WWE held its Annual Shareholder Meeting on July 16 with CEO Vince McMahon addressing multiple questions regarding the current state of WWE.
It's no secret that WWE ratings and viewership numbers have suffered a big decline over the past five years and especially during the pandemic. Raw has gone from 2.3 million viewers on March 16 (the first Performance Center Raw) to 1.6 million viewers on July 20. Meanwhile, SmackDown has gone from 2.5 million viewers on March 13 (first Performance Center SmackDown) to 1.9 million viewers.
Speaking at the shareholder meeting, when asked about the declining viewership numbers, McMahon stated (via Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics), "We have a 30-plus year track record of creating compelling characters and engaging a variety of audiences, and we obviously remain confident we can continue that with our collective ability, even in the most challenging environments with no live audience. The media echo system obviously has changed. We change with it. Our engagement metrics across platforms are understandably and obviously — however, the importance of linear programming is paramount in all of our businesses — we consistently have seen year-over-year increases in a variety of digital metrics and engagement. And positive trends have continued, even during COVID."
He continued, "Conversely, TV viewership trends have been negatively impacted by COVID, obviously, and the lack of a live audience. We are still nonetheless the number-one television show on USA [Network] and consistently the number-one broadcast show on Fridays among key demos. We expect a combination of valuable promotional inventory from our TV partners with the return of sports events programming. And a deep roster of charismatic talent will have a positive impact on viewership over the long-term."
Following Vince noting WWE's history of creating new stars, he was later asked about using this time to create new stars alongside Bruce Prichard.
McMahon responded, "Sure, I mean you want to continue to build stars no matter what time. It is so, as Paul just mentioned about NXT talent. He has done an extraordinary job of creating new stars, and as they continue to evolve, they’ll continue to come up to Raw and Smackdown. So there’s this influence of new superstars coming into both Raw and Smackdown, and in addition to that, the ways that we now promote talent in a more effective way, [with] digital and social media, as opposed to the normal way. We do not have a live audience and of course that to us is paramount. They’re like the third performer in the ring, in terms of our interaction with our audience. So nonetheless it is a good time to continue with the digital and social imprint and this land grab that we have, which is substantial. We continue that, and again new stars coming up."
WWE has been without some top stars during the pandemic including Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. Lesnar has not been seen since WrestleMania 36 following his loss to Drew McIntyre. Reigns has made the decision to stay home during the pandemic for the safety of his himself and his family.
It is unknown when either will return.