10 Decisions That Helped Kill WWE Raw's Ratings

Or, "How to Make 8,000,000 Wrestling Fans Disappear"

John Cena camera

It's no secret that ratings for Raw have been making news for all the wrong reasons lately. What may be more of a surprise to recent fans though, is that the decline of the show's performance is nothing new - in fact, except for a few brief rebound periods, numbers for Raw have been on the decline for the past 17 years.

The company's golden age for TV ratings was the Attitude Era, when combining an edgier product with more realistic and relatable characters propelled WWE into the national zeitgeist. With mainstream media covering WWE regularly, ratings skyrocketed. With WCW still doing strong business in 1998, that meant that 11,000,000 people a week watched wrestling on Mondays - and that was during football season.

As WCW weakened, WWE grew, and 1999 turned into the best year the company had ever had, ratings-wise. Raw broke its own records, and the result was a second prime-time show, this one airing on broadcast television. With SmackDown becoming a juggernaut in its own right, it felt like WWE controlled TV.

It turned out though, that 1999 would be WWE's ratings peak. In 2000, the viewership for Raw started to dip, and it's been doing it ever since. How did this happen? Here are the decisions WWE made that caused fans to abandon the company's flagship, listed in chronological order.

10. Moving To TNN

John Cena camera

Once of WWE's main sources of revenue comes from TV contracts. The networks on which WWE programming airs actually pay them for the rights to broadcast their shows, which - even in lean times - are typically among the highest-watched content on cable.

In 2000 - when Raw was still crushing all competition in the ratings - WWE's contract with the USA Network was coming to a close. USA had been the exclusive home of Raw since the show's debut in January of 1993, but with the show making ratings history, the company could command a greater payout for the broadcast rights. There was a bidding war, and TNN won. Raw moved to the network on 25 September 2000.

WWE was getting a lot of money from TNN as part of the new contract, but the network switch caused irreparable damage to the show's ratings. TNN was available in far fewer homes than USA, and wrestling fans are creatures of habit - scheduling changes usually hurt ratings.

Over the next few years, TNN would attempt to get more mainstream with the "Spike TV" rebranding, but it never became as strong as USA, and Raw's ratings showed it.


Scott Fried is a Slammy Award-winning* writer living and working in New York City. He has been following/writing about professional wrestling for many years and is a graduate of Lance Storm's Storm Wrestling Academy. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/scottfried. *Best Crowd of the Year, 2013