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August 9, 2007
Mike Abitabile

The Devilís Advocate:
The Impossible Becomes Possible. Or Does It?

Iíve often been accused of people a McMahon apologist. I prefer to call it being a wrestling fan. I donít see everything with rose-colored glasses, but I try to point out that, if everything was as bad as wrestling reporters made it out to be, wrestling, and the WWE, would be in a lot worse trouble then they really are. Take for example, the recent WWE ratings. Raw has dipped to a 3.4 in recent week, down from hovering around the 4.8 range. And then, on Wednesday, all hell broke loose when Nielsen announced Raw had done a 2.5 on Monday night. The first thought that went through my mind was that it was impossible. Here is my initial reaction that I posted on the History of WWE Message Board (here)

Not to sound like a McMahon apologist, but that is really hard to believe. I mean, if it really was that bad, that's fine, and changes need to be made. And I know all the big names have reported this too.

But at this point, I've been monitoring ratings since near the end of the Monday Night War and nothing, Raw, Nitro, Thunder, SD!, whatever, has ever dropped this much from one week to the next. Half a point is the most I can remember.

I am not saying it is wrong, but it just hard to believe a million people would tune out of Raw in one week.

There is a first time for everything, but the usual pattern is to see people stop watching slowly, not all at once. Besides, a lot of people said they actually enjoyed Raw last week, so why would they not come back the next? Even Dave Scherer at PWInsider is saying he wouldn't be surprised to find out there was a glitch somewhere.

The other thing that is making me hesitant to accept this number is that the SD numbers have been consistent through Raw's recent rating's slip, and ECW is still hovering around their usual number. If this is a result of the Benoit situation, wouldn't people stop watching the entire product and not just one show? And if it is a creative issue, personally, I've seen past instances of much worse creative complaints on the Internet than presently, and the ratings didn't slip like this with those complaints.

But if it is true, then this isn't a downward spiral, this is a disaster of epic proportions because Raw would have lost around 40% of their audience in a month.

I actually have facts and data to back up my statements too, courtesy of the Wrestling Information Archive (here). They have the ratings for Raw posted, starting all the way back in 1995, up until present. If you look at the ratings during the Monday Night War, there are a couple of weeks with big jumps, due to Raw being pre-empted (due to the dog show or tennis) or Nitro having itís start time changed (due to NBA playoffs). After the War ended, Rawís ratings have basically fluctuated a couple of tenths each week, not counting preemptions or holidays, with large drops or gains happening over a longer time frame. Basically, a drop this large hasnít happened before to Raw.

On top of past numbers and patterns pointing to this being out of the ordinary, you need to look no further than the feedback for Raw. There were people who didnít like it, as always, but I donít think there was a huge outcry of people who were abandoning ship in large quantities. How large?

Well, a 1.0 rating point equates to 1,152,000 people, so a 0.1 is 115,200 people. Raw fell from a 3.4 to a 2.5. So, Raw supposedly lost 1,036,800 of its viewers this week. There have been plenty of times in the past when the outcry was far worse, such as Katie Vick or JR getting fired (the most recent time), or Kane electrocuting Shane McMahonís testicles. And the ratings never dropped this steeply any of those times.

Many sites jumped on the number as a fact. Again, I understand that it came from a valid source, but no one said, ďSomething has to be up hereĒ? Maybe they rationalized it as Benoit fallout in addition to so many wrestlers being injured?

At least Dave Scherer actually said he thought there had to be a mistake somewhere (here). Dave Meltzer, the most respected wrestling journalist even reported it at face value, without a mention of possible error (here). Sites then began posting stories about why this could have happened. PWInsider even put it up on their pay site (here), and The Torch has some viewer feedback (here), which sounds strange, in hindsight. All the experts had their opinions on how this could have happened.

None of them hit on the right answer though. News broke late in the week that Nielsen contacted WWE to let them know there was an error involving the Raw rating (here). To paraphrase the late, great Curt ďMr. PerfectĒ Hennig, Iím not the kind of guy to say I told you so, but if I was, hereís where Iíd say, I told you so.

Iím not in the business of telling people I am right and they are wrong, but it just amazes me that no one was cautious when posting this news. Every bit of common sense should have pointed to an error somewhere. Instead, you are left with many reporters having egg on their faces. And I am left wondering, if the Raw ratings somehow magically came in at a 6.4, would their first instinct be that itís real or a glitch? For some reason, Iíd go with the latter.

There is a problem, though. The ratings for Raw have indeed dropped in recent weeks (just not as much as everyone hoped for, apparently). There are reports that Vince McMahon is encouraging ďout of the boxĒ ideas (here) and the Mr. McMahon character returned on Monday night. WWE is aware something needs to be done, and I agree. But I have to say, it scares me when the people that so many fans trust to report the news could take something that makes no sense at face value without even looking into it. Didnít they all just complain about the news networks creating controversy and not fact-checking? If their web sites ever fail, many of the reporters can go work for CNN or Fox News and give the likes of Nancy Grace a run for her money.

Feedback is always welcome at figurefanatic@gmail.com or you can visit my blog here.

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