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WWE's 'Premiere Week' Ends On Low Note As #CancelWWENetwork Trends

Andrew Ward

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: WWE) saw its "premiere week" experience a series of highs and lows for the brand.

Ratings Wins

The company kicked off Sept. 30 with the season premiere of its long-running flagship show, "Monday Night Raw," on USA Network. The episode produced a seven-week high ratings draw for the company with a 0.89 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, ranking as the fourth-highest rated cable show of the night.

USA Network is owned owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

"Raw’s" status as the brand’s flagship show has come into question following WWE’s five-year, $1 billion deal with Fox Corp (NASDAQ: FOX). Its "Smackdown" show received considerable buzz across Fox shows, including NASCAR races and NFL games.

The first episode of "Smackdown" of the Fox era became WWE's most watched telecast since its 25th anniversary show of "Raw" in January 2018. The Oct. 4 premiere pulled in 3.9 million viewers during its 8-10 p.m. ET airing.

See Also: What To Know About WWE, AEW And The Biggest Week For Pro Wrestling In Years

Ratings success were marked by a trend long-held in pro wrestling circles: fan disappointment. "Smackdown's" main event of the evening saw Brock Lesnar defeat fan favorite and underdog champion Kofi Kingston in mere seconds, following by the surprise debut of former UFC fighter Cain Velasquez.

Disappointment from WWE fans rarely converts into a negative business impact for the brand. However, that may be different due to the circumstances of the rest of the week.

Wednesday Night Wars

Wednesday night saw WWE developmental brand, NXT, go head-to-head on cable with Khan-family backed All Elite Wrestling. "NXT" would face AEW’s premiere episode of its show, "Dynamite."

First week numbers saw the TNT-aired "Dynamite" besting USA Network's "NXT" airing by a rating comparison of 0.68 viewers in the 18-49 demographic for AEW to 0.32 for "NXT." In terms of total viewers, "Dynamite" received 1.4 million while "NXT" received just under 900,00.

TNT is owned by WarnerMedia Entertainment, a unit of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T).

The win for AEW as a new product was a minor setback for WWE. The largest, at least audible, setback may have come at its Oct. 6 pay-per-view, "Hell in a Cell."

#CancelWWENetwork

Problems included the event not announcing a full lineup of bouts until the day of the show. Its previously announced main event of the evening saw champion Seth Rollins take on a growing fan favorite, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt. It would serve as the fan’s central point of discontent.

The finish of the match, which saw an unlikely referee stoppage, left fans confused and angry by the company’s storytelling.

Disappointment was felt so much that the final moments of the show were showered in boos. Chants of "AEW" and "refund" were also heard during the show. Many fans fans stuck around after to voice their displeasure.

WWE was soon skewered across social media. Matt Jackson, a wrestler and EVP of AEW, used the news to promote "Dynamite."

The most telling backlash could be from the #CancelWWENetwork hashtag that trended on social media in the show’s aftermath.

The hashtag has been used at other points of fan displeasure, including around the time WWE went forth with its "Crown Jewel" event in Saudi Arabia. It was reported that the cancel efforts during that time resulted in roughly 37,000 fans ending their subscriptions to the WWE Network.

See Also:Analyst Calls WWE A 'Precious Stone In Media'

While WWE is in a skewering of its own making at this time, the actual ramifications of its up and down week won’t be known until ratings and subscriptions numbers become available in the coming weeks and months.

WWE's stock traded marginally lower to $69.69 per share at time of publication.

Photo credit: WWE, Seth Rollins vs. "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt.

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