Fox to Pursue WWE TV Rights, Let UFC Walk If Successful


As we wrote in January, the UFC’s 7-year broadcast deal (worth $160 million in ’18) with 21st Century Fox, Inc. (FOXA) expires at the end of 2018 and the size of the extension the promotion is reportedly seeking ($450 million annually), has created the possibility (if not likeliness) the companies will be heading for a divorce (FOXA offered $200 million). It now appears as if FOXA will pursue WWE TV rights (expiring in September 2019), with the intention of passing on the UFC should they be successful. FOXA is selling the wrestling organization on the attractive opportunity to air their feature program, Monday Night Raw, on broadcast television (i.e. in 115 million homes); the show currently draws 3+ million viewers/week on USA Network. The WWE will announce their decision on a U.S. TV partner between May and September.

Howie Long-Short: NBCUniversal (CMCSA) currently pays $200 million/year for the rights to televise WWE Monday Night Raw and SmackDown. The WWE is reportedly seeking $400 million annually on their new deal, a figure FOXA is far more inclined to pay for their content than the UFC’s. That makes sense to me, the WWE can script their outcomes and ensure their stars’ staying power; a UFC champion is always one fight away from never competing again. WWE shares hit an all-time high earlier this week ($38.77), closing on Thursday at $37.91.

Fan Marino: Ronda Rousey spent her first 2 Monday Night Raw episodes engaged in a feud with Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, that will culminate in a tag-team match (Ronda will be paired with Raw General Manager Kurt Angle) at WrestleMania. One would think the curiosity surrounding Rousey would have TV ratings on an uptick, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, ratings have declined in the hours Rousey has appeared on the show. The WWE must be disappointed in lack of pop the signing provided.

Interested in Sports? Sports Business? Sports Finance? Sign-up for our free daily email newsletter list, here!

WWE Reports Record Revenue, Adjusted OIBDA for Full-Year 2017


WWE reported record revenue ($801 million, +10% YOY) for full-year 2017, with adjusted OIBDA (operating income before depreciation and amortization) also setting a company record ($101.6 million, +40%). For Q4 ’17, the company increased revenue 9% YOY to $211.6 million; while increasing paid subscribers to the WWE Network from 1.41 million to 1.48 million. Along with the earnings report, the WWE issued a statement announcing that Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson and Chief Financial Officer George Berrios are being promoted to co-presidents (and being given spots on the board) as a reward for “their contributions to four years of record revenues and the successful transformation to a multiplatform business model.”

Howie Long-Short: WWE shares are up 62% since October 25th, 2017 (and 14% in 2018). The primary catalyst is the optimism surrounding the company’s next series of television contracts. RAW and SmackDown deals expire Sept. 30, ’19, while broadcast deals in India and the U.K. will end on December 31, 2019. It’s not just broadcast television providers that are interested in the WWE though; 70 new brands have signed on as sponsors since the start of 2015 and corporate sponsorships grew 29% YOY in 2017.

Fan Marino: Paul Levesque (Triple H) noted on the earnings call that the company is finalizing contract terms (i.e. not yet done despite rumors/reports) on a multi-year deal with Ronda Rousey. This isn’t a publicity stunt for the WWE; Levesque was clear in stating “we are her #1 focus and goal. This is her life now. She wants to be with us for a long-time.” Seems like a win-win to me; Rousey brings additional star power to a burgeoning women’s division, while she makes a lucrative living without having to be punched in the face daily. I also LOVE that she’s adopting the Rowdy Roddy Piper gimmick (or at least attire).

Interested in Sports? Sports Business? Sports Finance? Sign-up for our free daily email newsletter list, here!

Finn Balor Discusses Rise from Indie Circuit to WWE, WWE Sponsorship Sales Booming

Finn Balor

The WWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw on Monday night, with dozens of WWE legends including Shawn Michaels (link to JWS interview with HBK), Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker participating in the celebration. Just prior to the conclusion of the show, the Balor Club defeated The Revival; celebrating the win in ring with a reunited Degeneration X (must watch). JWS met up with Finn Balor, the leader of the Balor Club and one of the WWE’s biggest stars, at Manhattan Center and got the chance to ask him about his rise from the indie circuit to the WWE and his favorite NFL team (hint: they are playing in the Super Bowl).

Editor Note: The 2018 Royal Rumble PPV event is Sunday evening. Finn Balor is competing in the 30-man Royal Rumble match. is offering a 2-month free trial of the WWE Network, for fans interested in watching the event.

JWS: Do you get nostalgic about being in the ring with the guys you grew up watching?

Finn: Yeah, it’s still pretty surreal. Just seeing Shawn Waltman (X-Pac), Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), backstage; Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, it’s really cool. I’ve been fortunate to have gotten to meet and work with most of these guys during my career and to learn from them; especially since I came to NXT and WWE, and it never gets old. 

JWS: You spent a lot of time on the indie circuit before making it to the WWE. How has the lifestyle changed?

