Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Thoughts on the 2023-24 League Average (AKA The Breakdown: Fox Friday in 2022-23)

It's time for a journey through the Fox Friday schedule in 2022-23. I'm going to use this usually uneventful post as a jumping-off point to examine whether SmackDown! should be part of the league average, and some other general thoughts about this very weird upcoming season's league average.


2021-22WWE SmackDown!92
2022-23WWE SmackDown!118 (+28%)
119 (+29%)118 (+28%)


The fall marked the beginning of an ascendant season for SmackDown, at least in Plus terms. A show that had lingered just shy of the league average in its first three years on Fox suddenly took a step well above it. Just want to note here that it actually didn't set Fox's Friday 8/7c record in the fall, finishing less than a point behind Fox's enormous Last Man Standing opening in fall 2018.


2021-22WWE SmackDown!111
2022-23WWE SmackDown!140 (+26%)
140 (+26%)140 (+26%)


The show had basically the same winter bounce as last year.


2021-22WWE SmackDown!96
2022-23WWE SmackDown!140 (+45%)
140 (+45%)140 (+45%)


And the growth actually accelerated to new heights in the spring as SmackDown did not decline a bit from its winter numbers, actually hitting 0.7 on a few occasions in March and April.

Rating the Ratings

WWE SmackDown!0.20.560.7+11%132+33%

Not sure this is something I've ever talked about at length, but from the very first time I published the A18-49+ metric I've been coding the SmackDown! franchise as a "non-sports original series." This initially applied to its run on the CW (and UPN once I got numbers going back that far). Of course, being on the netlets, it didn't go into the league average, so its only real impact on broader trends was that it might have affected the UPN/CW network-wide numbers when it aired on those networks. But it wasn't a big deal especially in the CW years, when it aired on Friday and was usually about in line with the average of the network as a whole.

When it moved to Fox in 2019, I briefly considered the issue again, since it would have somewhat bigger implications. Something that airs for two hours a week every single week on a big four network is a non-trivial piece of the real estate that makes up the "league average." But I am always very hesitant to change the rules of the game mid-stream without an extremely good reason, so I just kept listing it as an original and let it ride. I got away with it for the first three years; while it was surely bigger than anything else Fox could've programmed on that night, and thus it might've helped Fox's network-wide numbers, it was still below the league average, so it wasn't actually bringing that number up. The league average was still lower than if Fox had, say, just aired reruns or sports on Friday all season, because none of those would've counted.

2022-23 was certainly a different beast, as the show surged into hit territory and thus became something that had a significant pull on the league average. The league average including SmackDown! (0.4264) was almost six-thousandths of a point larger than without it (0.4208). And it was perhaps even more noticeable in year-to-year trends, where that +33% surge made a big mark. Comparing 2021-22 to 2022-23 with SmackDown! in both seasons, the league average was -16.4%. Excluding it from both seasons, the decline was a full percentage point steeper: -17.4%.

This means that a 2022-23 league average series (100) would actually have a 101.3 Plus in a league average without SmackDown!. A borderline hit (125) would have a 126.7 Plus. Certainly not a game-changer in terms of how we perceive shows right now. But if the WWE is now headed on some kind of NFL-esque trajectory, with growth like this on an annual basis, maybe getting into megahit territory in a couple years... well, that would start to have a huge cumulative effect. It might be time to start thinking about SmackDown! as more of a "sport" than a "scripted series." Even if it is technically scripted (my original justification for putting in that category), it may just become clear that it has an event-like appeal that is not typical of regular series.

I would feel a lot more urgency to try to make a decision about this right now, if not for the fact that 2023-24 is shaping up to be an extremely irregular season in general due to the writers'/actors' strikes. At this point, most regular scripted programs will probably be back very late in the season or not at all. Even if the strikes magically ended today, this should still be a more disrupted season than the previous two standards (the 2007-08 writers' strike season and the COVID-delayed 2020-21 season). I kind of expect to do what I did in 2020-21, which was to basically just lock in the preseason projected league average and use that as a placeholder indefinitely, rather than try to roll up an average of all the irregular programming. I haven't even ruled out just using that projection placeholder as the "official" league average even after the season is over.

There also seem to be some rumors out there that SmackDown! is no guarantee to continue on big Fox past the end of the current deal in 2024. It feels like there is this occasional rumbling that SmackDown! hasn't been as big as Fox hoped (seems pretty absurd to me, but whatever). But in terms of this issue, it would definitely be a weight off my shoulders if we could get it off of a big four network. That's another reason that I am inclined to just kick the can down the road for another year and hope that something prevents me from having to change the rules, be it in the ratings or in the rights-holdings. If you have some better insight, let me know.

Anyway, as long as I'm still thinking of SmackDown! as a series rather than a sport, this season has to get a Grade: A. 

The names in this last table link to the shows' War of 18-49 pages. Links with an asterisk(*) have been updated with the new info. Updates to younger shows will come later in the summer.

Previous Breakdowns for Fox Friday: 2015-16 | 2016-17 | 2017-18 | 2018-19 | 2019-20 | 2020-21 | 2021-22

Here's the now updated Schedules Plus for Fox Friday.

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