Pro wrestling isn’t kids’ stuff. In fact, it’s viewed on television by an audience that’s much older than you might think.
In this week’s Sports Business Journal story on “the greying of sports,” John Lombardo and David Broughton analyzed 25 years of Nielsen data. They found that the median age TV viewer has gotten older for every sport except women’s tennis. And no sport (or pseudo-sport) has seen its TV viewers get older than WWE. Since 2000, the median age of wrestling viewers has gone up 26 years.
In 2000, the median age of a pro wrestling viewer was 28. Now it’s 54, per the SBJ. The age of the wrestling audience nearly doubled in 17 years!
There’s a lot that goes into this. Undoubtedly, younger wrestling viewers are more likely to be cord-cutters, and may watch WWE Raw and SmackDown Live on Hulu. (Judging by how coverage on this stuff usually goes, this post should be headlined “Millennials Are Killing Pro Wrestling.”)
But the TV data tracks with other info. The average age of wrestling fans has gotten a lot older. Last year, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer said the average age of WWE fans between 1997 and 2001 was 23. The average age is now in the 40s, Meltzer tweeted today.
In contrast to the sex-and-violence “attitude era” of WWE programming, WWE television is now rated TV-PG. Yet WWE viewers are getting older and older. This makes sense. People got into wrestling during the boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and many never left, but there hasn’t been a new crop of young fans to replace them. Hence, the audience is aging. And this aging audience isn’t watching with their kids. Per WWE’s own figures in 2013, only a small percentage of the audience is “parent fans,” people who watch because their children do.
A 2013 study by Scarborough of UFC, WWE, and boxing showed that UFC is way out in front of WWE among younger fans. The news may not be all that dire for WWE, though. Fans may be older and there may be fewer of them, but WWE can wring cash out of them like never before.
“I think that the hardcore wrestling fans are more into wrestling and will spend more money on wrestling than any fan base ever would before but there is not as many of them,” Meltzer said on the Two Man Power Trip podcast earlier this year. “Even if you go to the late ’80s period there were way, way more wrestling fans—but it is not like they are going to be spending $2,000 to go on their vacation to a wrestling show because they wouldn’t do that. It was just a different era.”