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AEW and WWE Ratings Report: CM Punk debut and post-SummerSlam RAW highlight strong week for pro wrestling

The big news

The second episode of AEW Rampage on TNT drew a higher rating in the 18–49 demo in AEW history than all shows except the debut episode of Dynamite. Monday Night RAW drew over two million viewers for just the third time this year for the post-SummerSlam edition of  the show and with Becky Lynch and Brock Lesnar set to return on tomorrow night’s episode of SmackDown on FOX, it’s a hot period in terms of wrestling ratings.

This week’s numbers

AEW Dynamite averaged 1,172,000 viewers on TNT, up 20.2% from last week. It was the highest viewership for the show since April 14th, which featured the advertised appearance of Mike Tyson. It was the third biggest audience in the history of the show. In the 18–49 demo, Dynamite topped all of cable television with a 0.48 rating. It was actually fourth overall on television, beating all but 3 shows on the broadcast networks, which have a much higher potential audience. They were up 37.1% in the demo from the previous week.

WWE NXT averaged 685,000 viewers for the TakeOver fallout episode of the show. That’s up 4.8% from the previous week. In the 18–49 demo, the show finished 25% on cable with a 0.16 rating. That up 6.7% from the August 17 show. This was the first of several shows that will not be live and the fact that spoilers were out did not seem to make much of a difference in the rating.

Monday Night RAW averaged 2.067 million viewers on the USA Network for the August 23 show. That’s up 11.3% from last week and  was the largest audience for the show since Legends Night on January 4. In fact, it was the second biggest viewership total since before the pandemic started. In the 18–49 demo, the show averaged a 0.64 rating, up 16.4% from the previous week. So, the audience skewed younger. That beat everything on cable with the exception of an NFL preseason game on ESPN and was third on all of television, also trailing Bachelor in Paradise on ABC. It was the third largest rating in demo so far in 2021 for RAW.

WWE SmackDown on FOX averaged 2.102 million viewers on August 20th. That’s up 0.9% from the August 13th show. Like last week, the show was pre-empted in a few major markets for NFL preseason football and the latter did big audience numbers. It likely cost SmackDown anywhere from 100,000-200,000 viewers overall. In the 18–49 demo, the show led all television with a 0.57 rating, down 1.7% from the previous week and barely ahead of Rampage, which aired immediately following the show.

AEW Rampage on TNT averaged 1.129 million viewers for the debut episode featuring the television return of CM Punk after seven-and-a-half years. Earlier this week, I went over those numbers in detail.  Not included in that article were the segment numbers, which are below, courtesy of Brandon Thurston of wrestlenomics.com.

As shown in the chart below, the increases/decreases over the ten-week average, prior to this week, are as follows:

AEW Dynamite was up 23.6% in viewers and 37.1% in the 18–49 demo. That includes two weeks where they were airing in alternate time slots due to the NBA Playoffs. When comparing to the ten most recent Wednesday night shows, they’re up 19% in viewership and 29.7% in the demo. Although a lot of people were expecting an even larger audience for this week’s show, those are impressive increases.

WWE NXT was up 5.2% in viewers and even in 18–49. These numbers would look even worse if you factored out the two weeks it was moved to SyFy. This is pretty much where the show is likely to be unless it drops even further with less focus on the show as competition for AEW and more as a developmental brand.

WWE RAW was up 19.4% in viewers and 33.3% in 18–49. These increases are compared to five weeks in the ThunderDome and the last five weeks with fans so the increases are pretty much due to the return to live audiences. It was still well above first show in an arena with an audience and a bigger than usual PPV bump.

WWE SmackDown was up 2.3% in viewers and 3.6% in 18–49. Like RAW, the last five weeks have featured the return of fans and likely are why the ratings are up. This coming week should be even higher with the returns mentioned above.

AEW Rampage, as compared to the average of the first week of the show and the 4 times Dynamite aired in the same time slot, was up 95.4% in overall viewers and 140.9% in 18-49. When looking at the detailed demographics, the really big increase in that show as compared to Dynamite in recent weeks are viewers in the 12–34 age range. And it’s reasonable to assume that it would be the younger portion of that demo (12–20) watching the show at 10 pm on a Friday night when the older viewers might be out for the night. That 12–34 audience was the only Dynamite audience that fell this week as compared to last.

Year-over-year numbers

AEW Dynamite was up 41.2% in overall viewers and 65.5% in 18–49. Unlike recent weeks, this is more of an apples to apples comparison as Dynamite aired unopposed last year, but on Thursday night. It still did well above what it had been averaging in both audience and the demo which was the first indication that a split in nights between the two shows might benefit Dynamite more than NXT in terms of potential audience. It’s the ninth straight week the show has had a double digit increase year over year in terms of overall audience.

WWE NXT was down 16.9% in viewers and 33.3% in 18–49. NXT had Wednesday to itself so this is a more fair comparison of where the show is at as compared to last year and it’s obvious the number is way down, which speaks to the popularity of the brand right now. It’s the second straight week of year over year declines for the show at a time when almost everything else in wrestling is up.

RAW was up 1.9% in viewers and 4.5% in 18–49. This was the first RAW in the ThunderDome that the show is being compared to and there was a slight increase for the first weeks out of curiosity until the NFL season started and numbers settled back in around the level they remained until the recent move back to touring.

SmackDown was down 4.4% in viewers but down 5% in 18–49. This is comparing to the very first ThunderDome show, which also featured the return of Roman Reigns after several months away from the company.

Ratings extra

Nothing much for this section this week but I thought it might be interesting to look at the demo numbers for this week’s Dynamite in more detail as referenced above.

The largest percentage increase for this week as compared to last was with women 18-49, which went from 0.20 to 0.29, a rise of 45%. But in women 18–34, the demo rating was the same 0.13 that it was last week. So, the increase in 18–49 was driven by women in the 35–49 age group.

Men in the same category were up 34% but men in 18–34 were actually down 17.2%, the only demo category that AEW dropped in from last week. So, again, the men 35–49 carried the 18–49 increase. Further evidence as to the older skewing age of this week’s Dynamite was the fact that 25–54 viewership was up 37.5% but 50+ was only up 10%.

This is very likely the audience that CM Punk is attracting, given his age and the length of time he’s been out of the spotlight. A few months back, I did an analysis of the major drops year over year for RAW over the last 22 years since WCW folded. The first period was 2000 to 2001 and again from 2001 to 2002 where Steve Austin turned heel and WCW died and millions of fans just stopped watching. The audience stayed steady and even grew slightly for several years until the Chris Benoit situation and there was another major drop that year. Again, RAW recovered and even grew and by 2013, the audience pretty much back to 2003 levels. Then from 2013 to 2014, there was another huge drop.

I had always attributed this drop to the start of the WWE Network and the over saturation of the product. But something else happened in 2014. CM Punk left WWE. It’s possible that many of his fans gave up on the product that time as well. The huge increases that AEW are currently benefiting from are further evidence of that thesis. It’s also why I think that the potential future additions of Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole may not have the same effect on ratings as the addition of Punk. But it might be enough to keep those fans from leaving wrestling again. And if that happens, the AEW vs WWE wrestling war may just tighten up over the coming months.

I’d like to encourage all of you to check out a podcast that airs on the Fight Game Media Network Patreon. Parker Klyn and I are co-hosting The Dynamite Show, a quick recap of AEW Dynamite. Parker also does the written Dynamite coverage for both this site and F4W Online, and this podcast is a nice companion to his work.

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