WWE's Growing Partnership with ESPN a Great Chance to Boost Sagging Raw Ratings

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterOctober 14, 2015

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 23:  Seth Rollins enters the ring at the WWE SummerSlam 2015 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on August 23, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)
JP Yim/Getty Images

Stumbling and slumping, WWE Raw reached out and grabbed a most unexpected hand in ESPN to help it up.

WWE's deepening relationship with the sports broadcasting network is an opportunity to create curiosity about its product. Increased exposure is on its way. And WWE is banking on that leading to a widened fanbase and more eyes on its programming, specifically its flagship show on Monday nights.

As PWInsider's Dave Scherer reported earlier this week, "ESPN will be doing a weekly segment on SportsCenter recapping the Week In WWE."

World champ Seth Rollins appeared on SportsCenter on Tuesday night to kick of this new feature. He and former WWE announcer, now ESPN anchor, Jonathan Coachman chatted about current events in sports and what Rollins is dealing with in the midst of his rivalry with Kane.

Rollins was his usual braggart himself, saying of Raw, "I run that show, Coach."

ESPN is set to welcome other stars to its channel in interviews like this. That in itself is a big victory for WWE.

It's an industry built around personalities, and these interviews will be a chance to showcase the larger-than-life ones that currently inhabit the squared circle.

Sports fans who gave up wrestling as their childhood waned may be intrigued by the current crop of Superstars. Bray Wyatt is sure to remind some of Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Dean Ambrose has enough Steve Austin and Roddy Piper in him to capture some lapsed fans' attention as well.

Dean Ambrose
Dean AmbroseCredit: WWE.com

And kids who have yet to explore the world of WWE now have an additional way to stumble onto the superhero-like men and women who are the heart of Vince McMahon's baby.

SportsCenter will also air top moments from the week in WWE. On Tuesday, Coachman recapped Raw's highlights including Dolph Ziggler planting John Cena's face into the canvas with the Famouser and The New Day mocking Derrick Rose.

This is where Raw stands to gain the most from this partnership.

Sports fans unfamiliar with the show will see the biggest feats of athleticism on display. They get glimpses of the colorful, bizarre and unique world of WWE. It's an ad for Raw put in front of an audience filled with young males.

All this comes on the heels of SportsCenter airing outside the arena where WWE put on SummerSlam this year, both Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar appearing on ESPN before WrestleMania 31 and the network producing a documentary on NXT, WWE's developmental brand, for E:60

Wrestling has long been an industry subject to ridicule. It's often dismissed by the mainstream, left to be a niche form of entertainment for those passionate followers of the violent circus within the ropes.

ESPN's willingness to give WWE more airtime is a sign of how that is changing.

Sports Illustrated media columnist Richard Deitsch wrote to David Shoemaker, as seen on Grantland, about this phenomenon. He said, "There's no doubt that we're in a moment where wrestling is getting increased attention from mainstream outlets, I see it more as mainstream acceptance than a surge of popularity."

ESPN may have reached this point out of desperation more than open-mindedness, but it doesn't matter for WWE. 

The end result is that there will be more opportunities for people to stumble onto WWE happenings. There are sure to be many folks who scoff at the notion of these spandex-clad gladiators appearing on the same forum as NFL players and MMA fighters. 

On the other hand, though, ESPN's fanbase will be exposed to the WWE product more than ever before, and chances are, at least some of these viewers will be intrigued enough to sample the wares. And the thing Raw needs most right now is increased interest.

Partnering with ESPN is not the cure-all for Raw's sinking ratings, by any means, however.

It's only a way to get more people watching. WWE then has to deliver.

This marriage of sports and sports entertainment leaders comes at an odd time. WWE is slumping right now. It's in transition, trying to find its new megastar, trying to find who leads the company into its next era.

Kevin Owens sets up Cesaro for a suplex.
Kevin Owens sets up Cesaro for a suplex.JP Yim/Getty Images

The onscreen product is not nearly as good as it has been at its peaks.

Curiosity may bring new people in, but excellence is required to keep them around. WWE needs to stop playing it so safe with its storylines. It needs to create engaging angles that will turn potential fans into lasting ones.

Kane talking into a telephone backstage won't cut it. Nor will the whirlwind, hackneyed drama between Summer Rae and Rusev.

There needs to be a buzzing product that makes believers out of wrestling skeptics. 

Being on ESPN is the equivalent of someone passing out fliers to a house party. It's WWE job to make sure that party is as fun as promised.

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