WWE Partners with Endeavor Audio, Embraces Audio as a Medium

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Back in late August, Endeavor Audio and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) announced a partnership that will result in the launch of the WWE Podcast Network. The superstar-focused series will be the wrestling promotion’s first foray into audio programming, though a pair of WWE stars – The Bella Twins – maintain their own pre-existing relationship with audio-first entertainment studio. It won’t be the first time the two companies have worked together. Endeavor Streaming now powers the back-end of the WWE Network platform.

Howie Long-Short: Endeavor Audio creates, produces, develops, markets, monetizes and distributes podcasts, predominantly within the entertainment genre. Sports is a category the company wants to pursue, so partnering with the leader in “sports-entertainment” seems logical. As for WWE, they’re simply the latest sports-centric content producer to embrace digital audio as a medium – following ESPN, The Tennis Channel and The Ringer. While Vince McMahon’s promotion likely could have ventured into the space alone, the company lacks the audio expertise needed to create a truly successful podcast network.

Endeavor sees podcasting “as a way to drive new audiences, to increase revenues and to develop I.P.;” it also happens to be cheaper and faster to produce a podcast than it is to churn out video content. Endeavor audio head of marketing Lisa LaCour cited ‘The Bellas‘ as an example of a podcast that could be monetized beyond “the spots and dots of audio. The girls have a very large rabid fan base, so putting the show on tour, developing merchandise and exploring television and film opportunities are all ways to potentially monetize the I.P.

Podcasting ad revenues are currently just a small fraction of what brands spend on television spots. That’s because “[podcast] listener numbers are not yet comparable to the television viewing audience” and advertiser interest to date has been limited to direct response businesses (like: Casper and ZipRecruiter). LaCour says, “a good podcast might do 500,000 downloads; the standard number [for a successful podcast] is low, it’s probably closer to 150,000 downloads.” Recent interest from “brand marketers” may be a sign that podcasting revenues will soon begin to close the gap.

Analytics – or a lack thereof – is another headwind in the face of the podcasting business. Beyond downloads, there’s currently little insight that can be gained and conveyed to advertisers. Once the consumer downloads the podcast to their phone, there’s no way to tell if the audio was consumed. Apple’s podcast analytics do show how much of each episode was played across all Apple devices.

If you’re looking for some of the advantages that podcasting has over television, start with what LaCour deems “a very engaged consumer. When television goes to commercial, viewers go to the bathroom. Podcast listeners remain tuned in to what is going on.” Podcasting also gives advertisers the ability to reach a younger demographic with +/- 50% of millennials and Gen-Zs now listening to on-demand audio content.

Speaking of Endeavor, according an SEC filing, the company will raise up to $712 million at a valuation between $7.9 billion and $8.3 billion. More to come on the Endeavor IPO later this week.

Fan Marino: WWE podcasts are going to be news and history centric, but LaCour believes there is also an opportunity for the medium to provide WWE fans with “world extension. When the television show ends, we can finish the world in audio. Because we’re working with the people driving the storylines, we hope to be able to push those boundaries.

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WWE Looks to Heyman, Bischoff to Turn Sharp Ratings Decline Around

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Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live – WWE’s flagship programs – experienced drastic year-over-year ratings declines through the first half of 2019. WWE co-president George Barrios blamed the Q1 drop-off in eyeballs on a series of injuries that prevented some of the biggest superstars from performing in-ring, but with a healthy roster – and WrestleMania (biggest PPV of year, resets storylines) – failing to give Raw and SmackDown the Q2 boosts expected, the pro wrestling promotion decided to take creative in another direction. In June, the company announced that Paul Heyman (see: ECW ’93-’01) and Eric Bischoff (see: WCW from ’91-’99) – legends of the Monday Night Wars era – would be taking creative control over Raw and SmackDown, respectively. The hope is that the well-respected duo can come up with storylines that will once again make the weekly shows appointment programming.

