WWE’s Campaign for Bray Wyatt’s Return Leads to Viewership Highs for ‘Friday Night Smackdown,’ ‘Extreme Rules’ (Exclusive)

Rather than simply highlight the wrestler’s return, WWE arranged an elaborate campaign that paid off in viewers and social engagement


WWE’s “Friday Night Smackdown” continues to smash the coveted 18-49 demographic during primetime, securing a 0.5 last week. About 2.3 million people tuned in for the event on Fox, which saw the highly anticipated return of Bray Wyatt.

The event appears to still be riding a viewership high after managing its largest audience in more than two years on Sept. 23. The record high viewership was propelled by an intricate social campaign that WWE had been running, leading to Oct. 10’s “Extreme Rules,” when the organization confirmed that Wyatt would be returning after a 14-month absence.

Rather than simply highlight the wrestler’s return, the organization began teasing the return of a so-called “white rabbit” by showing images of a white rabbit on “Smackdown,” as well as “Monday Night Raw,” and integrating QR codes within broadcasts that led viewers to strange clues.

The clues led viewers to the Sept. 23 “Smackdown” and, ultimately, confirmation of Wyatt’s return during Peacock’s “Extreme Rules” — which saw a 30 percent increase in total viewership year-over-year and became the most-watched “Extreme Rules” in history.

The following episode of “Monday Night Raw” on USA Network also benefitted, attracting an audience of 1.8 million, which is up 14 percent week-over-week.

“We asked ourselves how we could bring back Bray Wyatt in the most engaging way possible. So we created ‘The White Rabbit Project,’ intended to lead our audience down this literal rabbit hole of content to help build anticipation for Wyatt’s return at ‘Extreme Rules’ on Peacock,” Paul Levesque, WWE’s Chief Content Officer, told TheWrap. “It started with flickering lights in arenas and continued with the release of other easter eggs, like hidden QR codes within episodes of ‘SmackDown’ and ‘Raw’ that led viewers to more clues that kept them guessing, and tuning in, each week. It culminated in what we believe was a massive pay-off for our fans – and for WWE.”

The creative strategy paid off in terms of social engagement, too. Running against MLB Playoff games in primetime, “Extreme Rules” was Saturday’s most-social program on Oct. 10. The event generated 2.7 million social media interactions in-air.

The QR codes were interacted with by more than one million users, and a TikTok page dedicated to one of the clues amassed more than 10,000 followers in less than 12 hours.

“This is a great example of how WWE is uniquely positioned as a sports and entertainment property to harness the power of our shows and our social following to develop multimedia, long-term storytelling that can help produce meaningful aggregated audiences,” Levesque said.