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The Friday Night War – What could SmackDown and Rampage head-to-head mean for fans?

friday night war smackdown rampage

A series of events and decisions that began with SmackDown being moved to FS1 has escalated into a head-to-head battle between the top two wrestling promotions in the United States. The ratings results will certainly lead to some bragging by whoever wins. Both promotions will be watching closely.

AEW founder Tony Khan tweeted about it. WWE counterprogrammed AEW, who then added a marquee match to its YouTube channel to hope to siphon some audience from SmackDown. Fight Game Media will be following it closely, hosting a watchalong on our Youtube channel, which is the best way for fans to catch all the action and hear real-time analysis.

How did this night in October turn into a Friday night war? With the baseball playoffs on FOX and college football on ESPN, this Friday does not scream out as a big ratings night in the first place. Why do the two promotions care so much, and what could it mean for fans?

HOW WE GOT HERE

SmackDown needed to move to FS1 because of FOX’s deal with Major League Baseball. With the move, WWE was freed from its two-hour network prime time constraint and were able to add an extra 30 minutes to their show. This hasn’t mattered much in the past, but Rampage wasn’t around the last time SmackDown moved to cable. Adding the extra half hour is a chance for WWE see how counter-programming Rampage would fare.

WWE has a long history of counterprogramming those it sees as threats. They debuted the original Survivor Series right on top of Jim Crockett Promotion’s top event, Starrcade, in 1987 as their very first pay-per-view. Then WWF (as it was known at the time) tried to force cable providers choose which event to carry. The company also invented the seven-minute overrun on RAW to make its ratings look better against WCW’s Monday Nitro. It’s no surprise WWE would take a chance to wound an opponent.

And then Khan’s tweet happened.

After that, AEW announced Daniel Bryan versus Minoru Suzuki would be part of the Buy-In Youtube show, to counterprogram the second hour of SmackDown. Both shows are putting on strong lineups. The Inner Circle and CM Punk will be on Rampage, while Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Brock Lesnar have been promised for SmackDown on its go-home show for the Crown Jewel event.

IF AEW WINS

You can bank on more tweeting from Khan. While WWE would dismiss the loss publicly, quickly reminding anyone who will listen that FS1 is not the show’s true home, AEW would celebrate it as a big win. AEW would push this as more proof they are gaining ground, and you can bet it will be pointed out to advertisers.

Khan’s tweet was an interesting risk, though. Rampage was hurt by the playoffs last week, drawing an average of 502,000 viewers last Friday. Even when SmackDown has been on FS1, it’s put up numbers such as 888,000 during the World Series in 2019 and just over a million viewers last December. Khan could look silly if SmackDown wins big.

While many fans are looking forward to Suzuki versus Danielson, the match is unlikely to hurt SmackDown’s numbers. Suzuki is a Japanese legend and a great worker. He has been featured on AEW programming several times over the past few weeks. Still, will WWE fans switch off SmackDown and pull up YouTube for his match? Some will, but it’s doubtful it will be a significant number.

IF WWE WINS

This could be the more significant result. While we aren’t likely to see a big, gloating tweet, it may give FOX and WWE some ideas. There have been murmurs of WWE adding a third hour of programming on Fridays. That can’t happen on the big network (the local news is still among the affiliates’ largest sources of revenue and are not to be messed with), but they could put the third hour on FS1. WWE is unlikely to do that if they think they will lose, but if the numbers trend its way Friday, it might look more attractive.

As for the numbers, drawing 800,000-1,000,000 viewers is better than what FS1 normally does in that time slot. Having ratings like that each week would look attractive to FS1 on a weekly basis.

It’s more complicated than that, of course. SmackDown on FS1 once in a while is one thing, but a third hour every week would be a different product. The primary draws would have to stay on the network portion of the show. Putting mid-card talent on FS1 would not draw the kind of ratings the full show has pulled in. FS1 has contracts with other sports properties, such as college basketball, to navigate as well.

On the fans’ side, WWE is already struggling to fill the hours it has with quality storylines, so another hour seems like another move toward oversaturation. Still, as a publicly traded company, could the WWE turn down a healthy offer from FOX for more SmackDown? Could it resist the chance to damage AEW?

None of this will be decided immediately, but the ratings after Friday’s action might be more significant than the action inside the ring.

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