Finn: Coming up on the indie circuit you’re wrestling in community halls, churches, warehouse basements and old theatres, now we’re wrestling at Madison Square Garden (MSG) and stadiums but the lifestyle is the exact same because no one that is in WWE is doing this for the money. Obviously, that’s a benefit but we’re all doing this because it’s our passion. You wouldn’t get here (WWE), if you were strictly doing it for the money. It took me 16 years to get here and I wasn’t making any money (along the way). There was no incentive to go out there and perform for the money. You had to go out there and perform because it’s an addiction.

Howie Long-Short: The transition from the Attitude Era (the Degeneration-X tagline was suck-it!) to the family/female friendly product the WWE sells today (the Balor Club tagline is too sweet!), has made the company particularly attractive to advertisers. 70 new brands have signed on since the start of 2015 and corporate sponsorships grew 29% YOY in 2017. It’s not just the demographic that is appealing though, the audience numbers are impressive too. RAW averages 3 million viewers/week. For comparison purposes, ESPN/ABC & TNT (i.e. national broadcasts) are averaging 2.2 million viewers per NBA game this season.

Fan Marino: I read Finn was a Patriots fan, so I had to ask if that was fact or internet rumor?

Finn: Actually, I heard something about Tom Brady having hand surgery to apply a 6th finger for a 6th ring on his left hand? It is true, Matt Bloom (best known as Prince Albert) converted me.

Want more JohnWallStreet? To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!

McMahon Announces XFL Reboot, WWE Stock Sets All-Time Closing High

xfl.logo (1)

The XFL is returning in January 2020 with 8 league-owned teams, a 10-week regular season (plus a 4-team playoff) and none of the gimmicks (i.e. no fair catch) that the league was associated with during its 2001 iteration. McMahon is hoping shorter games (2 hours) and more wholesome players (i.e. without a criminal past, DUI included) and simplified rules (did you know leaping is banned on field goals in the NFL?) will win fans over. Few details of the league have been released (i.e. cities, team names, player salary structure etc.), but McMahon has promised the games will not be a platform for social and political statements and the XFL will not be a developmental league for NFL talent. The NFL has chosen not to comment on the announcement.

Howie Long-Short: This is a $100 million venture personally financed by Vince McMahon (he recently sold 3.5 million shares to fund it), not the WWE, and McMahon was clear there will be no crossover between the league and WWE talent; but that didn’t stop investors from bumping the stock up 2% following the press conference. Shares closed on Wednesday at $34.13, the first time the stock has ever closed above $34. The stock is up more than 50% since October.

Fan Marino: When you consider McMahon’s statement, “we have two years to really get this right”, you begin to realize it isn’t a coincidence the league is starting in 2020. The public line will be that the extra time will give teams a chance to gel and it will result in a better on field product; but, the NFL CBA expires following the 2020 season. Should a strike or lockout occur, McMahon is going to try and sign top-tier NFL talent to provide his league with some credibility. It’s a long-shot, but he has the money to gamble with and knows there is a $14 billion pot of gold (NFL revenue in ’17) on the other side if he can pull it off.

Want more JohnWallStreet? To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!

Shawn Michaels Returns to the WWE to Celebrate RAW25

Shawn Michaels

The WWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw on Monday night, airing the show from both Manhattan Center (site of the 1st episode of RAW) and Barclays Center. Dozens of WWE legends (including Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Undertaker and Razor Ramon) participated in the celebration. Just hours prior to the event, JWS got the exclusive opportunity to talk to The Heartbreak Kid, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, about the first episode of RAW, his original idea of success and a brief phase where he tried on “the whole nature boy thing.”

JWS: When Monday Night Raw started on January 11, 1993, no one could have imaged it would become the longest running weekly episodic show in U.S. TV history. Did you know it was going to be a success from the start?

Shawn: I was sort of skeptical, because I was raised on the traditional Saturday morning, late Saturday night programming that we always had in the past. Monday nights. Live. Prime-time. It was so new, so different; I guess, I was like “how long is this going to last”. We had no idea that the first show was going to be the foundation of what would become the WWE. More importantly, from the personal perspective, there was no security back then in this line of work. 25 years later, you’re sitting there going jeez I wonder how much I’m going to put in the old 401K this year. You just felt like your future was so iffy back then and honestly, this was the show; it was Raw going live on Monday Nights on USA that was the foundation for everything that would be in our futures.

JWS: I’m glad you brought up your 401K, because no one gets into wrestling for the money; but, by the mid 90’s you were headlining PPV’s and making a lot of it. Did the money matter to you or was the success you were having most important?

Shawn: Honestly, it (the money) wasn’t (important). When I was young and I first started doing this, it was just “I want to be a wrestler” and then “I want to make it to the WWE”. I can remember my idea of success was gosh, if I could just have my own one-bedroom apartment and my own car; that would be awesome.  

JWS: You may not have gotten into wrestling for the money, but you made a ton of it; yet, from what I understand, you’re a pretty regular guy. You never wanted to live the “limousine riding, jet flying” lifestyle?  

