By Lvke Joseph
Who cares about ratings? This question is thrown around often in wrestling discussions. Most times the inquirer’s disposition is that fans should not care about the television ratings for a wrestling program and simply watch and enjoy the show. I see this type of thinking most in fans that feel very defensive about their favorite promotion. It used to be the TNA loyalists defending the 1.5 rating for years and now, with the record low ratings for WWE shows, the above argument has been adopted by the WWE faithful. To their point, a person should be able to watch a program and decide for themselves if they were entertained. I agree that the viewer should not need to review the ratings to make that decision. However, making your own decision about your taste and taking an interest in the ratings aren’t mutually exclusive. Who cares about the ratings? I do, and you should too.
Why? Because WWE said you should. Let me backtrack a little; when I was growing up watching Monday Nitro and the occasional RAW there was no mention of a ratings war. In fact, while there was obvious competition between the companies, there was no mention of a “Monday Night War.” At least not among the marks. That moniker was coined in 2003 when the WWE released The Monday Night War DVD. This DVD went into great detail about the ratings battle and told the fans that television ratings matter. The WWE has gone in even greater detail since, with their release of The Rise and Fall of WCW DVD, and the WWE network series The Monday Night War. One might argue that these were historical documentaries and should be thought of differently than the television product. To that I would refer to just earlier this year, when Seth Rollins blamed Barron Corbin for the slumping ratings in a promo live on RAW in the middle of the ring. There you have it folks, TV ratings are kayfabe. So before you blame the “dirt sheets,” just remember that the Nielsen ratings are officially canon.
Honestly, I think the above reason is all the explanation you need. Kayfabe supersedes all things. That said, there are reason why I personally care about the ratings. Like investing. I like to invest in the stock market. When I look for an investment, I like to look at the companies of products I use regularly. Warren Buffet says to invest in companies you understand. One of the things that is unique to the wrestling business is how easy it is to see how a company is operating. WWE is a publicly traded company with an 80% buy and a 0% sell rating on Robinhood. This sounds like a no brainer when it comes to investments, but with ratings, house show attendance, merchandise sales, network subs, and PPV buys all trending down and a share price-drop of $35 dollars from the 52-week high, the stock may not be as good as it looks. These things are all determining factors when looking at buying shares in WWE. I don’t want to deter anyone from buying WWE stock. If you pay for the WWE network for a year you are spending more than the cost of a WWE share, so it might be worth your while, and it pays dividends. My point here is- don’t just get upset when you hear wrestling journalists like His Holiness Dave Meltzer report on the numbers, use that information.
Beyond those two reasons, it is important to understand that wrestling is a niche and when people find a niche, often they want to learn as much as possible and grow an understanding with great depth. Ratings can show you trends over time and how different demographics change. This is all part of the rich history of wrestling. When I look back at wrestling history, I want to learn more than just the storylines at the time and what happened bell to bell. I want to know how many people came to see Buddy Rogers! How many times did Bruno Sammartino sell out Madison Square Garden? How quickly did WCW run off fans? These are all fascinating parts of wrestling’s history, and following the weekly ratings lets you experience this in real time. Admittedly, this is not a reason for you the reader to care about ratings, but with this in perspective, I don’t think we should begrudge the fans who do. Wrestling is the combination of reality with entertainment, and so whether it’s ratings or Raw results, it all goes in the record book.
Those are some rock-solid reasons right there I must say. I am sure there will still be those that will continue to disregard the weekly ratings and that is okay. I will continue to keep track of the ratings and further build my understanding of financial as well as cultural trends in wrestling because wrestling is a beautiful lens through which to view the world of business. So, if not for your own financial understanding or viewing pleasure, then for kayfabe, you should care about ratings.