What's Going On With AEW? Why WWE's Main Competitor Is Losing Ratings And Excitement

 Will Ospreay and Bryan Danielson at AEW Dynasty.
Credit: AEW

What the hell happened? Back in 2019, AEW was on fire. Former WWE star, Cody Rhodes, was one of the faces of the company, and he shared the stage with indie darlings like The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega.

Not only that, but longtime veteran Chris Jericho was on the roster, as well as some newcomers like Sammy Guevara, and a fresh faced upstart named MJF, who I would later call the best thing to happen to pro-wrestling. In every way, it looked like WWE would finally have some stiff competition.

However, flash forward to 2024, and AEW is looking more like latter day WCW than anything that could ever compete with WWE. So, how did we get here? Well…

Jon Moxley in AEW
Jon Moxley in AEW

AEW Has Been Considerably Lower In The Ratings, Even With Dynamite

Ratings for AEW Rampage and AEW Collision, to be frank, aren’t great. According to Wrestlenomics, Rampage is regularly well below 500K viewers each week, while Collision sometimes reaches 500K, but the numbers aren’t consistent. In fact, when AEW was first looking to launch Collision, I wondered if it was even worth it, and current ratings have shown that the verdict is still out there.

Now, being that Collision is a Saturday night show, maybe founder and co-owner, Tony Khan, is happy with those numbers. However, I’m sure he can’t be happy with the decline of their flagship show, Wednesday night’s Dynamite, as its June 19th show hit record lows at only 502,000 viewers. Now, the following week’s episode on June 26th rebounded to 680,000 viewers, but NXT’s recent ratings have been either close to or have beaten AEW Dynamite, which isn’t a good look.

Yes, NXT has been changing up its game recently by having Raw and Smackdown wrestlers, as well as legends, occasionally making appearances on NXT to boost ratings, but you have to remember that NXT is primarily WWE’s developmental division. It’s not Raw or Smackdown, which consistently stays well above a million viewers week-after-week.

So, it’s disheartening to see AEW hasn’t really grown its audience substantially from when it started. Their product is still pretty good, even though I’ve noted in the past that maybe there’s been a reason to worry. But, as a fan, I just wish that AEW was doing better.

Ricochet holding the WWE Speed Championship
Ricochet holding the WWE Speed Championship

Meanwhile, Most Of WWE's Shows Have Been Up In The Ratings

WWE has been doing well lately. Yes, there are occasional dips, which are to be expected when sporting events air in the same time slot, but Raw’s ratings have had an uptick as of late, and Smackdown has been consistently doing well. And, while NXT’s ratings have been a bit more inconsistent, the fact that NXT has been able to surpass AEW on some occasions has been a little concerning.

However, it’s easy to understand why WWE has been doing so well lately. Following the historic WrestleMania 40 in April, it’s been an interesting time observing the fallout of that event. Cody Rhodes has made for an interesting, more consistent champion than Roman Reigns, and the shows have been pretty good, for the most part, with even Raw’s three hour tapings staying mostly compelling.

It’s almost like the WWE creatives have actually been listening to their audience, rather than completely ignoring them like they did during the Vince McMahon era. And, while WWE has been making good with a majority of its wrestlers, AEW has still been struggling in that regard.

Will Ospreay at AEW All In 2023
Will Ospreay at AEW All In 2023

Newly Acquired Wrestlers, Like Will Ospreay, Mercedes Mone, And Kazuchika Okada Haven't Moved The Needle For AEW

AEW has a lot of talented wrestlers. Maybe even too many. And a big issue is that many of them don’t appear to be moving the needle all that much. Honestly, when CM Punk left (or rather, got fired), and went back to WWE, I honestly thought that it was the end of AEW. But then, AEW acquired some exciting new wrestlers like Will Ospreay, Kazuchika Okada, and Mercedes Mone.

The only issue is, they don’t seem to be boosting the ratings all that much, which is a real shame, since all three of them have been putting on some great matches. Sure, Mercedes Mone felt mostly wasted for several weeks, but now that she’s actually wrestling, she’s been a great asset to the company.

