominantly male fanbase all that they want to. Pulling numbers like that weekly will look impressive on a night with little opposition. However, if the goal is “Aim higher,” then they should shoot for the skies and attack all their weaknesses. On a week-to-week basis, this has been their biggest weakness so far compared to Raw in 2023.
WWE has done much to cater to its female fanbase over the years. And it’s not all just adding women to the card, either. Whatever you might think, Raw has rarely wavered from its numbers in that category this year. So increasing female viewership is probably for the best for all involved at AEW if they want to see their early losses dissipate. Or so you’d think.
In all, it’s not to say that AEW can’t get hot. They have held their own, and anything can happen. They could again now that Punk is back. And to their credit, they are holding their own right now. Although they’ve seen these worrying trends, WBD gave them a new show. Suppose they’re simply in it to maintain themselves as the “alternative” wrestling company. In that case, they’re doing a great job of it (Although that becomes an issue if the glaring weakness is lacking in 50 percent of the human population, of course). They got all this way by doing what they’ve done now. So in their minds, this weekend reads as a success.
As AEW’s fourth birthday came and went last month in Vegas, you wonder if attempts to grow will be made. They’re doing exactly what’s expected of them in 2023. And they seem plenty okay with that also. If that’s the case, that’s fine. But chasing the dragon will still need to require lots of heavy lifting. Especially if their F18-49 numbers compared to WWE are any indication. And if their numbers, year-over-year, slip as they do. Even precipitously.
Collision and the ensuing Dynamite numbers gave an instant reason for gratification for AEW. If Collision wants to be labeled a success, that continues, and they put on a compelling show week-to-week that people want to see.
But overall, AEW must truly carve out what they want with Collision, Dynamite, and on the whole, if they want to take the next step. They have established themselves and their footing. Will that be enough? We’ll find out.