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WWE Goes Back To The 'Attitude Era' To Try And Freshen Up Sagging TV Ratings

Wayne Duggan

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: WWE) is looking to the past in an attempt to jumpstart its slumping TV ratings and attendance.

WWE has announced Paul Heyman will take over as executive director for “Monday Night Raw” and Eric Bischoff will take over the same position for “SmackDown Live.” Both hires will report directly to WWE CEO Vince McMahon.

What To Know

After an extended TV contact with Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA) to air both “Raw” and “SmackDown” on the USA Network, “SmackDown” will be making the jump to Fox Corp (NASDAQ: FOX) this fall. WWE appears to be playing into the idea of competition between the two brands, bringing back two popular names from the so-called “Attitude Era” of professional wrestling.

Why It's Important

Heyman was president of ECW from 1993 to 2001 and has also served on the WWE creative team in the past. Bischoff is the former president of WCW, which beat WWE in the weekly ratings for extended periods from 1996 to 1999.

WWE is also feeling the heat to boost TV ratings to justify its massive new contracts with Comcast and Fox. The June 24 episode of “Raw” drew just 2.275 million viewers, down from an average of 2.82 million in 2018 and 3.01 million in 2017. While WWE has had success in building its streaming WWE Network service, its most recent pay-per-view event “Stomping Grounds” drew under 10,000 buys, a new record low for the company.

The “Attitude Era” spanned from around 1996 to 2001 and was marked by more adult-themed content, including sexual themes and violence. That period also generated WWE's highest TV ratings in history, with “Raw” routinely drawing more than 5 million weekly viewers during the peak of the “Attitude Era.”

At the time, WWE was a privately held company. In 2008, WWE announced it would be dialing back all of its content to the level of a PG rating in an attempt to make its programming more family friendly.

What’s Next

WWE fans and investors will be watching to see what, if anything, changes about the content of the company’s weekly shows under Heyman and Bischoff’s leadership. Investors will also be watching the TV ratings closely to see if a return to the “Attitude Era” can appeal to a broader audience.

WWE shares traded higher by 0.8% to $71.76 on Thursday. The stock peaked near $100 per share earlier this year.

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Photo credit: InFlamester20, from Wikimedia Commons

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