As the ratings of Raw, WWE’s long-running flagship show, continue to fall at an alarming rate, it seems only pertinent for fans and critics to search for reasons for the viewing slump.
Invariably, attention will fall squarely on CM Punk. He’s the WWE champion, after all.
But is it fair to blame him for the falling ratings?
Well, the answer is yes…and no.
Ultimately, there are a few reasons for Raw’s declining viewership. The heavy competition from Monday Night Football is one crucial factor. The programme’s new three-hour form is also an issue: The final hour tends to see a scary drop in viewership (via Wrestling Inc and PWTorch), indicating many fans simply don’t have the patience for such a long show.
So Punk is not wholly responsible. But this doesn’t absolve him of the blame completely either.
As noted, in recent times Raw has been built around CM Punk’s record-breaking reign and the nature of his relationship with renegade group The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns).
This isn’t like earlier in the year when Punk was constantly playing second-fiddle to Cena and the WWE Championship was little more than a mid-card belt. Cena’s time off to heal an elbow injury and his silly storyline romance with Diva A.J. Lee meant he has inevitably been demoted from the title picture—at least until WrestleMania season, anyway.
No longer can Punk or his fans claim he is under-appreciated, since the WWE Champion is undoubtedly the star of the show these days.
Following on from this, examining his ratings track record often leaves a lot to be desired: For instance, the start of his main event with Kane two weeks ago drew an absolutely abysmal 2.28 quarter. A few weeks prior to that his non-title bout main event with John Cena drew a mere 2.4 quarter. Considering Cena is one of the few reliable draws the company has left, this is even more startling. (Ratings data is from the subscribers-only December 10's Wrestling Observer Newsletter and November 19's Wrestling Observer Newsletter).
What is more, the Raw after Survivor Series was specifically built around Punk's massive one year celebration with the belt, and the direct result: another awful rating. (Via PWTorch).
Examining all this, it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that despite WWE’s best efforts he’s just not taking off with anyone outside of the base. The “insider” nature of his character probably doesn’t help: Sure, most hardcore fans may lap up his work-shoot comments against the company hierarchy, but most of the casual audience simply don’t know—or even care—what goes on behind the scenes. The nature of the Punk character is lost on them.
He may also be hindered by his lame duck status: Most are expecting The Rock to win the WWE Championship next month from Punk at the Royal Rumble, so it’s difficult for anyone to become interested in the Punk/Ryback feud, since a title switch is obviously not forthcoming.
Punk’s reaction to all this has been notable too. On last week’s Raw he came out to cut a heel promo. Coming off as more annoyed than usual, an angry Punk complained about the “dismal three hour Raws” and then informed any people watching at home to change the channel if they didn’t like him. (Going by the abysmal rating of that show, via PWTorch, it seems like at least some people listened).
Of course, it’s difficult to know what is and is not scripted these days, especially when dealing with Punk, who seems to be in constant work/shoot mode (it wouldn’t surprise me if he were Vince Russo’s favorite wrestler). But it’s hard to imagine Vince McMahon and company specifically writing in counter-productive lines where the WWE champion calls the show awful and tells everyone to switch over.
If anything, the whole promo felt like a frustrated Punk venting. It may be difficult for him to accept that he’s just not the big draw the company desperately needs and, in fact, may be a part of the problem—at least when it comes to drawing casual fans.
Of course, it’s possible people are being too harsh on Punk: After all, it is impossible to know how more established draws like Cena or Triple H (if he were back full-time) would have coped with a lukewarm product and an extra hour if they were WWE champion. It would have been a struggle for anyone.
But the ratings—and those of Punk’s segments specifically—don’t lie. It looks to be that, for all his skills and talent, he simply lacks the mass appeal one would want in a headliner and can’t carry the company.
Throughout his WWE career, Punk has often portrayed himself as a truth-telling rebel, one who exposes the fallacies and misconceptions of a rigid corporate structure to bring genuine honesty to the fans. But is this one truth he can accept?