The professional wrestling landscape is really heating up.
Over the weekend, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.'s WWE SummerSlam was reportedly the highest grossing and most-viewed SummerSlam in the event's 34-year history.
On Friday, the return of CM Punk after a seven-year absence from pro wrestling boosted All Elite Wrestling's “Rampage” TV ratings by 52.5%, and Pro Wrestling Tees announced Punk’s new shirt is already the highest selling design in its history.
In a recent interview, WWE President and Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan said WWE is also in the process of refreshing its NXT brand.
“In the next couple of weeks, it’s going to have a whole new look, it’s going to have a whole new feel,” Khan said.
New Wrestling Boom? The recent success of professional wrestling has some fans speculating that the industry could be on the verge of another boom period of popularity similar to the one it experienced during the Hulkamania days of the 1980s and the so-called "Monday Night Wars" in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Eric Bischoff, who was president of World Championship Wrestling during the 1990s, said on a recent podcast it's an exciting time in the industry.
“It's been a long time since there’s been across-the-board buzz about the industry in general. I’m really really happy for AEW in particular, Tony Khan, and wrestling fans all over the country,” Bischoff said.
Meltzer’s Observations: The competition between WWE and AEW is very similar to the “Monday Night Wars” between WWE and WCW during the previous wrestling boom, according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
“Wrestling hasn't had a strong No. 2 promotion at this level since WCW started falling apart in 1999. And for overall health economically, the industry has never been stronger… It has had two shows in the top five on cable for the week this past week and two weeks earlier, for the first time since 1999,” Meltzer told Benzinga.
For now, Meltzer said there are key differences between the WWE and AEW brands that could potentially fuel the rivalry between the two companies. He said WWE is still heavily reliant upon older, part-time performers. For example, part-time wrestler and full-time actor John Cena competed in the main event of SummerSlam, while the return of part-timer Brock Lesnar closed the show.
“WWE is still the more popular, but AEW is growing tremendously and skews younger and has more members of families watching together, features younger performers and has a more athletic style. WWE has the huge advantage with the over 50 audience and traditional audience plus has stronger and more established television platforms,” Meltzer told Benzinga.
Troubling Signs For WWE: AEW still has a long way to go to close the competition gap with market leader WWE, Wrestlenomics author Brandon Thurston told Benzinga, but there are some potentially troubling signs for WWE investors.
“WWE's TV ratings for new content (Raw and Smackdown) are getting closer to that of AEW with viewers aged 18-49, the demo advertisers care most about, and an age group that might forecast the future of TV viewing,” Thurston said.
“It's worth noting the average 18-49 viewership for AEW Rampage on Friday night on TNT at 10pm was 692,000, which is higher than some recent weeks of WWE Raw (8-11pm).”
WWE's "Monday Night Raw" and NXT programs are broadcast on USA Network, a unit of Comcast CMCSA; Its "Friday Night Smackdown" is broadcast on Fox FOX. TNT is a unit of AT&T Inc. T.
Thurston also cautioned investors and fans to keep booming ticket sales and TV ratings in perspective, at least for now.
“It's hard to separate the ‘pent-up’ demand effect from the return to touring (benefiting both ticket sales and TV ratings) from a secular increase in interest in wrestling,” he said.
And while it may be an exciting time for pro wrestling as a whole, Thurston echoed Meltzer’s belief that the industry may not have the star power it did during previous boom eras, which included stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock.
“WWE has Roman Reigns, and a number of mostly older part-time stars who occasionally visit their programming. But who's the new star that either WWE or AEW will create who will drive more than just short-term spikes in interest? That's not clear,” Thurston told Benzinga.
Benzinga’s Take: Wrestling fans are hoping the old adage that competition breeds excellence will once again prove true in the wrestling industry as it did during the late 1990s. WWE investors are hoping for something that can jump-start its lagging stock, which is now down 39.2% overall in the past three years.
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