Howie Long-Short: WWE was a Wall Street darling in 2018. With the company signing long-term broadcast deals for both Raw and SmackDown worth a combined $2.35 billion (+213% increase in annual value), shares rose +138% over the twelve-month period. But declining television viewership, slowing network subscription growth, a drop-off in gate receipts and merchandise sales and the emergence of a formidable domestic competitor (see: AEW) has spooked investors in 2019; the company’s market cap is down -27% since it reported underwhelming first quarter results back in April.

Investors aren’t the only ones unnerved by WWE’s H1 struggles, Variety reported that executives at both NBCUniversal (Raw) and Fox (SmackDown) are “getting nervous” that they may have overpaid on the 5 year pacts scheduled to start later this year. While the two programs remain amongst the highest rated on weekly television, the downturn in viewership has been pronounced (Raw -20% YoY, SmackDown -17 YoY); tune-in figures were pretty consistent between 2017 and 2018. It does need to be noted that USA Network and Fox don’t need to pull the as large of an audience as WWE has been able to command in recent years (regularly over 3 million) – they simply need to beat the other programming in their time slots.

Barrios offering up “superstar absences” as an explanation for Q1’s soft numbers was ridiculous considering just a single male wrestler missed the entire quarter (Bray Wyatt). The balance of the names he cited on the company’s earnings call either missed minimal time or are considered early to mid-card talents (i.e. had no impact on ratings). And of course, wrestlers aren’t limited to in-ring appearances, either; with 5 hours of weekly programming to fill (NXT excluded), there are no shortage of opportunities for back-stage skits, promos and in character interviews.

Industry insiders believe that WWE has watered down its product – that there’s simply too much wrestling on television; 5 hours of live programming/week (+ NXT on WWE Network) inevitably leads to lulls in the show and viewers tuning out. “A lack of distinction between the 2 flagship shows (see: too much roster crossover), the loss of the company’s biggest draw (see: John Cena) and a women’s division that’s been poorly booked and force fed to viewers” were all also mentioned as possible explanations for the ongoing struggles.

While it may sound as if the sky is falling, “struggling entertainment properties don’t do $17 million live gates (WrestleMania 35); they also don’t generate $1 billion in annual revenues.” There is reason to believe that despite the headwinds referenced above, WWE’s Q2 earnings report will exceed analyst expectations. One source familiar with the business told JohnWallStreet that WWE’s “Q2 financials are set to include both WrestleMania and the Saudi show; and the company’s operating income goes through the roof anytime they do an event in the KSA. It’s $25 million to $30 million directly to the bottom line.” We’ll find out on Thursday when WWE announces its second quarter results.

Fan Marino: To be clear, it’s not as if the WWE hasn’t tried to shake things up to renew fan interest – it’s just that ideas like the addition of a silly ‘24/7’ title and a wildcard rule that further blurs the lines between the two programs have simply fallen flat. Heyman suggests that the keys to a turnaround are simple – longer-term planning and better promos. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but the perception that too many superstars are misused or buried on the roster and that segments often feel too scripted certainly exists.

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Investors Overlook Tech Issues, Pump Another $47 Million Into FloSports

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FloSports has dropped the broadcast feed during a D.C. United match three times already this season, there were log-in issues during the team’s debut on the platform and bars in The District have consistently reported an inability to show games on more than one screen, but the negative publicity associated with the technical difficulties experienced during MLS matches (the highest profile league on the streaming service) has done little to dampen investor interest. Back on June 3rd, Flo announced a $47 million Series C round of funding (total raised: $79.2 million) led by Discovery Inc. and WWE. The company will use the money to “grow coverage of new and existing sports.”

