If you grew up in the New York Tri-State area during the 1960s (and maybe spent a “little too much time” in front of the television set), chances are you came across one of the strangest “sports” airing on WOR-TV (Channel 9.)
You’ll definitely date yourself if you can recall seeing Bruno Sammartino, Haystack Calhoun or Gorilla Monsoon – the larger than life wrestlers who grabbed, tackled and threw their opponents into the air with the greatest of ease.
In retrospect, that was all rather mild and innocent stuff in an age when professional wrestling was still very much a regional phenomenon with few — if any – back-staged stories, let alone over-the-top theatrics, self-preening antics and Kabuki-like fighting poses we’ve come to associate with professional wrestling today.
The transformation of professional wrestling from quaint black-and-white TV images to the colorful pyrotechnics of a Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage (to name just two) is a much longer story than I could hope to convey in this space, but no telling would be complete without mentioning, Vincent K. McMahon, who possessed a vision of wrestling that far surpassed the modest regional sport his father presided over many decades ago.
And, in no small way, the advent of modern-day cable, with its national satellite distribution helped pave the way for Mr. McMahon to transform a family business into a mega-entertainment conglomerate (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., better known as “WWE”) with interests in music, film and product licensing deals.
Early on in cable’s formative years, it was an under-handed compliment to say that Professional Wrestling pulled down the highest ratings on cable. I’ll leave it to the purveyors of high art and culture to judge what passes for “quality” today in the world of television. But I can state (unequivocally) that professional wrestling is embraced by millions of viewers week in and week out, 52 weeks a year.
Like clockwork, USA Network airs ‘WWE Monday Night Raw” for 185 minutes, and every week – for the past two years – its audience delivery has been a model of consistency:
There are very few (if any) shows on television today that can air three hours of content every week and pull down an average U.S. HH rating of 2.0 (2.7 share.)
All the more remarkable is the fact that, while “WWE Monday Night Raw” is running weekly on USA Network, another pro wrestling show, “WWE Smackdown” is running every Friday night for two hours on SyFy, pulling down an average U.S. HH rating of 1.3 (2.0 share.)
With five hours of primetime programming every week of the year, it would not have been surprising had professional wrestling reached a point of over-saturation with viewers. But that just hasn’t happened, so the question is: Who is watching this unusual form of entertainment that has managed to seep into our culture… or, is it the other way around?
One thing is certain – while the WWE may be headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, professional wrestling skews southern. Very southern.
In the chart below, we looked at the Top 25 highest rated TV DMAs for “WWE Monday Night Raw” which aired on January 5th, 2015. (These DMAs achieved a HH rating of at least 50% higher than the U.S. Average.) Bottom line: 24 out of the Top 25 DMAs are in the South with the states of Tennessee and Mississippi leading the way with five and four markets respectively. Indeed, the only “non-Southern” DMA was Wheeling-Steubenville, which is split between West Virginia and Ohio:
They say a “picture is worth a thousand words”, so we’ve included a heat map for “WWE Monday Night Raw”. TV markets with above average viewing are rendered in warm colors (red/orange), while markets with below average viewing are in blue. As you can see, the Southeastern portion of the United States is a hotbed for professional wrestling:
Despite the obvious southern skew, it would be wrong to convey the impression that professional wrestling is unpopular in large northern cities. Indeed, the following DMAs all index above the national average: Boston (119 Index); Detroit (108 Index); New York (115 Index); Milwaukee (125 Index); Philadelphia (110 Index); and, Pittsburg (126 Index).
Beyond its southern geographic skew, we also analyzed professional wrestling on the basis of Acxiom’s PersonicX Clusters that Rentrak has overlaid on its set-top-box data.
In a nut-shell, PersonicX is a household-level consumer segmentation analysis that divides practically every home in America into one of seventy unique clusters across an array of demographic, behavior-graphic and lifestyle characteristics. By matching the unique characteristics of PersonicX clusters to their set-top-box panel homes, Rentrak has created PersonicX HH ratings for all the programs they measure.
Like many popular segmentation studies, PersonicX has created catchy names for each of their 70 clusters. And when we looked at the clusters with a ratings Index of at least 120 for USA’s “WWE Monday Night Raw”, three essential household characteristics emerged: (1) Homes that have a bi-modal age profile with both older and younger households attracted to wrestling; (2) Homes without children; and, (3) Homes at the lower end of the income scale:
Local Cable Advertising Demand
Over the past two years, we have seen a surge in local cable advertising for USA’s “WWE Monday Night Raw” as 560+ advertisers ordered over 19,000 30-second spots across nearly 90% of Viamedia’s entire footprint. That comes to an average of 34 spots per client.
(Source: B.I.G.SM database — Copyright © 2015 by Viamedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved)
And, if we confine our analysis to the 40+ Viamedia markets that exhibited advertising on “WWE Monday Night Raw” over the past two years, our clients upped their investments by 30%, driven by an explosion in additional 30-second units (40%+):
We also looked at the 100+ “repeat” local advertisers who invested in professional wrestling in both 2013 and 2014. Collectively, they increased their budget by 29% — a sure sign of client confidence in the show. We also compared “one-year” advertisers – those that either invested in wrestling in 2013 or 2014, but not in both years. Collectively, the 2014 “one-year” advertisers increased their investment by 32% versus 2013:
Unlike so many of the high profile cable programs and major sports that we cover in this space, automotive is not the predominant advertising category for professional wrestling. Indeed, there are three categories that stand out: Automotive (24%); Tune-in (18%); and, Entertainment & Travel (17%):
2015 off to Another Strong Start
Admittedly, professional wrestling isn’t for everyone, but it has clearly struck a deep chord with millions of fans. And through the first half year of this year, 26 new episodes of USA’s “WWE Monday Night Raw” are averaging a 1.94 U.S. household rating (2.74 share) – metrics comparable to last year’s viewing levels. And local cable ad demand has risen as well during the first half — over 8%.
In other words, this franchise just keeps rolling along week after week with hardly a pause, providing millions of fans with high-energy entertainment that makes wrestling a very attractive vehicle for local cable advertisers nationwide.
For more information on Viamedia, visit www.viamediatv.com.
– Written by Jonathan Sims, VP Media Research, Viamedia