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Do the Olympics affect pro wrestling ratings? It’s not what you think

With fans back after 16 months of mostly empty arena shows, television ratings for pro wrestling shows are now on the upswing for the first time in years. Right after the fans came back, the Olympics began, and it was feared that network coverage of the Olympics would do a number on television ratings.

It became such a talking point among analysts and fans alike, so much so that everyone just assumed it would be the case. But as ratings have come in, they’ve said to have been “better than expected,” although maybe that shouldn’t be the case. Because while everyone assumed that the Olympics had a drastic effect on wrestling ratings, I’m not sure how closely anyone ever looked into whether that was really the case.

So, I went back and looked at the last several Olympiads, both summer and winter, to see what the effect on wrestling audiences has been since 2016. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m only using RAW numbers, as that’s the show I have the most data for. RAW is also the only show that’s been on the same channel consistently, and in the same time-slot, so we have an apples-to-apples comparison

I used the 10 weeks before the Olympics started and the 10 weeks after the Olympics ended and computed the 20 week average for each year.

Working backward from 2018:

February 12, RAW averaged 3,092,238 viewers. On Feb 19, the show averaged 3,267,774 viewers. The two-week average was 3,180,006 viewers. For the 10 weeks prior to Feb 12, the show averaged 3,068,759 viewers. So the viewership was actually up for the 10 weeks prior. For the 10 weeks after, the average was 3,327,393. The 20 week average was 3,198,076. So, the net decrease during the 2018 Olympics was a mere 0.6%—virtually identical.

For 2016:

Aug 8 – 2,904,031

Aug 15 – 2,909,879

Two-week average – 2,906,955

10 weeks before – 3,157,177

10 weeks after – 2,906,399

20-week average – 3,031,788

Net decrease – 4.1% (this is the biggest decrease in the last 6 Olympiads)

For 2014:

Feb 10 – 4,330,000

Feb 17 – 4,364,000

Two-week average – 4,347,000

10 weeks before – 4,285,267

10 weeks after – 4,502,300

20-week average – 4,393,784

Net decrease – 1.1%

For 2012:

July 30 – 4,490,000

Aug 6 – 4,360,000

Two-week average – 4,425,000

10 weeks before – 4,664,333

10 weeks after – 4,082,333

20-week average – 4,373,333

Net INCREASE – 1.2%

I only have viewership data as far back as 2011 so prior to that, I’m using ratings. This would be the household rating for persons 2+

For 2010:

Feb 15 – 3.40

Feb 22 – 3.80

2 week average – 3.60

10 weeks before – 3.50

10 weeks after – 3.33

20 week average – 3.42

Net INCREASE – 5.4%

For 2008:

Aug 11 – 3.08

Aug 18 – 3.33

Two-week average – 3.21

10 weeks before – 3.34

10 weeks after – 2.95

20-week average – 3.15

Net INCREASE – 1.9%

So, over the last six Olympiads, the ratings actually increased 0.5% on average, and the range was between a 4.1% decrease and a 5.4% increase. With the current RAW audience averaging roughly 1.8 million, that would mean you’d expect anything from a 72,000 viewer decrease to a 90,000 viewer increase.

So, for the 10 weeks prior to the start of these Olympics, RAW averaged 1,667,633 viewers. So, we’d expect the audience to be somewhere between 1.595 million and 1.757 million based on this analysis, right? Not so fast . . .

This is only half the data. We still don’t have the numbers for after the Olympics are over, but based on the previous Olympics, we can see a pattern. In the Summer Olympics, the ten weeks before the Olympics are always higher than the ten weeks after. In the Winter Olympics, that pattern is reversed.

So, looking more closely at the Summer Olympics, since that’s what we’re in the middle of right now, the decreases from the prior 10 weeks are as follows:

2016 – 7.93%

2012 – 5.13%

2008 – 4.0%

That’s an average decrease of 5.7%. But this year, the average was up from the 10 week prior average. There’s an obvious answer for that. In 9 of the 10 weeks prior, the show was taped in front of no fans. If we only compare this week’s RAW and Smackdown to the prior week when there was fans, RAW had a decrease of exactly 5.7%. Now that’s just a complete fluke, but it’s what it would be expected to be down because of the Olympics. SmackDown was down a little more than that, by 7.5%. But it’s only one week and that’s still in the same range.

Now, AEW was only down 3.5%. But they had a loaded up show. It was very slightly less than what the expected drop would be.

So, to summarize . . . the Olympics have little to no effect on the wrestling ratings and never really have. The numbers so far this year have held up almost exactly as they should’ve been expected to. Anyone who tells you differently isn’t looking at the numbers like I have here.

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