WWE has a listening problem. That’s been clear for a long time, through all the Cena years, through the attempts to bury Daniel Bryan, through the multiple botched attempts to push Roman Reigns as the top guy, and with many more examples, more than we could reasonably list in this article, in between. It’s led to a nonstop, steady decline in ratings despite a general resurgence in popularity for pro wrestling in pop culture. But perhaps never has it been more blatantly on display than during the ending to Sunday’s Hell in the Cell PPV.
The culmination of a week that saw WWE’s first real competition in two decades launch a weekly television show on TNT that trounced WWE’s hastily-planned NXT mini-takeover in the ratings, a week that saw the debut of Smackdown on Fox that had been hyped for a year deliver a mostly lackluster showing, a week that saw WWE put seemingly more effort into promoting their next Saudi Arabian blood money show than the PPV happening this weekend, WWE chose to allow that PPV to go off the air to loud and clear chants of “BULLSH*T,” “RESTART THE MATCH,” and “AEW,” as well as nonstop boos. And just like many other times they’ve pissed off their own fans before, they should absolutely have seen it coming.
Bray Wyatt’s return a few months ago as a happy-go-lucky children’s host with a demonic split personality as The Fiend has arguably been WWE’s hottest angle in years. It could be argued that The Fiend doesn’t need a World Championship reign or even that his character flat out isn’t compatible with one. But the obvious rebuttal to that argument is that nobody forced WWE to book The Fiend in a World Championship match.
Once they did, it was clear that fans wanted the Fiend to win the championship from Seth Rollins at Hell in the Cell. It was clear from the way they cheered when the Fiend attacked beloved legends on episodes of Raw and Smackdown. It was clear when they mercilessly booed Seth Rollins in the build-up to the show, in his pre-match promo, and during the match itself. It was especially clear when the crowd in Sacramento, who could smell the WWE screwjob a mile away, turned on the match when it became obvious the Fiend wasn’t walking out the winner.
And of course, it was clear while they chanted the name of WWE’s competition just before and after the referee stopped the match when Seth Rollins hit the Fiend with a sledgehammer. We could point out that people have been literally thrown off and through the top of the cell without the match being stopped, but logical consistency hasn’t been a priority for WWE in a long time. The crowd continued to make their feelings clear after the show went off the air as well.
Listen to the crowd after Hell in a Cell went off the air 😮 pic.twitter.com/efVcpXaZIG
— Ryan Satin (@ryansatin) October 7, 2019
But WWE is either remarkably adept at failing to understand their own audience, or more likely, so arrogant that they think what their fans want never matters. For almost twenty years, it hasn’t mattered because WWE was the only reasonable option for North American fans of pro wrestling who want to watch it on a weekly basis on television, which is why the ratings have continuously gone down. That’s no longer the case, as the disgruntled fans in Sacramento let everyone watching the WWE Network know.
If even more of WWE’s fans tune in to AEW Dynamite on TNT on Wednesday at 8PM, WWE will have no one to blame but themselves. And when ratings continue to decline and Smackdown ultimately fails to live up to Fox’s expectations, they’ll have themselves to blame for that as well.
We tried to warn them, but they have a listening problem. WWE doesn’t respect its own fans.