By Chuck Carroll
At Survivor Series, WWE made clear that Monday Night RAW is its top show. The show scored a clean sweep over SmackDown Live, earning victories in each of the brand vs. brand matches. Yes, SmackDown’s tag division was victorious in their match against RAW, but WWE is hammering home the point that the match doesn’t count because it was on the pre-show and not the main card. And honestly, even if the match wasn’t considered a throwaway, it wouldn’t matter. RAW was the dominant brand.
Yet, the lopsided results are the polar opposite of the shows each week, as the “blue brand” is red hot. Of late, SmackDown has been the better of the two shows, and fans are taking notice.
This week, RAW scored one of its lowest-rated episodes in recent history, averaging roughly 2.37 million viewers. The show, which was largely panned by fans, is the fourth-lowest-rated episode in the modern era, according to The Wrestling Observer.
Perhaps of greater concern than the overall number is the dramatic audience erosion that occurred between the first and third hours. When the broadcast began, 2.61 million people were tuned in, but only 2.11 million remained for the finish. That means nearly one in five viewers weren’t interested in seeing the announced main event pitting RAW general manager, Baron Corbin, against Finn Bálor.
To be fair, the show did lack major star power without Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. The three hours still finished sequentially as the fifth, sixth, and seventh highest-rated shows of the night on cable. Still, there is concern given unusually soft competition from Monday Night Football, which posted its lowest ratings of the season, as the Tennessee Titans tilt against the Houston Texans attracted an audience of less than 10 million.
The following night, SmackDown would suffer no such fate, as viewership actually increased by nearly six percent week-over-week and was the highest-rated show overall on cable. With an average of 2.26 million viewers, it became one of most competitive shows ever against its Monday night counterpart in terms of ratings.
Translation: 95 percent of the audience from RAW tuned in to see the return of Becky Lynch. That is an extraordinary stat.
“The Man” is unquestionably proving to be a ratings driver, and the company is capitalizing on her popularity.
WWE wasted no time in throwing the SmackDown women’s champion back into the fire Tuesday night. Lynch had been sidelined with a concussion and broken nose and was yanked from her scheduled match against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series and replaced by Charlotte Flair. Despite the head injury, she will be defending her title against Flair and Asuka in a first-ever women’s tables, ladders, and a chairs match at the TLC pay-per-view on December 16.
“The Empress” earned her way into the match by winning a battle royal on SmackDown, which WWE wisely saved for the main event. That’s another reason why the show is nipping at the heels of RAW.
Interestingly, it may not just be viewers who are taking a keener interest in SmackDown. FOX wants Ronda Rousey moved to SmackDown when the show shifts to the network next fall, according to Justin LaBar of Wrestling Inc. Per the report, FOX wants to leverage the current RAW women’s champion’s UFC stardom to build credibility with viewers. Additionally, network executives are rumored to want the show to feature more on actual wrestling and fewer whimsical storylines.
WWE has not responded to a request for comment about FOX’s interest in Rousey. However, it would make sense given the enormous television rights fees they will be paying for the show.
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NEWS AND NOTES
As of Thursday, Becky Lynch is favored to win the SmackDown women’s title match at TLC. Asuka has the longest odds.
Ring of Honor’s Silas Young was in attendance at Monday’s RAW in Milwaukee. He lives there, so don’t read too much into anything. I expect he will remain in ROH.
Speaking of ROH, there continues to be a sense that a new era is coming, as all signs continue pointing toward the imminent departures of Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and Hangman Page. By in large, they are expected to be finishing up with the company at Final Battle on December 14. There is a possibility of an appearance the following day at the television tapings in Philadelphia. Adam Cole was written off in similar fashion before leaving for WWE.
MLW is trying stake a larger claim in the wrestling world by going head to head with ROH’s Final Battle. The promotion will air its first ever live national broadcast that night from Miami. The start time for both events is 8:00 pm.
Alexa Bliss has begun training at the WWE Performance Center and is inching closer to an in-ring return. Given her new role overseeing the women’s division on RAW, the company does not have to rush her back to action.
Braun Strowman underwent successful surgery to repair an injured elbow. WWE is running with the storyline that it had been shattered, but that is not the case in real life. His availability for a scheduled match against Baron Corbin at the TLC pay-per-view is unclear, although the company continues to promote the show as if he’ll be there.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.