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The big news: RAW and SmackDown both up for 2021 draft episodes

Despite being almost universally panned in execution, the WWE Draft was a minor ratings success for WWE this year. They were the only two of the five big North American televised shows to increase their audiences this week with both AEW programs and NXT 2.0 being down. The competition for Dynamite and NXT were big factors but RAW, as always, went up against a huge NFL audience and still managed to do relatively good numbers.

This week’s numbers

AEW Dynamite averaged 1,053,000 viewers on TNT, down 8.6% from the previous week. It was the lowest audience for the show since September 1 and marked the second straight week of declining audience. In the 18–49 demo, the show finished fourth on cable with a 0.37 rating after several weeks of topping that chart. That’s a 17.8% decrease from last week and tied for the lowest rating in that demo since August 18. The only demos to buck the trend for Dynamite were women 12–34, which were up 16.7% from last week with men in the same category down 16.1% and persons over 50 being down 2.1%. Every other category was either even or down with the biggest drop coming with men 18–49, likely as a result of the NL Wild Card game which did an average of 6.7 million viewers. 

WWE NXT 2.0 on the USA Network,  averaged 632,000 viewers, down 3.5% from last week. In the 18–49 demo the show dropped to 34th on the cable charts with a 0.13 rating in 18–49. That’s down 7.1% from the previous week. Like with Dynamite it was females, and particularly younger ones, that bucked the trend of ratings decline. In the 12-34 age group women were even with last week while men were  down 14.3%. The show was also even in 18–34 and persons over 50. NXT also faced monster competition with the AL Wildcard game doing almost eight million viewers. 

Monday Night RAW on the USA Network averaged 1,856,580 viewers for the October 4 episode. That’s up 8.7% from last week. In the 18–49 demo, the show averaged a 0.52 rating, up 8.3% from the previous week. Monday Night Football continues to do strong numbers with different feeds airing on ESPN and ESPN 2 combining for almost 13 million viewers, which was down from last week, as well as over 25 million viewers watching the various programming on the major broadcast networks, which was similar to last week. The draft did seem to help although as the show went on they continued the recent trend of big third hour declines with 12% of the audience leaving over the course of the show for the second week in a row.  

Friday Night SmackDown on October 1  averaged 2.252 million viewers, up 5.5% from the previous week. The show topped all television in the 18–49 demo with a 0.62 rating. That’s up 12.7% from the week before. SmackDown’s numbers were definitely helped by the draft as well as the fact that Big Brother did not have a Friday night episode as they had the previous two weeks. This was the third biggest overall audience and demo number since the return to live touring. 

AEW Rampage on the same night following SmackDown averaged 622,000 viewers, down 2.8% from last week. It was the lowest audience in the short history of the show for the fifth straight week. In the 18–49 demo the show  averaged a 0.25 rating which was also a series low and down 10.7% from the previous week. Rampage finished third on the night in the cable charts after winning the night in many recent weeks. 

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

  • AEW Dynamite was down 6.8% in viewers and 15.9% in the 18–49 demo. After beating RAW for two weeks straight in mid-September, Dynamite this week did only 60% of their audience in the key demo.   
  • WWE NXT was down 4.5% in viewers and 18.8% in 18–49. The 18-49 numbers for both NXT and Dynamite were severely affected by baseball but could be a sign of things to come when the NBA and NHL start next week.   
  • WWE RAW was up 1.6% in viewers and even in 18–49. This is the NFL effect. The Draft obviously helped a lot as this was the first time in the NFL season that RAW audience and 18-49 numbers weren’t below the 10 week average. Obviously as the season goes on that will happen more often. 
  • WWE SmackDown was up 3.5% in viewers and 5.1% in 18–49. This is the same story as RAW with this episode being Night One of the draft.  
  • AEW Rampage was down 17.2% in overall viewers and 24.2% in 18–49. To me, these are perhaps the most notable numbers of the week. This personally is starting to feel like a skippable show, despite the awesome Bryan Danielson vs Nick Jackson match that opened it, and between the time slot and the fact that it’s taped over 100,000 fans that were originally giving the show a shot when it started are not watching now. 

Year-over-year numbers

AEW Dynamite was up 39.8% in overall viewers and 19.4% in 18–49. Dynamite is now routinely up in double digits year over year compared to last year when they had NXT as direct competition on Wednesdays. Last week, it was the “big news” in this column that the show was up over 30% year over year for the fifth straight week. Well it’s now six and becoming commonplace. 

WWE NXT was down 1.1% in viewers and 18.8% in 18–49. This is being compared to when they were running on Wednesdays opposite Dynamite so it’s even worse than it seems on the surface. All the people crediting the NXT move for AEW’s ratings successes are ignoring the fact that NXT is down with having a night to themselves. Regardless of circumstance, the impressiveness of these year over year increases cannot be overstated. 

RAW was up 10.2% in viewers and even in 18–49. Since returning to live touring, RAW has now had year over year increases in eleven of the last thirteen weeks. 

SmackDown was up 4.5% in viewers and 3.3% in 18–49. These increases are even more impressive on network television than the cable ones are. 

Ratings extra

Last week I presented the September averages for all five shows and compared them to 2020 numbers for the four of them that aired last year.

This week we can take a look at the Q3 averages for all five shows and compare four of them to the same period in 2020 to get an even better picture of the bigger trends than last week.

Q3 averages:

AEW Dynamite averaged 1,103,538 viewers in 2021, up 32.5% from last year. In 18–49 the increase was 32.7%, going from an average of 0.32 to 0.4246.

WWE NXT averaged 688,385 viewers over the past quarter, down 9.7% from last year. In 18–49 the average was 0.1654, a 16.7% drop from 0.1986 in 2020. So the change in nights actually resulted in a year over year drop for NXT, and this is with a full quarter of data.

WWE RAW averaged 1,790n771 viewers over the last three months. That’s an increase of 4% from the 2020 average of 1,722,447. There was a drop in 18-49, however, as the show went from an average of 0.5115 to 0.5046 in 2021. That’s a decline of 1.4%. Football is way up this year, particular in 18–49, so that’s the main culprit. Without the return to touring, they would almost certainly have major declines in both categories.

WWE Smackdown had an average overall viewership of 2,147,923 over the past quarter. That’s a decent increase of 5.7% over the 2020 average of 2,032,154. They also rose in 18-49 by 6.7%, going from 0.5385 in 2020 to 0.5746 this year.

AEW Rampage averaged 748,429 viewers and a 0.33 in the 18–49 demo.

Bear in mind that the AEW vs. WWE Ratings War really heated up with the recent signings of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole and that only happened in the last third of the quarter. The last three months of 2021 will tell a big story as to just how close the upstart company is to the industry leader.

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