Howie Long-Short: The technological struggles Flo has experienced are not unusual in the streaming space. As one well-respected industry veteran explained, “FloSports, Deltatre, FuboTV, DAZN, Endeavor – name any OTT provider you want – they’ve all had problems at one time or another because streaming live video at high concurrency, with live ad insertion and geo-fencing is really hard. When you start syncing together multiple partners and technologies, something is bound to go wrong.” The companies that will ultimately be successful long-term will fail small and fast and quickly work to solve those issues.

The investors that participated in Flo’s Series C round – including Discovery, which is all-in on building niche sports communities (see: GolfTV) – are all aware of the technical issues that exist, so it’s reasonable to believe that the company has identified the root cause of the breakdowns and has a plan to address them. It also seems likely that the group, which also includes Causeway Media Partners LP, Fertitta Capital and DCM Ventures, understands that sports rights are increasing in value and that companies capable of building an audience are well-positioned for the long-haul. Flo has proven capable of acquiring rights (see: the primary media partnership it inked with the Colonial Athletic Association) and its subscribers have an affinity for the service (remember, many of these sports lacked a home before OTT came along).

With annual recurring revenues and subscribers both up at least +50% YoY and the number of net subs. added in Q1 ’19 having exceeded all new registrations in 2018, Flo’s business model seems to be working. Detractors say there is no audience for much of their content and that they’re overpaying for tier 3 and 4 rights, but as the industry stalwart referenced explained “when the number of subscribers [for each niche sport] are rolled up in aggregate, they’re significant in volume; and the company has shown an ability to acquire and retain subs. FloSports’ valuation is going to be higher in a year or two than it is right now.” While we’re making predictions, look for Flo to make a play for more mainstream sports rights as they become available starting in ’21.

It’s reasonable to believe that United leadership is less than pleased thus far with its OTT partner, but there’s little reason to suspect they’ll look to void the deal. The club opted to work with FloSports because of the money available was too good to pass up. Content they had been giving away, is now bringing $13 million over the next 4 years. Flo can also provide the team with data about its fan base that it couldn’t get from linear television – insights it can use to then target those individuals.

Fan Marino: United fans upset with Flo have a valid bone to pick. Blackouts aside, the streaming service has failed to provide the “behind-the-scenes access” and Spanish language commentary it promised. Both Flo and the team say they are committed to both endeavors, but that’s unlikely to placate fans paying $8.99/mo. Remember, just about every other MLS team makes its games (and should programming) available to fans on basic cable.

The problem for United fans is that there is no alternative. If they want to watch the teams’ full slate of games, they need to subscribe to the service. Flo is the exclusive broadcast home for 21/34 matches.

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Digital Native Content, International Programming to Drive Future WWE Growth

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WrestleMania 35 will take place on Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ; the annual event marks the culmination of the World Wrestling Entertainment calendar year. Live events remain a staple of the wrestling business – WWE put on 560 events in 2018 – but those shows were responsible for just 15.5% of all corporate revenues last year (down from 19% in ’17). The majority (73.5%) of the incoming cash flow was generated by the company’s media division and newly signed billion-dollar agreements with NBCUniversal (for RAW) and Fox (for SmackDown) ensure content will comprise an even larger percentage of corporate revenues moving forward. But core content rights fees (see: RAW, SmackDown) only accounted for 39% ($130 million) of the total taken in last year. The balance came from WWE Network (29%), advertising and sponsorship sales (10%) and “other” (21%) forms of distribution (think: digital native, international programming). With more than 1 billion followers worldwide across social media platforms (including 40 million on YouTube, alone), it’s “content creation, digitization and international development” that provide the company with greatest opportunities for revenue growth moving forward.

Howie Long-Short: Live shows aren’t as critical to the company’s bottom line as they once were – which is good, U.S. attendance declined YoY during each quarter in ‘18 – but that doesn’t mean the company is any less focused on delivering a memorable experience for ticket buyers. HHH explained at the SBJ World Congress of Sports that because “live events are the most expensive investment [for a fan], we constantly have to over-deliver to show value.”

