“Give me another decade and I’ll totally turn this around.”
WWE’s PG direction may be frustrating to older fans who fondly remember the good ol’ days when wrestlers were allowed to bleed, use big people words and old ladies gave birth to hands, but, in theory, it’s a smart business decision for WWE. Some of the company’s most successful periods have come when the product was more kid-friendly, and the best way to forge a hardcore fan is grab ’em when they’re young. So I completely understand WWE’s decision to stick rigidly to a PG rating, or at least I would if it were working. It’s not.
The Wrestling Observer just released a breakdown of who’s watching WWE’s top programming (Raw, Smackdown and Total Divas) and WWE can’t be pleased about the numbers. For starters, the average WWE viewer is now 41.4 years old, which means the WWE audience is older now than it’s ever been.
The audience WWE is targeting most aggressively, the under 18 set, only make up 19% of WWE’s audience. The prime 18 – 34 demographic make up only 22% of the audience. By far WWE’s largest demographic are the borderline retired – a whopping 37% of the audience is over 50. For the sake of comparison, the audience for Dancing With the Stars, the quintessential old-person show, is around 40% over 50, and they haven’t spent a decade desperately trying to attract young viewers.
The gender split is 63% male, 37% female, but that’s a deceptive number, since it takes into account Total Divas, which attracts a separate audience from WWE’s main wrestling product. If you just take Raw and Smackdown into account the split is 68% male to 32% female.
So yes, a decade of flin flarn John Cena and a recent concerted effort to be more progressive and less shitty about women, and the audience hasn’t budged an inch — they’re still sitting there in their La-Z-Boys, overwhelmingly male and increasingly aged. Maybe it’s time for WWE to go back to basics, stop obsessing over the youth audience and produce a product somebody, anybody, not already a hardcore fan might want to watch. If they don’t, the greatest threat to their ratings going forward might be the Grim Reaper.