AEW Dynamite: The Fight For Millennials
Last week we saw the season premiere of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night Raw, the two hour cable debut of WWE’s NXT on USA, All Elite Wrestling’s debut episode of AEW Dynamite, and the move of WWE Smackdown from Tuesday night on USA to Friday night on FOX.
Much of the discussions currently about the premiere’s and debut pertain to the youth watching AEW Dynamite and the way WWE Smackdown absolutely crushes their TV network competition on the 18-49 demographic, currently considered key for television. But what ended up interesting me more is the 18-34 demographic between AEW and WWE television, which works out to being viewers considered part of the millennial generation.
All Elite Wrestling became a wrestling promotion on January 1st of this year, with AEW Dynamite being their first ever episode of cable television. While the show featured pro wrestling legend Chris Jericho and the surprise debut of the former Jack Swagger (now going by his real name of Jake Hager), and had a commentary booth featuring good ol’ Jim Ross and WCW Nitro voice Tony Schiavone, it was ultimately a new product built from the talents time in independent wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Ring of Honor. This wasn’t like when NWA:TNA moved their Impact program to Monday night’s on the back of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and other wrestling legends well past their prime from the eighties and nineties.
The Millennial generation has mostly watched pro wrestling from the Attitude Era to the current era, so nostalgia acts do work well for them. I personally was just entering high school in the middle of the Attitude Era. It’s usually our era that’s focused upon on the ones who have been unhappy when the WWE didn’t cater to us, or when we were limited with our options for alternatives to WWE. It was expected that an older generation just stopped watching pro wrestling, while a previous generation was too young to know better. Both of those assumptions have ended up wrong. WWE ratings are strongest over the age of 35, and AEW’s ratings were strongest compared to WWE for those under 18.
So the Millennials are who I’m most curious about when it came to AEW Dynamite for the first week. In the first week, Dynamite scored a 0.56 in the 18-34. That number crushed NXT on USA at 0.23, but paled in comparison to Smackdown on FOX scoring a 0.95. But when comparing Dynamite to Monday Night Raw, Raw scored a 0.61. In essence, that’s a 50,000 fan difference. Monday Night Raw, the institution of WWE, a staple of Monday programming since 1993, the winner of the Monday Night Wars, on their “season premiere” featuring appearances from Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, could barely outnumber a brand new competitor on their first night.
It gets more interesting going back a week. On September 23rd, the three hour Raw scored a 0.50 on the 18-34 in the first hour and 0.45 in the final two hours. It’s possibly unfair to compare the previous week to the AEW debut, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that AEW Dynamite on their first week would beat WWE Raw for millennials. It’s probably important for me to be clear that for television, it’s an 18-49 which matters more, and WWE Raw looks much stronger when you add those over the age of 35. I’m also cutting off some millennials at 34, and possibly adding some Gen Z from 18-22. But it’s a safe bet this is the majority of millennials in fitting the Nielsen demographics, and the numbers show that there’s a large portion of wrestling fans at that age ready on week one to give AEW Dynamite a shot.
On October 6th, 2014, WWE Monday Night Raw scored 1.27/1.15/1.02 in the 18-34 demographic. Combine the 18-34 demographics between WWE Raw on September 30th and AEW Dynamite on October 2nd you get a 1.17 average for the 18-34. Maybe that’s an unfair correlation to make, that the people who used to be watching WWE Raw five years ago are now watching AEW Dynamite, but for anyone surprised by the number it does make you wonder how many AEW Dynamite watchers will tell you if they were watching Raw five years ago.
Last week I said there would be no winners in the alleged Wrestling War. I still feel that way, but I’m starting to feel like the winner might be lapsed fans of the past decade who had been giving up hope on WWE. On Wade Keller’s podcast on Pro Wrestling Torch, AEW President Tony Khan said they believed there were millions of lapsed fans, and focused on the fans who disappeared after WCW closed in 2001. Week one, Khan is certainly right. But maybe even he didn’t realize how many of those fans had just recently lapsed. If AEW Dynamite can keep up the 18-34 demographic, this no longer becomes if they can beat the direct competition with NXT on USA. It’s whether they can beat the winner of the Monday Night War from those who actually witnessed it.