The increased demand for live sports programming and the rise of streaming services (that seek desirable programming) enabled WWE to negotiate a dramatic increase (3.6x) in the average annual value of their U.S. distribution deals (for core content) in the face of declining ratings. That’s because even with the decline, both RAW and SmackDown “can guarantee television stations 2 million to 3 million viewers/week.” Those numbers may not be impressive by WWE standards, but the shows were still the highest rated on USA Network and bring a weekly audience that would be welcomed by any network.

WWE’s ability to monetize “content across platforms” (and international locales) pushed the promotion to its “highest level of revenue ($930 million, +16% YoY) and earnings” (adjusted OIBDA $178.9 million, +31%) in company history last year. The revenue generated from digital native content (see: Mixed Match Challenge) and large scale shows in both Saudi Arabia and Australia (see: Greatest Royal Rumble, Crown Jewel, Super Show Down) drove the growth of the operating segment.

WWE shares are up +/- $150% (to $89.73) since WM34.

Fan Marino: Licensed reality series are also included within the burgeoning “other” category and McMahon noted during the company’s most recent earnings call that the company would continue to promote that kind of content; WWE has had success with Total Divas (8 seasons), Total Bellas (4 seasons) and their newest series Miz & Mrs. was just picked up for a second season.

Mike “the Miz” Mizanin is the star of that show (along with wife Maryse) and says he’s conscious of his role within the organization. “My job is to be the face of the WWE. To be out there promoting the company. For so long, non-wrestling fans just looked as us as rasslers. My job is to make sure that people don’t look at us like rasslers, that they look at us as entertainers. The show is an opportunity to show who we are, what were are; first time parents in the entertainment business.”

Readers of a certain age might remember Mike as a cast member of The Real World (circa 2003). Mike also participated in several Real World/Road Rules challenges and believes – much like Bill Simmons – that The Challenge is America’s 5th pro sport. Mike told me “C.T., Cara Maria and Bananas are their stars, you have athletes from all over the world competing and they have head to head bouts. It’s truly a battle of the best.”

Mike will take on Shane McMahon in a “falls count everywhere” match on Sunday evening. The feud between the two is personal after the boss’ son put his hands on Miz’s father. Mike says that moment “unleashed a fire inside me that I didn’t know I had. Shane’s going to see a new Miz at WrestleMania, one that takes the fight to a person. I’m glad it’s a falls count everywhere match because the ring can’t hold what I want to do to Shane McMahon.”

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McMahon Cashes in $270M Worth of WWE Shares to Give XFL Necessary Runway


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According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon sold 3.2 million shares (+/- 4% of the outstanding total) of company stock worth +/- $272 million last week, capital he’ll use to help fund XFL 2.0. To date, he’s unloaded +/- $400 million worth of WWE shares or roughly 80% of the $500 million pledged to the league over the next 3 years; $500 million would represent a war chest 7x greater than what was spent on a single season back in ’01 ($70 million). Coincidentally, the regulatory filing posted on the same day that Alliance of American Football (AAF) majority owner Tom Dundon (pledged a max of $250 million) announced that his league would fold if the NFLPA continues to oppose the allocation of players. It’s being reported that the Carolina Hurricanes owner could make a decision to shutter the competing spring football league as soon as today.

Howie Long-Short: Vince McMahon isn’t interested in building a developmental football league like the AAF – he wants to build a sustainable standalone entity, but Commissioner Oliver Luck told me “we understand where we stand in the football ecosystem. We know the goal for most players is to play in the NFL, so we’ll make sure our players and coaches have the ability, if the opportunity arises – after our season – to sign a contract with an NFL team.”

Some have taken the league’s decision to take up residence in 8 NFL markets as a shot across the NFL’s bow, but the XFL isn’t looking to compete with the football behemoth, either. The cities selected were identified by McKinsey Consulting as the ones with the greatest density of “passionate” football fans. “There’s about 85 million football fans in this country. 40 million self-identify as hard-core fans and all our research indicates that those people will continue to consume football after the Super Bowl. A secondary rationale [for selecting the markets chosen] was that prospective national television broadcast partners favor leagues where the large markets are represented.”

