The latest on the WrestleMania build revolved around the end of the 2/27 Raw show in Portland, OR, and an in-ring confrontation between The Rock and John Cena.
It was a strong segment, that left the impression WrestleMania is going to be huge. And it probably will be, even though there were some disturbing business signs with a disappointing rating, and a segment that actually lost audience when Cena came out.
The show did a 3.14 rating, which on the surface sounds bad because it’s actually lower than the previous week (the actual number of viewers was almost identical). Last year, while his unadvertised return did an average number since it was pushed only on Twitter and Facebook, after he appeared, Raw leaped to a 3.85 and 3.82 rating the next two weeks. But this show did go against the Daytona 500, which due to rain delays, ended up taking place on a Monday night for the first time in history against Raw. The race was delayed at times during the show, but there was also a spectacular fire. How much this hurt is unclear but the race did a 8.00 rating and 13.67 million viewers.
But even so, the Rose Garden in Portland only drew 9,000 fans, and this was the first time Rock had ever appeared on a wrestling show in the city. When he was wrestling, WWF didn’t run in the state of Oregon because the athletic commission did independent drug testing. But backstage he was telling people he had fond memories of Portland because when he was 10 years old, he lived there when his father wrestled for Don Owen.
Because of having Rock and Cena do a verbal confrontation, the show ended at 11:21 p.m., roughly 16 minutes longer than usual. The lesson here is that people got tired of wrestling. While I found the segment one of the best things on Raw in a while and a great promotion for Mania, the first part of the segment gained 643,000 viewers to a 3.50 rating, mostly for Rock doing a promo. That is average overrun growth, a far cry from the 1 million plus that Undertaker and HHH brought it up for their segment the week before, and the kind of numbers Rock did for almost every segment he was on last year. Cena came out and did his own promo, with the most talked about aspect being when he pointed out that Rock had written notes on his forearm, which, in fact, he had, with shorthand reminders of different thing he was going to talk about. It’s hard to know whether in the big picture, bring this up mattered or was good or not. It got a lot of people talking for a few hours, but it seemed a day later, people moved on so it didn’t seem to have a lot of effect either way. What did happen is a sizeable number of people tuned out while Cena did the promo, about 349,000, for the last six minutes of the show. It wasn’t because of what he brought up, and I don’t think it was because of Cena or Rock, but simply people are creatures of habit and the show went longer than they expected and they moved on to whatever they switch to before it was over.
The thing that has to be realized is WWE of course wants Mania to do as much money as possible. But the world doesn’t end with that show. And when Rock leaves after the Raw the next night, it’s back to Cena being the top babyface in the company. So each week they are cleverly putting him in segments, whether it be blowing off hot user Eve Torres, or constantly bringing up that Rock doesn’t really love wrestling and is also a self-centered user and that he is the guy who will be there week in and week out. For two weeks, Cena has been booed out of the building like usual when he comes out, but has managed to somewhat quiet the boos with his promos. Whether that will work with the Mania crowd, and in Miami, is doubtful. But they are trying.
Cena mentioned Rock having interview notes on his forearm, and cut another strong promo saying that he grew up as a fan of The Rock, until he met Dwayne Johnson, calling him a self centered egotistical son of a bitch. One person close to Johnson noted to us he didn’t think Johnson would go for the latter line because of the son of a bitch implies something about his mother and he and his mother are very close. Cena said that come Mania day that Johnson will be afraid because Cena will beat the hell out of him. Cena left and Rock did seem slightly flustered the rest of the interview. Either something was said he wasn’t expecting, or he is a great actor and he wanted at least some people to think something was said that he wasn’t expecting. It had that tinge of reality that almost nothing in pro wrestling has these days. The ratings don’t indicate the biggest PPV show in history, but ratings usually don’t directly correlate to the next PPV number or house show numbers. Still, advertising Rock in a city he’s never been to should have sold out for Raw, particularly since the city is historically a strong wrestling market. And why people tuned out of the show when Cena came on and was doing his promo is not what you would expect.
Mania is going to be interesting, not just to see if the two of them can pull together and have a good match, which they likely will, but the crowd reaction to Cena, the crowd reaction to Rock in a long match as opposed to just coming in for short spots that he did at Survivor Series, and the finish. What they should do has been debated to death. The logical wrestling side is that Cena is staying, Rock isn’t, and Rock cost Cena the title at last year’s Mania and so it should be his turn to win. But how they are going to pull that off in front of a crowd that came to see Rock beat Cena and will largely hate Cena may mean distraction or interference, which may not be what they’ll want out of the “biggest match of all-time.”
As far as the live crowd went, they were still with Rock as a star far bigger than anyone else for every word he said. There was the attempts to get things like Kung Pao Bitch and other phrases trending on twitter, for whatever that is worth. It worked, but when the show was over in checking Google trends, which actually do have a fairly strong historical correlation to business where twitter trending has none, you find the real world was talking about NASCAR and there was nothing in WWE getting even a sniff. That’s also a far cry from a year ago when The Rock was at the top of the trends when he came back. Still, on Mania day, they’ll be strong. But WWE has to be prepared for after. It was also notable that for the second time in recent weeks, one of WWE’s main characters talked about something along the line of the company going down. I’ve never seen, even with companies that actually did go down, a wrestling company talking about itself in that manner. And while they could easily have problems if they go into more non-wrestling related fields, it is now easier than ever for the dominant wrestling company to make money, and loads of it, even if it’s not connecting well with its audience,
Officially at this point for Mania is Rock vs. Cena, Undertaker vs. HHH in a Hell in a Cell match with some involvement of Shawn Michaels, C.M. Punk vs. Chris Jericho for the WWE title, Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus for the world title and Cody Rhodes vs. Big Show for the IC title. Based on a Smackdown angle, there looks to be Randy Orton vs. Kane, plus some sort of a multiple person match involving a team representing John Laurinaitis against a team representing Teddy Long, perhaps with the winner becoming the permanent General Manager of both Raw and Smackdown.
In looking at how the demos played, with Male teenagers, the segment went from 2.7 to 3.0, but fell all the way to 2.6 with Cena coming out to the end. With 18-49, it drew from 2.8 to 3.5, and then fell to 3.3. With female teens, it went from 1.1 to 1.0 to 1.2, and with Women 18-49, it went from 1.4 to 1.5 to 1.3.
There is also some behind-the-scenes tension going on regarding Rock, exactly how prevalent depends on who you talk with. It is not overt. I’d heard stuff after Mania last year and you had a few guys, notably Punk and Orton, say stuff publicly. Orton later apologized and Punk greatly modified what he said. But the interview Cena did last week, a great working interview to build a match, but a complete joke if you take it seriously as a shoot, did have at least some people in the locker room taking it far too seriously.
In response to former wrestlers Lance Storm and Shane Helms making comments about people were critical of Rock coming back to headline Mania, Rock agreed saying on twitter, “Incredible to me how many of the boys don’t get the business part of our business.”