AS I SEE IT - 11/03/2003:
A tale of two promotions...
by: Bob Magee It's just a little over a year ago that wrestling fans were confronted with one of the single most offensive, disgusting angles ever... the "Katie Vick" angle... the night that WWE television showed HHH in a skit where he was pretending to be Kane going to the funeral home having sex with his now "dead" girlfriend.
It also symbolized the most obvious portion of the recent decline of WWE business.
Back then, here were my thoughts from the November 4, 2002 AS I SEE IT:
...Then the fallout began.
Dave Meltzer reports in this week's print Observer that on that night alone, over 550,000 viewers were reported to have tuned out after the Katie Vick angle.
Then, one week later, when the fallout or the build from an angle traditionally occurs... it came.
Oh boy, did it ever come.
RAW dropped from a 3.7 cable rating to a 3.4 cable rating. Smackdown dropped from a 3.7 broadcast rating/6 share, to a 3.3 broadcast rating/5 share... losing nearly 422,000 viewers from the previous week.
If it had only been one show, an argument could have been made that this Monday's RAW ratings were skewed by the New York Giants-Philadelphia Eagles game on Monday Night Football... in two traditionally big WWE markets... and I'd have tried to believe them.
But it wasn't as simple as that, and it wasn't just a regional problem, but a problem everywhere. The fact of the matter was that the number of viewers of RAW this Monday was the lowest watching wrestling on a non-holiday Monday night since 1996.
Then it got worse.
For Smackdown, the more wrestling-intensive of WWE's nationally televised shows to lose 422,000 viewers from the previous week shows that wrestling fans are turned off by the direction that WWE is taking; and that they don't differentiate between WWE "brands".
It seems pretty clear that if they're pissed off about the direction of one show and the Katie Vick angle in particular, they're pissed off about both shows, and the numbers prove it.
This perception is showing itself in live crowds as well.
At Smackdown this past week, WWE management couldn't have been pleased to have to black out almost the entire eastern section of the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids; and opening only a few hundred seats in the upper deck.
They couldn't have been pleased to cancel a "Smackdown brand" house show scheduled for November 18 show in Worcester had to be cancelled due to lack of ticket sales.
Until Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Brian Gerwirtz and anyone else involved in these recent soap opera style angles that make XPW look like the All Japan Champion Carnival... until they get their collective heads out of their asses (or keep them out of Rikishi's, for that matter) and realize that what they're doing isn't working... ratings will continue to drop.
House show and live crowds for RAW and Smackdown will continue to drop.
Like I said two weeks ago in this column:
Vote with your dollars, and show WWE the kinds of wrestling you really want to see on your TV screens and at your local arenas by giving it to someone else for awhile."
Eleven months later... more than a few WWE house shows have been cancelled due to poor ticket sales. RAW and Smackdown tapings, as well as house shows... even in WWE strongholds like Philadelphia and Baltimore... frequently run to partially or half-empty houses. On average, house show attendance has fallen by more than 50%, according to figures published in this week's Wrestling Observer print edition.
This past Saturday night, I headed over to Ring of Honor's November 1 Elizabeth, NJ show... just a PATH train ride away from the home of WWE's Wrestlemania XX... Madison Square Garden, just floors up from Penn Station.
I saw incredible technical and submission wrestling with Danny Maff-Colt Cabana, Nigel McGinnis/Xavier-John Walters/Tony Mamaluke, Jay/Mark Briscoe-Special K, CM Punk-Steve Corino-Samoa Joe-Christopher Daniels, and AJ Styles-American Dragon... strong style with Homicide-BJ Whitmer, and spectacular aerial wrestling featuring The Backseat Boyz, the SAT, Special K (version 2.0), and Teddy Hart/Jack Evans...
There were no comedy skits with the son-in-law of the owner (OK... OK... Rob Feinstein doesn't HAVE a son-in-law, but you get the point) saying he "screwed someone's brains out", then throwing them at the camera. There were no 50 year old men pretending to be something off the cover of Flex Magazine.
And the one attempt at ego tripping... Teddy Hart's post-match decision to showboat for the crowd and to stop selling a late match beatdown with flip after flip off of the top of the cage resulted in Hart being berated backstage by Jim Cornette, booker Gabe Sapolsky, and owner Ron Feinstein... nearly getting the crap kicked out of him by at least two ROH workers... and in having himself and his wrestling gear thrown out of the ROH locker room.
It wasn't rewarded with a further push.
Nope... it was just wrestling...wrestling presented as "sport" rather than as entertainment. In doing so, the show was both worked sport AND entertaining (OK... there WAS the Steve Corino promo that went on forever... but it generated a ton of old style heel heat. When was the last time that real heel heat was generated at a WWE show?).
It seems ironic that Ring of Honor's return to the Rex Plex in Elizabeth will come on Wrestlemania XX weekend in March 2004, not to mention that fact that WWE will be running a Smackdown house show at the Rex Plex early next year.
Even though we can safely assume that Wrestlemania XX will be all that Wrestlemanias are meant to be... it's also reasonable to assume that WWE booking won't change that much between now and next March.
Thus, we'll have a weekend where two promotions a train ride away will feature a Japanese style product (again, by which I mean a worked product presented as sport, rather than as entertainment) contrasted against a product in which the sports part of sports entertainment all too often seems an afterthought in its TV and PPV presentation, and where all too many fans aren't finding it to be very entertaining.
Though there is certainly no question which show will have more fans attending... and which show will make more money, one wonders which show fans will enjoy more.
All this... in two wrestling venues so close...yet two product styles so far away from one another...
Until next time...
(Note: Nielsen ratings are compiled by and are the property of Nielsen Media Research)
(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)