Luck acknowledges that “the graveyard is littered with tombstones of failed spring football leagues” and that the odds of success aren’t in the XFL’s favor, but McMahon has “committed significant capital” – enough to get the league through at least the first 3 years (perhaps as many as 5). That’s critical because “if you think back to the USFL, after 3 years they had begun to build a brand. Had they had the discipline to stay in the spring and continue to grow their franchises and get the kinds of quality players they were getting, that league might still be around; and if that league were still around, it would be a pretty valuable sports asset.”

McMahon’s investment will give the league the necessary runway, but Luck says that disciplined decision making and a laser-like focus “on the handful of things that really matter” will enable the start-up league to grow. For the XFL, that’s “playing good quality football, getting the best talent and the best coaches that we possibly can, and selling tickets. I still think that [selling tickets] is the single biggest indicator – even more than television ratings – of the interest level the local marketplace has in a franchise.” Perhaps that explains why the AAF is on the brink of collapse. While the league has put up respectable television viewership numbers, it has struggled to draw fans to the stadium; I heard back in Dec. that one franchise had sold less than 500 season ticket packages.

Fan Marino: The AAF drew nearly 3 million viewers in the first week, but Oliver says there was never any concern expressed within the XFL offices that the league might have lost out on a “first mover advantage.” “If you’re prepared to take advantage of it, there might be an advantage to getting out there first, but if you’re rushing into it then there’s not.” Considering a start-up pro football league needs to hire personnel, sign stadium leases, get coaches on board, negotiate broadcast agreements and sponsorship pacts, sell seats and mesh 45+ guys into a cohesive unit – and that the Alliance tried to do all of that in 7 months – it’s safe to say the XFL was wise to let the AAF serve as the sacrificial lamb.

Editor note: Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our XFL story with Oliver Luck next week.

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Jacksonville Jaguars Ownership Funds New Wrestling Promotion to Rival WWE

Cody Rhodes (birth name Cody Runnels) and The Young Bucks (birth names Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson), formerly of New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor respectively, have announced the formation of “All Elite Wrestling” (or AEW); a new promotion intent on surpassing WWE as the industry leader. Jacksonville Jaguars (and Fulham F.C.) owner Shahid Khan (and his son Tony) will finance the venture (they’re putting up $100 million), with Rhodes and The Young Bucks each signing multi-year deals with the company to both wrestle and serve in an EVP capacity. The promotion’s first event, Double or Nothing, will occur in Las Vegas on May 25th.

Howie Long-Short: Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks could have signed lucrative deals with WWE as free agents (Rhodes turned an offer down in Dec.), but opted to “change the world” instead. Change in the wrestling world means paying wrestlers more, instituting more  “favorable schedules” (see: not wrestling 250 days/year), offering female wrestlers compensation on par with the men and providing at least some of the roster with healthcare (and benefits) not afforded to WWE’s independent contractors.

Khan’s investment into AEW is significant, with industry experts speculating that it’s the largest investment into the pro wrestling space since Ted Turner financed WCW back in the mid 90s. That backing (net worth $6.3 billion) gives AEW the opportunity to compete with the WWE for talent, but reports indicating the new promotion has WWE “worried” seem a bit premature; even if “All In” was the largest non-WWE show since ’99 (self-financed by Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks). WWE has a $6 billion market cap, a larger YouTube following than that of the NBA, NFL, MLS, MLB, NHL, PGA TOUR and NASCAR combined and new television deals worth $468 million/year; their status as the industry leader remains safe for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of the new television deals, AEW has yet to find a broadcast partner, but the TV dollars being paid for live sports (or sports entertainment) content are what’s driving Khan’s interest in the wrestling business; it’s been reported that multiple deals are on the table (possibly: AXS TV, TNT/TBS). Wherever the promotion’s weekly show lands, expect it to air on Tuesday nights in the timeslot vacated by WWE’s SmackDown Live; that show is moving from Tuesday to Friday nights when their new deal with Fox begins in October.

