On the night of October 2, 2019, a new Wednesday Night War commenced. AEW Dynamite managed a decisive victory against WWE NXT, leading by over a half-million viewers that debut episode.
This trend continued for 7 weeks consecutively, but the past 2 weeks have seen NXT overcome. We’ll take a look at why AEW was able to dominate this war, and why the tides have turned.
5. New Promotion Smell
There’s nothing like being in the first group of people to experience something, and that has been a big part of AEW’s early appeal. With a year of build, AEW was able to capitalize on the hype to debut to huge numbers.
Despite NXT having a half-decade of history prior to the inception of the Second Wrestling War, AEW brought a wave of excitement for the unknown that the wrestling world hadn’t seen in decades. With this hype train on overload, it’s not a surprise that AEW was pulling in viewers with the New Hotness.
However, what’s old can be made new again. With some unexpected flight issues in a country near Iraq, NXT seized its moment. Millions at home were introduced to the former Network exclusives when they took over the larger platform afforded by FOX.
With an impactful debut, the previously unaware “casual” viewer was introduced to more than a commercial, and the first meaningful counter-strike was launched.
4. Big Fight Feel
While AEW Dynamite is touring arenas weekly, NXT is confined to Full Sail University’s Full Sail Live.
This puts AEW’s “Low” attendance figures around 5,000 while NXT is limited to a capacity of 1,500. You don’t need to be a number scientist to see that AEW: Dynamite is closer to WWE’s flagship shows in presentation than their own intimate experience of NXT.
With this in mind, more eyes will be on the show that looks like the bigger spectacle. But NXT got its chance to be the spectacle when it became the companies focal point.
Though the normal mantra is “We Are NXT!,” the introduction of NXT stars on both Raw and Smackdown finally answered the question for many of “What Is NXT?.” This gave them two opportunities on a larger stage to advertise their product through in-ring work. The invasion wasn’t only a storyline, but as we can see from the +50 ratings this invasion also occured in the consciousness of previously unaware viewers.
3. No Developmental Stigma
NXT’s utilization in the past may be hurting the product now. NXT has been seen as a step between the performance center and the main roster, where skills could be sharpened before making the jump to national television. This, unfortunately, gives the appearance of NXT being an afterthought.
AEW has presented their roster the entire time as the main roster of the company. With only a single product to present, there is no argument what show is the A, B, or C show, as Dynamite wins top position by default. If you want to see Jericho, Moxley, Omega, The Bucks, or Luchasaurus…there’s only one show to tune in to (Negating, AEW: Dark). Your Favorite Stars from the promotion share a singular home.
Then, Survivor Series. The running thread through the show was “Brand Supremacy” with NXT, Raw, and Smackdown in direct competition. No longer confined to the smaller venue and separate event of Takeover, NXT was able to pull a near shut-out during Survivor series, establishing themselves as not only A Main Roster but THE Main Roster.
2. The Network
If there’s one thing WWE has marketed more aggressively than the WWE Network, I have no idea what it is. The past few years have seen this become not only the home of PPV events, but some of wrestling’s best original programming, including NXT.
This led to NXT remaining on the Network, while simultaneously airing live on USA. For international fans (Including you lovely folk in the UK), this was too important a product to lose, so WWE compromised with a minimal delay taped airing. This also meant US subscribers had no added incentive to catch the show live on cable television.
However, WWE was able to provide this incentive with their Survivor Series angle. With Triple H giving an open invite to any roster to show up, many tuned in to see who would answer the call in NXT’s go-home show. Following a decisive victory at Survivor Series, many tuned in to answer the question “What’s Next.”
1. It Doesn’t Matter What NXT’s Ratings Are
Without getting into the minutiae of Nielsen Ratings and why they’re a load of bollocks, they don’t matter for NXT. In fact, ratings don’t matter to 99% of the people reading this article.
NXT is easily the least expensive show for WWE to produce, as it takes place in a single location with a limited capacity. On the other hand, AEW’s deal with Turner makes money on the back-end with an ad-split based on projections. The need for AEW to hit projections is where Ratings come in.
When we watch a show, all ratings do is tell advertisers where they want to put their money. When a show becomes about ratings, it’s no longer about viewers, it’s about satisfying the advertisers so the money continues to flow.
Important to that, the debut of AEW tripled its projected performance of 400,000-500,000. And even with the lowest rating as of this writing being 663,000 AEW is continuing to outperform expectations.
NXT has had the added benefit of just a bit more focus on the two flagship shows, and that has provided a solid bump. While AEW continues to win the coveted 18-49 demographic, the new viewers in the 50+ demographic has been integral in NXT’s overall victories.
In the end, no matter what channel gets higher ratings Wednesday evening, the true winner is the fan-base that gets provided quality sports-entertainment wherever they turn.