This wasn't too hard to see coming.
Simple math and understanding of how television works boils down WWE Raw's ratings catastrophe into a basic formula where bad television = bad viewership.
And Raw is bad television these days, hence only 2.194 million households watching the most recent episode, according to Marc Middleton of WrestlingInc.com. Or in other words, the lowest number in the show's 26 years on the air.
There aren't any excuses this time either. No, "oh football is on and taking up viewers." No election excuse. Not even a general point to television as a whole suffering—it is, but not enough to put an all-time dent in a longstanding show that relies on its hardcore fans to buoy it through the hard times.
Right on cue, WWE has responded with—yep, you guessed it—an appearance from Vince McMahon on the next episode:
The fans never see McMahon anymore. He's mostly reserved for disasters. Or in this case, he's been enclosed in a "break glass in case of viewership emergency" capsule.
That McMahon even has to show up on Raw in large part has to do with his insistence on building up Roman Reigns and only Roman Reigns in recent years.
Which is no fault of Reigns' by any means, by the way. In fact, the booking did him a disservice, too, because it seemed like many started to overlook how superb he was in the ring and locker room itself.
But the lack of a contingency plan is a killer for Raw. Propping Reigns up meant nobody would stand out. Rather, they all succumbed to 50-50 booking. The "anything can happen and anyone can win" idea sounds good on paper but doesn't work in execution because no one ever stands out.
That's what makes a Lesnar appearance so special, right? He shows up, and the mood all changes—somebody is getting ripped apart. He isn't losing.
That's also what makes some of the missteps en route to only promoting one guy as the absolute top dog so crushing. A talent like Finn Balor shouldn't be wasting away right now. Samoa Joe was credible on the mic and in the ring with Lesnar. Ambrose was always the B player next to Reigns and now instead of ascending, he's doing doctor's-office promos in a feud with Seth Rollins, who has a catchy entrance and not much of a character. Braun Strowman is fun, but he served as the main punching bag for Reigns.
Rather than build up some of these guys, the combination of Reigns at the top (far too late in overcoming Lesnar, by the way) combines with an over-reliance on legends when necessary. WWE was content to go overseas, rip Shawn Michaels out of retirement for a snoozefest of a match in which one of the competitors got seriously injured and, on the same show, had Shane McMahon win the title of "best in the world."
So yeah, years of bad decisions with an uber-talented roster has led to this point. WWE goes out of its way to acquire some of the best talent in the world and has what might be the best roster at any point in company history and turns around so it can...have a somewhat recent arrival like Bobby Lashley slapping his butt on television?
WWE tried to spin this negative into a positive, as it does with most bad developments. Nia Jax blasting Becky Lynch to the concussion pile, ruining the most anticipated match of a pay-per-view and getting rewarded for it being a prominent recent example.
Rollins himself was the one miscast in the role of anti-authority all of a sudden as he played up on the low-ratings theme:
Baron Corbin is the fall guy here, but what does Raw have going for it? The top champ never defends, let alone shows up. Ronda Rousey, billed as perhaps the biggest thing in the company, has lost her shine because she's appearing way too often and is lost in tag-team matches. The Intercontinental champ has the same tired match each week. Who are the tag champs? And the second-biggest storyline after the botched Dean Ambrose-Seth Rollins rivalry is another heel general manager schtick...which WWE has been running for about a decade straight.
At this point, the most McMahon can walk out and do is reveal there will be a shakeup or a series of trades to make things interesting again. But there are a few holes in this. One, SmackDown is superb the way it is and doesn't need much help. Two, trying to pump up Raw now is short-sighted, as the blue brand can't afford to take a dip before it changes networks.
Even then, the Reigns-sized gap on Raw, which is about 10 times bigger than it should be in the first place, isn't guaranteed to be filled properly. Raw has regressed, not shown progress, so it's safe to presume WrestleMania season will once again revolve around returning legends, or maybe they get someone like The Rock, before Raw goes back in the ratings wasteland again.
There isn't an easy fix here. WWE had an opportunity to show the formula would get turned on its head once Reigns had to walk. Suddenly, the entire roster had a chance at clawing to the top again. WWE falling back into old ways as soon as possible, having no one or trusting no one to carry the torch, is why now even hardcore fans are starting to throw up their hands and not tune in to watch. Why sit there for three hours of bad comedy, misuse of talent and more when a few YouTube videos will do the same thing in a few minutes?
Raw will get a ratings bump from McMahon's presence, of course. It never fails and won't here. But the short-term boost may only last a week unless Raw stops turning away viewers with the Reigns-based, 50-50 booking and takes steps toward smartly using its deep roster in interesting ways.