AEW will have a roster full of popular wrestlers, but it’s the talent they’ve been able to acquire behind the scenes that has me convinced the company will be able to carve out a niche in the U.S. sports entertainment space. Legendary commentator Jim Ross, long-time fan favorites Chris Jericho and Billy Gunn and former ROH wrestler/producer BJ Whitmer are all on board with the new promotion in front office or advisory capacities.

There were reports on Tuesday evening that WWE security had prevented at least some fans wearing AEW merchandise from entering the building for SmackDown Live! Some suspected the orders came from the top down with WWE “legitimately scared for the first time in 20 years.” If the WWE is scared, they’re taking AEW as a more serious threat to the business than Wall Street is; WWE shares are up 6% (to $78.92) YTD. 

Fan Marino: Kenny Omega (birth certificate says Tyson Smith), considered the best professional wrestler in the business, has announced he’s leaving New Japan Pro Wrestling after losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom (the promotion’s biggest annual event); his contract expires at the end of the month. The soon to be free-agent, aka “The Cleaner”, is expected to choose between working for wrestling’s most successful promotion (WWE) or with his buddies (Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks) at AEW. Ringside Seats has reported that AEW is prepared to announce Omega’s signing with the company later this month.

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WWE Shares Down -30% in October, Market Sell-Off, Q3 Earnings and Crown Jewel to Blame

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The WWE share price has declined -30% during the month of October, from $94.22 on October 1st to a closing price of $66.16 on October 29th; the recent market sell-off (S&P 500 -9.5% MTD), uneven 3rd quarter earnings results (revenue +1% YoY, operating income -47% YoY, EPS +32% YoY) and the company’s decision to hold “Crown Jewel” in Saudi Arabia on November 2nd (in the wake of the Khashoggi murder), have all negatively impacted WWE’s market cap. Co-President George Barrios said that despite the short-term headwinds, the company remains on “a path to achieve record revenue, record adjusted OIBDA ($160-$170 million) and record subscribers (to WWE Network) for the full year 2018.” Even after October’s steep regression, shares remain +110% YTD.

Howie Long-Short: Coming off a 2nd quarter where the company grew revenue +31% YoY, Q3 ‘18 disappointed from a revenue standpoint ($188.4 million); declining ticket sales (-16% YoY) for live events (in terms of price and volume sold) and a drop in consumer merchandise sales (-18% YoY) have been identified as reasons for the shortfall. While WWE did post marginal revenue growth in the 3rd quarter, operating income fell -47% YoY (to $18.1 million); accrued management bonuses/incentives tied to 2018 successes explain the YoY drop. A tax benefit gave Q3 earnings a lift.

A couple weeks back, we wrote that despite reports to the contrary, Crown Jewel remained on the WWE’s event calendar and was expected to go off as planned. WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon has since confirmed that will be the case saying the company will “uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.” While easy to pile on WWE for forging ahead with Crown Jewel, it’s important to remember that they’re a publicly traded company with shareholders to answer to. The PPV quality show is the company’s 2nd in a 10-year, $450 million pact with the Kingdom and a decision to cancel the event would have caused “material adverse impact on ’18 adjusted OIBDA guidance” (and possibly beyond). Fans have been critical of the “business decision” though and WWE shares are down -12.5% since the announcement was made.

On August 28th, the WSJ made the case that WWE shares (priced at $83.75 at time) still had room to run; shares were trading at “around 27 times projected 2020 earnings of $3.08 a share, 25% cheaper than they have been historically on projected earnings two years in the future.” If shares were intrinsically undervalued then, they really are now; WWE is down -21% since.

