It’s no secret that the pro wrestling industry is big business, and at its center stands World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). And business has never been better.
In 2017, WWE’s revenue rose 10%, hitting the $801 million mark, the highest in the company’s history. On the July 23 episode of “Monday Night Raw,” the wrestling promotion made some more history. Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer of WWE, announced that on October 28, the first all-women pay-per-view event will take place at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The event is aptly named “Evolution.”
Over the past few years, WWE has gone from a male-dominated and focused company to a, well, mostly male-dominated company, but the women of WWE have been at the forefront of much of the WWE’s mainstream ventures in recent years. In fact, the talk of the wrestling world four months ago was the signing of former UFC champion and Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey.
What’s the reason for the shift? Did WWE just decide it wants to be on the right side of history? WWE is a publicly-traded company, and every decision made by these companies usually has dollar signs attached. Did it finally realize that there is money to be made? Or are other forces at play? Let’s explore.
From divas to superstars
WWE and wrestling at large have featured women wrestlers for decades. But one thing was clear — the goal was to cater to the male audiences with pillow fights, mud wrestling, and “bra- and-panties matches” being the usual fare. Now the WWE has put an emphasis on “serious” female wrestling. Just a few years ago WWE’s female talent were referred to as “divas,” now the company refers to women wrestlers as “superstars,” the same title given to their male counterparts.
It looks like having more women in the ring is starting to pay off. According to WWE, 40% of the company’s fan base is female, and that number has been up over the last five years. The women of WWE are also a big merchandise draw for the company. As of March of 2018, two out of the top 10 best selling WWE T-shirts featured a female talent (Ronda Rousey). Another reason for the WWE’s focus on women could be the fact that male viewership is on the decline as female viewership continues to rise.
The Wrestler Observer notes that for the July 23 episode of “Monday Night Raw,” the female audience “was more loyal and actually grew, while the male audience was the one less interested as the show went on. In women ages 18-49, the first-to-third hour growth was 10% while the male drop was 1%. With teenage girls, the first-to-third hour growth was 15% while the male drop was seven percent.”
The Observer also notes that the rise in female viewership is part of a “consistent pattern in WWE ratings in which men have declined greatly over the years while women have stayed the same or even gained.”
Only the future will tell if the future really is female for WWE. But it’s clear that more female-focused content is something that is paying off both and socially and financially.
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