We all know that the ratings for WWE are down from last year, especially for Raw, but how does this compare to sports programs? In this article, I am going to break down the numbers beginning with week 1 of the NFL for both 2019 and 2020. I will also be including NASCAR Cup Series and Nationally Televised MLB ratings for a full comparison between 4 major sports and sports entertainment companies. The NBA was intentionally omitted because the numbers would not be comparable properly concerning the Finals last year as they were played several months late and would result in a major skew.
To begin, many cite the main reason we see a decline is due to streaming platforms. However, that appears to not be the case. In July 2017, Nielsen announced that both Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV will in fact be included in ratings numbers automatically. But unlike traditional TV, users on those platforms can choose to opt out of being involved with ratings. In September 2018, Sling TV was announced to have partnered with Nielsen to be included in the ratings as well, with the same capability allowing users to opt out. Other streaming platforms such as AT&T Now and Xfinity Live have always been included in ratings numbers as they are linked to cable providers already. The only company to not be included in ratings is Fubo TV, which has just 286k subscribers.
With that being said, how do the numbers compare year vs year? Numbers displayed are in millions.
The ratings for SmackDown are slightly skewed as they factor in the debut on FOX in 2019 which drew 3.888 million, which was significantly higher than the 2.1 million it had been averaging the weeks prior. If we go off that average, SmackDown is actually on par with last year’s ratings. The NFL 2020 ratings are also slightly skewed as they include week 1 ratings, which drew 18.488 million. The other 3 weeks averaged about 12.9 million.
So looking at the big picture above, what does this all mean? Viewership for Raw is definitely down, but if we look at SmackDown week-to-week, they are running on par with last year. This indicates to me that there isn’t a WWE issue with viewers, but rather a Monday Night Raw problem. The only other sport that has shown sustainability is NASCAR with seeing a very marginal drop in viewership from 2019. If anyone has to be worried about ratings dropping, it’s definitely MLB and NFL.
So what caused this drop? As stated above, many blame people moving to streaming services. However, that is simply not true unless the numbers aren’t being truly factored in correctly. The numbers provided here are based on final numbers, which are released typically a few days later to factor in all time zones, platforms, and DVR results. Yes, if you watch a program with-in 24 hours on your DVR, they get counted in the numbers for ratings. This is why when you see us post the SmackDown ratings, we have to change them later. The initial ratings are based on who actually watched live.
There are likely several contributing factors as to why ratings are dropping. The most obvious is people are not interested in watching sports programming with no fans due to COVID-19. Not having fans at an event changes the whole aspect and feel, as the crowd noise makes a big difference. Programmers have been adding in crowd noise into stadiums and arenas, but it’s simply not the same as live fans. You lose that passion and emotion that sound editing doesn’t provide. This could be why NASCAR hasn’t seen a drop-off since fans don’t make a substantial difference during a race.
Other factors considered were politics and cutting cable and streaming services due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and loss of income. Cutting cable and streaming could potentially also play an issue, but that still doesn’t fully explain why NASCAR has remained steady, even with 3 of the races included in the statistics airing on NBCSN and not NBC (an Over-the-Air Network). Most of the games and programs are on channels that you need to have a higher cable or streaming package to view, with the exception of SmackDown and regional NFL games, which air on local OTA channels in most instances.