Fan Marino: While we’re discussing WWE, last Monday night on RAW, Universal Champion Roman Reigns (Joe Anoa’i) announced that he’s relinquishing his title and taking a leave of absence from the company to “focus on his health” as he battles Leukemia. Reigns (33) stepped out of character to address the crowd, sadly informing them the cancer had returned after 11 years of being in remission. Amongst the WWE’s biggest stars, the “Big Dog” made it a point to say that he was not retiring (he plans to wrestle again), but “taking his battle with leukemia public in an effort to raise awareness and funds for research in order to advance cures for the disease.” Here’s to hoping he gets well, fast.

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Saudi Show “Crown Jewel” Remains on WWE’s Event Calendar

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Despite reports to the contrary, “Crown Jewel” remains on WWE’s calendar of events indicating the November 2nd show in Riyadh, will go off as planned. Political and diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, have driven several high-profile companies to cut business ties with the Kingdom and have brought on calls for WWE to cancel the high-profile show. Sports Illustrated reported that several of the company’s stars are uncomfortable with the idea of performing in Saudi Arabia, citing the country’s “poor record with human rights” as the reason for their apprehension; WWE female stars are still banned from performing in the Kingdom. WWE has not made a formal announcement on the status of the show, but is said to be monitoring the situation. 

Howie Long-Short: If WWE does pull the plug on show, it’ll be a big upset; Dave Meltzer (Wrestling Observer Newsletter) had insisted it would take “State Department” intervention or “Trump himself” for WWE to walk away from this event. Why? “Crown Jewel” isn’t your average house show, it’s the 2nd PPV quality show in a 10-year pact with the Kingdom, worth $450 million, and the decision to cancel the event could torpedo the lucrative deal.

Should the WWE end their relationship with the Saudi’s, they’ll join Endeavor and Virgin as companies that ended profitable deals in the name of morality. Richard Branson has put a halt to the Saudi’s $1 billion investment in Virgin’s space tourism venture, while Endeavor is reportedly terminating a $400 million investment agreement that would have given the Saudi’s a 5-10% stake in the company. Of course, both of those entities are privately held; WWE has shareholders to answer to.

Q2 ’18 was another landmark quarter for the WWE. The company posted record quarterly revenue (+31% to $281.6 million) and reported it had nearly doubled operating income (to $21.2 million) from the prior year quarter; the +31% revenue increase represents the company’s greatest YoY sales increase in 2 years.

In addition to strong financials, WWE reported significant growth in digital engagement; video views rose +58% YoY (to 14.4 billion) and the number of hours consumed watching WWE content across digital/social grew a staggering +71% YoY (to 509 million hours). The company also just crossed the 30 million subscriber threshold on YouTube, a figure that represents a larger following on the platform than that of the NBA, NFL, MLS, MLB, NHL, PGA TOUR and NASCAR combined. While YouTube subscribers don’t directly correlate into dollars, WWE Network subscriptions do; and the company reported paid subs rose +10% (to 1.8 million) during the quarter ending June 30th. The company will report Q3 financials on 10.25.

WWE shares are up +168% YTD, they’ll open at $84.29 on Wednesday 10.17.18.

Fan Marino: The controversy surrounding whether “Crown Jewel” should take place seems to be greater than the demand for the actual event within Saudi Arabia. Originally scheduled to be held in a 70,000-seat venue, tempered local interest has driven the event’s relocation to 25,000-seat King Saud University Stadium.

While certainly no cause for panic (they just signed lucrative long-term broadcast deals for RAW and SmackDown Live), it should be noted that the Monday Night Raw posted its 2nd lowest rating ever against Monday Night Football on 10.1; when just 2.08 million viewers tuned in for the show’s final hour (despite an appearance from Shawn Michaels). The Chiefs/Broncos game posted the highest MNF rating in over a year that evening.

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