First WrestleMania, then the Superstar Shakeup: WWE ratings have yet to recover

By: 
Joshua Waddles
Staff Writer

Have you ever been into a show, took a break from it for two or three months, then didn’t care about watching again because all of the plot points that drew you into the show in the first place had ended?

This phenomenon happened to millions of WWE fans in the span of about one week after someone had the brilliant idea of “Superstar Shakeup,” rushing endings to several story arcs and uprooting wrestlers from their shows.

The WWE acted on this brilliant idea the same month it had the brilliant idea of having Roman Reigns retire The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Post-WrestleMania RAW had good ratings, which is true of every post-WrestleMania RAW (and I’m sure more than a few people tuned in to see how the fans reacted), but ratings after that point dropped very low, very quickly. WrestleMania, followed by the Superstar Shakeup, was a one-two punch to WWE’s ratings. It wasn’t a knockout, but the champ is staggering. Since April, both RAW’s and SMACKDOWN’s ratings have hit record lows more than once.

Earlier this year and through 2016, WWE fan groups on Facebook were full of people going on social media meltdowns about how they were never going to watch it again, and other fans replying, “Bye, Felicia.” What made them stick around for as long as they did?

Because they were too invested in the storylines. Even if they were furious about how one storyline was handled, that storyline wasn’t necessarily over yet and even if it was, there were other things going on with that show.

The Superstar Shakeup abruptly ended many of these storylines, taking away the draw that kept so many fans coming back for more, and they did this right after the biggest insult Vince McMahon and the WWE has ever committed against their own fans: having Roman Reigns retire The Undertaker.

It was Vince McMahon’s petty revenge against every fan who ever booed Reigns during his failed two-year push. Vince was probably very certain this would not cause the fans to just stop watching, and he probably would have been right. No matter how angry the fans were, they were established in these story arcs and conflicts.

But hubris, thy name is McMahon. Vince made a serious mistake in completely rearranging everything and expecting the fans to just jump back into it so soon after he slapped us all in the face. We were still stinging, the parts of these shows we cared about all changed and we asked ourselves, “Do I care what Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton are doing? No, I do not.”

And then we clicked the remote over to the NBA finals.

If he hasn’t figured it out already, McMahon is soon going to realize he has to come up with something good to get the fans back. But I expect he’s going to run into a new problem. Not only do the fans currently have no incentive to watch, they now have a reason not to want to give the WWE another chance.

Similar to how fans spent a long time avoiding FOX original TV shows because they didn’t want to get invested in a program that was only going to get cancelled, these wayward WWE fans are going to question if they want to get invested in wrestlers again only to watch them play second fiddle to Roman Reigns for 10 years.

Even leaving Reigns aside, there’s a feeling that Vince McMahon and WWE’s creative team have no idea what they’re doing. Wrestlers are being told only a few hours before the start of the show what their story angles are going to be, which is reminiscent of the final days of WCW when the bookers were writing the second half of NITRO during the first half of NITRO.

I don’t think the WWE is that bad off yet. Jinder Mahal and Samoa Joe are good, solid main event guys, but the WWE is finally in a situation where it has to metaphorically stop the bleeding. Vince McMahon needs to come up with an incentive to get back these hundreds of thousands of fans who’ve gotten sick of it all, and if the idea he comes up with is “Make Roman Reigns look stronger,” the WWE might actually go the way of WCW.

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