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The WWE Friday Night SmackDown Ratings Crisis

Orton Vs. Christian Money in the Bank MatchI rarely blog about WWE television ratings but the recent trend on Friday Night SmackDown will make this blog an exception. SmackDown ratings are dropping at a record pace and are now on their ninth straight week with less than three million viewers.

I see all of the blogs and reports on a weekly basis about SmackDown’s ratings decline but really haven’t paid much attention. A bad rating here and there isn’t going to make a big difference on most weeks. However, I think there is a big story there when any program is over two months in a ratings slide and SmackDown is the story.

Last week’s SmackDown rating has finally put this program in crisis mode.  SmackDown scored a 1.63 cable rating, down from a 1.69.  SmackDown averaged 2.33 million viewers, down from 2.40 the previous week. Smackdown is on a nine-week streak of less than 3.0 million viewers.

SmackDown saw its first drop come after Randy Orton defeated Christian for the WWE world heavyweight title. I remember at the time reading reports that indicated the ratings slide was a fan reaction to the title change. I never bought into it. It wasn’t as if Christian was a big meter mover before the title win so why would people that be outraged that they would tune out in masses?

Maybe they would. The week before Dave Meltzer reported a very high number for the show the week before Orton’s title win.

Smackdown on 4/29 did a 1.96 rating and 3.06 million viewers, so the show is remaining at high levels.

The next week it dipped to a 1.74 cable rating, with 2.8 million viewers.

Yet we are now just a few weeks away from hitting the three month mark and unfortunately, you have to point to Randy Orton. A big part of the dropping numbers are summer ratings patterns and people generally watch less television on Friday nights in the summer. However, this pattern started back in April long before the summer season. Is Randy Orton really that much of a turnoff to the SmackDown viewers?

In the past, I could see that being that case. Yet I would argue that the Randy Orton on SmackDown is the best Randy Orton I have seen during his WWE career. He finally has that charisma that I always thought was lacking, his promos are better, his opponents are better, his feud is tremendous, his matches are better, yet he has lost more viewers as the face of the brand than anyone else in recent memory. Is it bad timing or is it The Viper?

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I was never a regular SmackDown watcher until the start of the Orton vs. Christian rivalry. In my opinion, I think it is the best feud that the WWE has had since the Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho series. Every match is great to fantastic, the angles are fun, the promos are intense, and I don’t want to miss a moment. Ice that over a cake with regular matches from Daniel Bryan, Sin Cara, Sheamus, and Cody Rhodes and I think you have the best WWE broadcast on television, yet less people are watching.

I took a look at past SmackDown ratings and I was really surprised at how far the show has fallen. A few years ago SmackDown was doing high twos on a regular basis. The average SmackDown rating last year according to one report was a 1.8.

In my opinion the loss of Batista, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Edge and Rey Mysterio are really the key components missing to the SmackDown ratings mystery. Edge was a solid heel and Rey had a huge Latino following. The Undertaker was also popping in and out more a couple of years ago. Batista and Jericho had star power whether he was opening or closing the show. Instead of four superstars on SmackDown, fans have one and aren’t interested in giving the other talent a chance.

How can the WWE fix this before we are subjected to Eric Bischoff gloating about Impact beating SmackDown? The first thing they need to do is move Rey Mysterio back to the brand. He is being jobbed out weekly on RAW anyway, so it isn’t a big loss to Monday nights. Rey brought in a huge Latino audience to SmackDown and maybe they have abandoned ship. The second thing they need to do is somehow, someway bring The Undertaker back. Even if he can’t wrestle, just his presence alone on SmackDown would get people talking and spike the brand.

The other question is whether it is even worth fixing at this rate? Would the WWE be better off just dissolving both brands and merging everyone together? Before I would go down that road I would merge the two WWE champions and make one touring champion between both brands. It would give the WWE an excuse to book John Cena on SmackDown and other RAW superstars on Friday nights and increase the program’s awareness. I like that the company has two champions but they need Cena on SmackDown or at least popping in and out regularly.

It will be really interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks. If the ratings continue to slide with the WWE do something drastic or will they just chalk it up to summer viewer patterns and hold tight until September? Regardless, this is certainly a ratings story worth keeping your eyes on.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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