However, she, Ospreay, and Okada have apparently not been bringing in any new fans, which is one of AEW’s biggest problems.

Yes, longtime fans, such as myself, have enjoyed their presence, but they’re not bringing in new viewership like CM Punk once did. And while I am very happy that MJF is back, his return doesn’t seem to be giving AEW the boost that it so desperately needs. So, why is WWE doing so much better than AEW now?

Liv Morgan in the WWE
Liv Morgan in the WWE

WWE Has Multiple Concurrent Storylines, And Most Of Them Are Pretty Exciting

One thing that I frequently hear said about AEW is that the matches are pretty good (especially the PPV’s), but that the storytelling is terrible. As a frequent viewer of Dynamite, I can definitely attest to that. It wasn’t always this way, but I feel like there’s been a steep decline when it comes to AEW’s booking.

That said, WWE has been doing a great job with multiple storylines. You have what’s going on with Dominik Mysterio and Liv Morgan in Rhea Ripley’s absence. You have what’s been going on with Drew McIntyre following Clash at the Castle. You also have the Wyatt Sicks storyline, and the destruction they’ve caused. Hell, you even have interesting storylines with Chad Gable (who is thankfully still alive).

In every way, WWE has been doing the most with its roster as possible, and it’s creating must-see TV for wrestling fans. Because – and any pro-wrestling fan will tell you this – great wrestling is only a portion of the business. You also have to be able to tell a good story, and AEW still needs some major work in that department.

Swerve Strickland at AEW Dynasty
Swerve Strickland at AEW Dynasty

Even With Wrestlers Leaving WWE, AEW Doesn't Seem As Attractive A Prospect Anymore

There was a time, especially during the Vince McMahon era, when AEW seemed like an attractive place to work. Yes, wrestlers like Jon Moxley, Bryan Danielson, and Swerve Strickland are probably better off in AEW than when they were in WWE, but there are so many other examples of wrestlers who jumped ship from WWE only to be underused in AEW.

Just to name a few, Keith Lee, Malakai Black, Miro, and Pac looked like they were going to make huge waves in AEW, only to barely make a ripple. And while some of them have had more luck than others, a lot of WWE wrestlers might look at someone like Miro’s push and decide that maybe it’s better to not be so hasty in signing with AEW.

Andrade El Idolo left AEW not too long ago to return to WWE, and we’re still not sure whether the immensely talented Ricochet will be heading to AEW or not. It's possible that wrestlers looking at these recent ratings might now think twice about heading to AEW, which likely isn’t good for the future of product, which has partly relied on picking up former WWE stars.

Randy Orton smiling at Cody Rhodes' Return to the WWE
Randy Orton smiling at Cody Rhodes' Return to the WWE

Many Fans Of AEW May Have Jumped Ship To WWE

And lastly, one reason why AEW might be losing in the ratings to WWE is because former AEW fans might now be WWE fans. I wrote as such myself not too long ago, and I actually bailed on AEW for WWE for a couple of weeks. That said, while I found that I missed the wrestlers on AEW and returned to watching it, that doesn’t keep me from following the ongoing storylines in WWE.

In fact, I always keep a close eye on the social media platform X, to see if I want to turn on Raw or Smackdown at a moment’s notice. And since NXT is closely connected to both programs, I could definitely see some AEW defectors missing Dynamite or Rampage to catch NXT or Smackdown instead.

This would be a huge problem for AEW, which needs to grow its audience, not lose it. And when the fans leave, less people watch, which is likely the reason why AEW is struggling right now.

Because most wrestling fans love wrestling so much that they’re going to get it elsewhere. And what better place to get it from than the brand that a lot of AEW fans likely left in the first place? Watching WWE, for some, is probably like coming back home again.

But, what do you think? Are you also an AEW fan who has been struggling to stick with the product? For more news on all things wrestling-related, be sure to swing around here often.