Chris Jericho isn’t surprised NXT boss Triple H called the promotion’s year-plus ratings battle with All Elite Wrestling on Wednesday nights an “imaginary war” — and the former AEW world champion went as far to say WWE’s brand lost on two fronts.
“That’s typical WWE,” said Jericho, who will lead The Inner Circle against The Pinnacle at AEW Blood and Guts 8 p.m. Wednesday on TNT. “It’s typical rhetoric. Because I believe that they congratulated us the first week and said, if you remember, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’ We won the marathon, right? So now it’s an imaginary war. Well then why were they saying it’s a marathon, not a sprint a year and a half ago when our first rating came out?”
AEW won the marathon of what was dubbed the “Wednesday Night Wars” by garnering better ratings than NXT on 63 of the 75 nights the two brands competed head to head for two hours in primetime. They also tied twice. Jericho, who dubbed himself the “Demo God” early on in the battle, saw his crew ahead in the key 18-to-49 demographic 74 of the 75 weeks the shows ran up against each other. While NXT had been streaming as a one-hour show Wednesdays on WWE Network, the company moved it to USA Network on that night in October 2019. According to Jericho, that was WWE’s attempt to try to limit AEW’s staying power with TNT, which in January 2020 extended the company’s deal to 2023. NXT went to Tuesday nights earlier this month.
“It will be there for the rest of time, it was an ‘imaginary war,’ and if it wasn’t a war why did they take Wednesday night the exact same time that we had?” Jericho said. “It was there to take away our ratings and for us not to get re-signed. Three months after that started we were re-signed to a hundreds-of millions-of-dollars extension. They failed.”
NBC Universal’s decision to shut down its NBCSN channel by the end of this year means more NASCAR and English Premier League coverage would move over to Wednesday nights on USA Network, but NXT was moved long before that. The switch also gives WWE the opportunity to improve its chances for a more lucrative media rights deal for NXT down the road, if the show continues to thrive on Tuesday nights and gives them a chance for a kind of lead-in from “Monday Night Raw,” which is also on USA. NXT ran for the last time against AEW on April 7.
“The promotional opportunity for us is much better on a Tuesday,” Triple H said on the “Cheap Heat” podcast with Peter Rosenberg after NXT’s move. “And also then not having to have a narrative where it’s just constantly about an imaginary war, or this imaginary battle. And people can say what they want, but the truth of the matter is you compete against everything. If you are creating a television product or content, that is the world we live in, is content not television, not internet. It’s everything.
“So you’re constantly competing for eyeballs and time against everything under the sun, including sleep and time to do other things, and video games, and TikTok and everything else that’s out there. So, having your own space sort of where you don’t have to then have an added imaginary battle…is kinda nice.”
Both shows have seen an uptick in ratings over the past three weeks with AEW posting 1.29 million, 1.104 million and 889,000, which came up against President Joe Biden’s address to Congress last week. NXT netted ratings of 805,000, 841,000 and 744,000 during the three-week span.
“We’ve done a great job of putting on amazing television throughout this pandemic,” Jericho said. “We never took our eyes off the storytelling, which is what it’s all about. And we never lost our cool factor either, which I think NXT and WWE lost a lot of.”
Jericho feels NXT hurt itself by not moving off Wednesday earlier when its efforts to turn the ratings tide wasn’t working. NXT ran shows themed off of old WCW pay-per-views such as Great American Bash and Halloween Havoc and also had main roster WWE stars appear on a number of occasions. AEW did join in the nostalgia attempt, running a two-night Bash at the Beach show in January 2020 based around Jericho’s cruise.
“They started kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face and just kept holding on and holding on and hurting their own brand and hotshoting everything to get ratings and they just weren’t getting it,” Jericho said. “So whatever reason they left, good for them, they’re a great company.”
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