Shawn: So, I went through a brief phase of that. I tried on the whole being the “nature boy” thing. Then one day you look at yourself in the mirror and you’re like “look dude, you’re a redneck from San Antonio, Texas”. So, you say to yourself, maybe I’ll just have a nice watch. But yeah, I drive a truck, I live a regular life. I’m not all that flashy and it bodes well for the saving aspect because except for some gym and hunting stuff, I don’t spend a lot of money. Ultimately, it’s the more responsible thing to do. You also have to figure nothing lasts forever, so you can’t be a pinhead about it. I’ve gotten to live my dream since I was 19 years old. It’s my time now to help my children live theirs. It’s not exciting and sexy, but it is the reality.

Howie Long-Short: WWE shares ($33.47 as of the close on 1/22) are price just shy of their all-time high ($33.85). Shawn Michaels was among the company’s biggest names when it went public in ‘99, so I suspected he may have received some equity at the time. I asked Shawn if he still owns any WWE stock?

Shawn: I do. When they went public, we all got some and then there were some other moments over the years that I’ve gotten more. You (finance) guys always say that for the most part, you stay in that stuff for the long-term and it will generate the best results; so that’s what I do. I know that every WrestleMania it always seems to go up and you think, should I sell now; but I’ll probably just do the long-haul. I know me well enough, I’ll take whatever it is that I need to live on and let my wife and kids figure out the rest after I’m pushing up daisies.

Fan Marino: Following his first retirement in 1998, the HBK was the WWF Commissioner. As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell earned $31.7 million in 2015, the last year his salary was publicly reported. I asked Shawn if the compensation he received as WWF Commissioner was comparable?

Shawn: I don’t think so (laughing), but like Goodell I wasn’t a good one! (more laughing)

Want more JohnWallStreet? To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!

WWE Could Replace UFC on FOX, Receive $400 million annually


The UFC’s 7-year broadcast deal (worth $160 million in ’18) with 21st Century Fox, Inc. (FOXA) is expiring in 2018 and the mixed martial arts promotion is reportedly seeking a new deal worth more than twice as much annually ($450 million). FOXA is reportedly prepared to offer +/-$200 million/year, so it’s possible (if not likely) the UFC will be finding another broadcast home. Should that occur, Dave Meltzer (Wrestling Observer) has indicated FOXA would look to acquire WWE broadcast rights (expiring in September 2019), if not the entire professional wrestling promotion; though it’s been stated McMahon has no intention of selling (owns 41.8% of the outstanding common shares, but controls 82.8% of the company).

Howie Long-Short: NBCUniversal (CMCSA) currently pays $200 million/year for the rights to broadcast WWE Monday Night Raw and SmackDown. The speculation is the next deal will be closer to $400 million annually; potentially twice what the UFC will see. That’s noteworthy because WME paid $4 billion for the UFC in July 2016, $1.5 billion more than the WWE’s current market cap. I think it’s safe to say they overpaid.

Fan Marino: Should FOXA acquire WWE broadcast rights, the prevailing feeling is that RAW would air on network television; with SmackDown moving to FS1. That’s not great news for hardcore WWE fans, as it likely means reducing RAW to a 2-hour program once again (currently 3 hours); Fox affiliates tend to air local news at 10p EST. Speaking of RAW, the 25th anniversary will be held on January 22nd at the Barclays Center. It’s now the longest running weekly episodic show in U.S. TV history.

To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!

Facebook Watch Adds WWE and NLL, Social Interactive Components Worth Watching

Facebook Watch (FB) has announced partnerships with both the WWE and National League Lacrosse (NLL), giving the burgeoning video platform additional sports content. Beginning on January 16th (10p EST), a new weekly in-ring wrestling series entitled “Mixed Match Challenge” will debut; wrestlers from both Raw and SmackDown rosters will compete in a single elimination mixed tag-team tournament that spans 12 weeks. Watch will also begin airing a new weekly show from NLL productions entitled ReLax that offers fans insight and analysis on the weekend’s games. The show, airing exclusively on the Watch platform Mondays at 6p EST, will give fans a chance to interact and ask questions during the first hour of the show.

Howie Long-Short: The WWE experienced their “all-time best quarter” in Q3 ‘17, as the company grew revenue 14% to $186.4 million, set a company quarterly record for adjusted OIBDA ($40.4 million) and saw net income rise to $21.8 million (from $11.1 million YOY). The company will release its Q4 ’17 (and full year ’17) earnings report on Feb. 8th. 2018 projects to be a banner year for the WWE, with the company anticipating setting another record for revenue generation and targeting adjusted OIBDA of at least $115 million; which would also set a record.

Fan Marino: Mixed Match Challenge episodes will run 20 minutes in length and be optimized for mobile consumption. The social interaction elements included will be worth watching, as fans will have the opportunity to select match-ups and match stipulations. Teams will be announced beginning tomorrow night. You can find a list of participants, here.

To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!