There’s no doubt that the WWE is not the pop-culture phenomenon it used to be. Over the last decade the company has taken on PG rating for its programming which has had a quite damning effect on the product. In its heyday WWE’s flagship show Monday Night Raw drew huge numbers of viewers with its peak coming in May 1999 with an 8.1 rating on the Nielsen Ratings charts. That kind of rating seems like a distant memory now and when compared with the ratings of today’s product shows you just how far the company’s stock has fallen in the eyes of their audience.
Last December Monday Night Raw recorded its lowest rating ever as it came in at a poultry 2.1 rating on the Nielsen Ratings chart. There are many reasons for this loss of viewership for the WWE but the product’s hardcore fans will point to the PG rating as the overriding factor. During the company’s much lauded “attitude era” of the late 90’s and early noughties the company’s programming was a much more adult orientated product. The popularity of the product was grounded in the adult storylines and violent nature of the product. The company took this direction as they were in a ratings war with Ted Turner backed WCW as the two fought it out to see who would be the most dominant wrestling company in the world.
This competition took WWE to the apex of the wrestling world as Vince McMahon, CEO of WWE, bought WCW in March 2001. However, seemingly from this point on the company took its foot off the gas as the lack of competition has made the company complacent. More and more the company has gone away from the adult storylines and content as they have been looking to make the product more family-friendly. Thus in the summer of 2008 the company transitioned all its programming to a PG rating.
While the company may say they are catering for a bigger audience as they are looking to entice all the family with their new product the numbers don’t lie. Since the inception of the PG era for the company ratings for their two major weekly shows Raw and SmackDown have been plummeting. The family-friendly product has turned away the casual viewer and it could be said that a large part of that audience has drifted towards the UFC. While many within the company will point to the recent upsurge in popularity in women’s wrestling as Wrestle Mania 35 held the first ever woman’s main event for the show to the casual viewer this just highlights the lack of star-power within the company.
In the eyes of the casual viewer there are no stars anymore. Gone are the days of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock as the company has not been able to produce a mega star like them since. This lack of star quality has meant that the company has very much relied on guest appearances from returning stars such as The Rock and Stone Cold as the current crop of talent is failing to get over with the audience in the same vein as the old stars did. The company are instead constantly trying to force the likes of John Cena and Roman Reigns down its audience throats which has drawn much scorn from the WWE universe. This is a major problem for the product as the company can only rely on nostalgia for so long.
The PG rating may have its benefits for the company but it is coming as a detriment to the talent pool. The family-friendly rating for the product has creatively stifled the wrestlers in the company and thus they are struggling to connect with the audience. The days of outlandish storylines are gone and for anyone watching the product it seems to have become quite stale with one meaningless match after another with very little thought in terms of narrative. Thus, if the product wants to hit the heights of the “attitude era” and reclaim their audience they will inevitably have to ditch the PG rating or else their ratings will continue to plummet. For more information regarding WWE events visit wwe.com.