Henry: It Pays To Skip Raw And Watch Monday Night Football

PWMania reports that the ratings for WWE Raw once more scraped porcelain, hitting low at a 2.35. While that’s up from last week’s even worse 2.32 showing, it still...

PWMania reports that the ratings for WWE Raw once more scraped porcelain, hitting low at a 2.35. While that’s up from last week’s even worse 2.32 showing, it still marks the first time since April 7 and 14, 1997 that Raw finished with ratings below a 2.4 in consecutive weeks. At that point in time, the then-World Wrestling Federation was seeking the antidote for ten straight months of weekly losses in the ratings to a red-hot WCW Monday Nitro.

The eventual written history is well-documented: Raw went into a Hogan-esque Superman comeback, overachieving to the tune of ratings in the sixes and sevens while Nitro, as an extension of a fizzling WCW, whittled down into the low twos before its cancellation in early 2001. Vince McMahon had won the Monday Night Wars, though by year’s end, Raw would creep down into the high-threes in the wake of waning fan interest.

The wrestling fad was dying, and no amount of shock value (simulated necrophilia, a gay wedding) or any new generation avatar (John Cena, Randy Orton) would volley those numbers back to their staggering heights.

Even today as WWE further corners the market on wrestling’s past, present, and future—casting of legends, a streaming Netflix-style service in its second year, and a world class talent development program called NXT—the audience on Monday nights is tuning out at an alarming rate. The year 1997 is no longer invoked by fans solely out of wistfulness; it’s now referred to as the answer to the question, “When was the last time Raw ratings were this bad?”

The current dip in the ratings coincides with an annual nuisance for WWE, that being Monday Night Football. As both wrestling and the NFL share a large number of fans, it’s understandable that they would migrate toward football on Monday nights in the fall, since the regular season only encompasses a third of the calendar. By the time the playoffs begin, wrestling owns Mondays again, and holds more audience attention en route to the annual Royal Rumble.

As it stands, the first four episodes of Raw in 2015 that went head to head with MNF averaged a dismal 2.39 rating. That’s down from a 2.79 average against the first four MNF games in 2014. In other words, Raw ratings have dropped 14.3 percent from 2014 against the first quarter of ESPN’s NFL coverage. No way that happens if Raw is still a show worth watching, right?

From Brandon Stroud at Uproxx’s With Spandex to Scott Keith at the Blog of Doom, all the way to the frequenters of Reddit’s Squared Circle section, to even a handful of my writings for Fighting Spirit Magazine, countless scribes have voiced their issues with WWE’s lackluster creative—a shift toward superficial self-marketing and hollow corporate alliances—and their apparent unwillingness to listen to an increasingly vocal, and disappointed, fan base. To pile on any more about those bullet points specifically would be pointless regurgitation, and the very definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over, blah blah blah).

Instead, it’s time to introduce a new wrinkle to explaining the ratings plummet, one that was right under my nose the entire time, but I required the help of a random Twitter follower to fully realize. A fellow at @dfs_knights simply pointed out to me the rise of daily fantasy football as an add-on to an already-popular football experience.

If you’ve turned on a TV at all in the past month, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of DraftKings and FanDuel through their incessant advertising. If you’re unfamiliar with the services, they’re a form of gambling that allows anyone to plunk down their money (anywhere from $1 to hundreds or thousands, depending on the game, though it’s mostly low-end) and set a fantasy football line-up (other sports are available to play, but football is their respective money maker) in order to compete against thousands of other players. Grand prize winners could net a million dollars on any given Sunday, while thousands of participants stand to come away with at least $10-12 for low-end games, essentially participation trophies with actual value.

Speaking from experience, I won $60 last season on a FanDuel game with a $25 entry free. This year, I’ve netted $10-15 each on a handful of NFL and MLB games, while coming away with nothing in a number of others. It has addictive potential, and even worse for WWE, it’s all too engrossing for the consumer.

In the NFL’s third week, I made $10 playing a five-dollar fantasy football game where you could only choose players from two games: the Sunday nighter on NBC and the Monday nighter on ESPN. I’m an Eagles fan, but that didn’t stop me from eschewing Raw to watch the Packers and Chiefs rack up touchdowns in a fairly high-scoring game, with the five players I selected in that outing (Aaron Rodgers and James Jones for the Packers; Jamaal Charles, Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce for the Chiefs) running up my point totals until I managed to come away with some money. Had Lions kicker Matt Prater actually netted me some points the night before, I would have likely earned even more cash.

Now, if you’re any sort of football fan and you have potential to earn some cash by being smart (and lucky), wouldn’t you play? DraftKings and FanDuel have enhanced televised professional football even more than playing regular fantasy football with your buddies had done previously. Regular fantasy makes a player interested in games he’d otherwise have no interest. Daily fantasy for money enhances that further for the obvious reasons.

To the football/wrestling fan that could care less about the Seahawks or the Lions (the combatants this past Monday night) if neither is their team, they’re definitely skipping Raw now if there’s potential windfall coming their way. There’s also the chance you could come away with nothing, as I did this past Monday night (curse Calvin Johnson and Russell Wilson’s lost fumbles!). It’s frustrating, it’s nerve-wracking, and it comes with the risk of addiction if you’re not careful.

It’s also engrossing. A three-hour Raw with matches building a secondary PPV three weeks from now (with a 48-year-old upper-midcarder in a two-decade-old gimmick getting a World Title match) doesn’t even compare to the sudden symbiotic connection I have with my TV when I’m screaming at Matthew Stafford to hand Ameer Abdullah the freaking ball.

I can’t say for sure that the 14.3 percent drop is all compulsive gamblers kneeling before their televisions, praying for a life-changing endowment from the actions of complete strangers in cleats. But given the stronghold and reach of DraftKings and FanDuel’s advertising (DraftKings spends into the nine figures on commercials and sponsorship alone), anyone that watches five minutes of NFL action knows who they are. DraftKings also advertises through WWE; you’ve probably seen the Bella Twins promote them in a commercial on WWE Network, a way to convert fairweather fans into giddy customers.

What is undeniable is that football is now boosted with a lucrative and exciting second-screen experience, and it has something that WWE is sorely lacking today: a spellbinding hold over the remote-wielding consumer. Until one of Randy Orton’s RKOs-outta-nowhere could potentially pay somebody’s electric bill or put them in their dream house, the half-baked stories on Raw cannot hold a candle to something that can truly affect a consumer.

Follow Wrestledelphia.com columnist Justin Henry on Twitter .

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  • Cross Examination: Combating The WWE Ratings Drop | Wrestledelphia
    10 October 2015 at 12:11 PM
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