The WWE will hold the Royal Rumble on Sunday, one of the sports entertainment company’s annual signature events.
Annually held in January between the NFL conference championship games and Super Bowl, the Royal Rumble routinely marks the beginning of the WWE’s road to their own annual Super Bowl – WrestleMania.
However, Vince McMahon and company had a change of plans this year. In a seemingly crazy move amid declining TV ratings, they will run the Royal Rumble against the NFC Championship between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.
Competing against an NFL playoff game is a massive challenge for anyone let alone the WWE. For example, the top rated playoff game from last week’s divisional round was Denver’s victory over Pittsburgh. An estimated 43 million people watched that game.
The other NFL playoff games weren’t exactly ratings lightweights either:
NFL playoff games are among most-watched events of the year and a ratings grizzly bear.
The AFC Championship features Brady vs. Manning XVII as a lead-in for the NFC’s two top teams squaring off on FOX for the right to play in Super Bowl 50. Therefore, the outcome for the subscriber-dependent WWE Network could be gruesome.
While last year’s AFC title game nightcap featured a 45-7 romp of Indianapolis by the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the infamous Deflategate game, it still drew over 42 million viewers.
That was a decline from the previous season’s second conference title game. The Seattle Seahawks nipped the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 to win the NFC title in front of 55.9 million viewers.
Thus, it’s reasonable to surmise a competitive conference title game will draw somewhere between 42 to 55 million viewers.
So, what gives?
Obviously, the WWE has gone out of its way for years to use the bye week in between the conference games and Super Bowl to run the Royal Rumble.
There are two issues at hand:
- No longer dependent on pay-per-view because of the subscriber-based WWE Network, the WWE may not feel as beholden to protecting the product against competition. For example, the Rumble/conference game conflict last arose in 2010 and the WWE actually moved the Royal Rumble to the following week to prevent viewership issues. Seven years prior in ’03, the Rumble faced off against the Eagles/Panthers NFC title game and the results led to a three-low in PPV buyrate for the event.
- And this is perhaps, the biggest (and most foolish) reason why all of this is taking place…the Orlando Magic. Sunday’s Rumble is in Orlando at the Amway Center. The WWE could not move the Rumble to January 31 because of a scheduling conflict with a Magic home game. Why not move it? It’s rumored that the WWE is putting WrestleMania 33 in Orlando. Thus, they might want to have the house on the 24th to celebrate the announcement instead of moving the Rumble altogether.
Reasons aside, the NFL is king.
Even the great Vince McMahon will not have an answer for Cam Newton dabbin’ on fools during the NFC Championship game on Sunday.
If it’s any consolation, Vince (even at 70) could totally take Roger Goodell in a fight.