As we know in life, the popularity of something is not always directly correlating with its quality – populism is rarely a true reflection of the state of things in art, culture, sport, and so on. But sometimes the numbers really do matter, and in the new battle for TV dominance between WWE and AEW, the gap does appear to be narrowing. For so long, the WWE has had things their own way – the best part of two decades, in fact, since the implosion of WCW. Impact Wrestling tried to make inroads into that monopoly but simply did not have the clout nor the roster of talent to really make any great strides on that front.
However, AEW is different. They have the financial backing of the Khan family, and a pretty happy knack for signing talent that is both popular with the fans and that delivers in the ring – CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, and Jon Moxley are just three such examples. Tony Khan, the figurehead for AEW, has the gift of the gab and a knack for marketing his product – something that the increasingly-prehistoric Vince McMahon struggles with.
While Khan knows the worth of action figures, t-shirts, and even beach towels, he has cast his net wider. There is even a new casino site bearing the AEW branding, sitting alongside other online gaming hotspots offering slot games, roulette, blackjack, and the like. The AEW Casino: Double or Nothing is available in the App Store, and features weekly tournaments and challengers, as well as an instant messenger function to chat about wrestling, gaming or anything else for that matter.
The wrestling business constantly changes, sometimes for better, sadly sometimes for worse. I believe @AEW’s done much more good than bad for wrestlers + fans in our few years as a company, which was my day 1 goal. Please join us TONIGHT 10pm ET/9pm CT for #AEWRampage LIVE on TNT— Tony Khan (@TonyKhan) November 6, 2021
The point is that Khan is smart when it comes to promoting the AEW brand, and canny when it comes to his acquisition of in-ring talent… and it’s beginning to show in the never-ending battle for TV ratings with WWE’s flagship shows.
Laying the SmackDown
In little over two years since making their TV debut, AEW is eating into a huge slice of WWE’s ratings pie. The latter’s SmackDown franchise continues to lead the way in the ‘Friday night wars’, with 866,000 tuning into the WWE broadcast (data from October 2021) as opposed to 578,000 for AEW’s Rampage. But what is perhaps most telling is that in the key 18-49 age demographic, SmackDown defeated Rampage by just 1,000 viewers – and when the two shows overlap at 10 pm, it’s actually AEW who take the lead in the 18-49 category with 328,000 viewers to 285,000.
Of course, it should be noted that this is something of a temporary measure – Fox, SmackDown’s usual home, has been covering the MLB’s World Series and so the WWE programming has been shifted to the less-watched FS1 channel.
#WWE vs. #AEW Ratings | 10/29/21 #SmackDown Total Viewership—1,032,000— Alfred Konuwa (@ThisIsNasty) November 1, 2021
SmackDown 18-49 Viewership—373,000 (0.29 rating) #AEWRampage Total Viewership—623,000
AEW Rampage 18-49 Viewership—320,000 (0.25 rating)
Solid numbers for both shows this past Frihttps://t.co/aCLoagPHfX
So, the numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that SmackDown regularly gets more than two million tuning in on Fox, but isn’t it interesting that the viewership didn’t tune in to the FS1 showing? While that channel is not as readily available across the US, it still has coverage in around 80 million homes, according to the figures from Nielsen.
It would be a fair conclusion to suggest that a large percentage of WWE fans are those that have grown up with the brand, and who have continued watching its flagship shows through thick and thin. But AEW seems to be attracting a new, younger audience – eschewing the ‘sports entertainment’ branding of its nemesis and instead focusing solely on the in-ring action.
And, according to the viewing figures, it’s a stance that is working for them very nicely indeed.