Professional wrestler dies at event on Friday

March 22, 2015

On Friday night in Mexico, Perro Aguayo, Jr. passed away during an event in Tijuana, Mexico.  The tragic death is a grim reminder of the safety issues associated with combat sports.

For those that do not know, the Wrestling Observer reports that wrestler Perro Aguayo, Jr. died, apparently in the ring, in a match  Aguayo, Jr. was in a tag team match which included former WWE wrestler Rey Mysterio, Jr.  Aguay, Jr., 35, was a popular wrestler in Mexico.

According to reports, Aguayo, Jr. died of a cervical spinal injury.  While it’s still unclear about whether his death could have been prevented after the in-ring injury, it should be noted that two other wrestlers were injured on the same event earlier in the night.  It’s not known at this time whether there was a delay in medical help to Aguayo, Jr. due to the other injuries.  But, the ringside doctor was in the back tending to another wrestler at the time of the incident.  The report is that there were two ambulances at the show but both stretchers were being used and a plywood board was used to carry Aguayo, Jr. from the ring to the back. Also, the match continued for a couple minutes before anyone recognized the severity of his injuries.

A CBS news report is stating that the Baja California state prosecutor is opening up an investigation of possible manslaughter.

Payout Perspective:

The death is a reminder that even in professional wrestling there are high risks taken by the performers.  It also reflects the fact for the need for medical attention at these events.  Unfortunately, it appears that the doctor on site was attending to another wrestler.  The medical needs of medical professionals at combat sports seem overlooked at times and there is a balance between the costs of providing such assistance versus the precautionary need to ensure safety.  Notably, in Washington State, it revised a law this year which requires at least one physician and an ambulance or paramedical unit on scene at the event.  Previously, it was either one or the other.  The implication is that if someone is taken to the hospital by the ambulance, the event must stop until another ambulance returns to the event.  Another issue is the cost to pay both physician and ambulance at an event.  This was brought up when comment was requested of the revision to the law.  Specifically, for smaller organizations, the costs are a hurdle.

It might be that even if there were a physician immediately there treating Aguayo, Jr., it might not have helped.  We may know pending further investigation.  Obviously, the Commission in Tijuana is different and has called the death “an unfortunate accident like those that occur in other high-risk sports.”

WWE partners with DraftKings

March 19, 2015

DraftKings and the WWE announced a partnership on Wednesday which will see the Boston-based fantasy sports operator initiate a contest where a fan will win a trip to the WWE’s SummerSlam which will be held at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York this year.

The winner of the contest will have the opportunity to attend SummerSlam as well as access to a VIP party where they will get to meet WWE Superstars and Divas.

DraftKings will be a promotional partner for SummerSlam which will entail integration within the event’s telecast on the WWE Network and PPV. It will also include integration within the WWE’s digital and social media platforms. DraftKings will also launch an integrated media campaign on WWE’s platforms leading up to this month’s WrestleMania 31.

Via a portion of the WWE’s press release:

“As daily fantasy sports continue to grow in popularity, we’ve seen dramatic growth in interest from fans in the WWE community,” said Jason Robins, Co-founder and CEO of DraftKings. “WWE is extremely creative when it comes to engaging their fans, and has been a great partner for DraftKings in developing contests and one-of-a-kind new experiences that fans are sure to enjoy.”

“We are always looking for innovative ways to deliver unique experiences to our fans,” said Michelle Wilson, WWE Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer. “WWE’s partnership with DraftKings will deliver an extraordinary opportunity to our fans, while providing DraftKings with maximum exposure during two of our biggest global events, WrestleMania and SummerSlam.”

For info on the contest visit here. The contest runs through April 15th.

Payout Perspective:

Until a year ago, I did not know that you could gamble on professional wrestling. Sure, DraftKings is “fantasy sports” but we understand the similarities.  The partnership makes sense from the perspective that the WWE does a great job with its social media and digital platforms and the exposure to a broad audience should assist DraftKings. For the WWE, DraftKings provides another sponsor as well as help assisting it with promoting the two biggest events of its year.

As we know, DraftKings signed a sponsorship deal with the UFC earlier this year.  Activations for each company appear to differ but the general takeaway is that fantasy sports is growing and expanding.

WWE-Lesnar contract negotiations stall

February 26, 2015

Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting reports that Brock Lesnar and the WWE have stalled in negotiations on a new contract.  The former UFC heavyweight champ could be heading back to MMA with either Bellator or the UFC.

Lesnar was advertised to appear on this week’s WWE Raw on Monday but never appeared despite being at the arena.  Meltzer’s sources indicated that the no-show was due to an impasse on a new contract.  It was described as “resolvable, but not yet resolved.”

Lesnar has 4 appearances left with the WWE before his contract expires.  The WWE would like to extend his contract prior to it ending at this year’s Wrestlemania in March.

Despite being 38 years old, Lesnar would be welcomed back to MMA by the UFC or Bellator.

Payout Perspective:

It’s interesting that despite his previous injuries and age, Lesnar would command a bidding war.  One would think that based on the contract impasse with the WWE, that Lensar has some leverage as the UFC and perhaps Bellator would be interested in signing the former UFC heavyweight champion.  Despite his short stint with the UFC, Lesnar was a major PPV draw and despite his layoff, his return would likely be a big event.  One would think that the UFC would be willing to spend the money on Lesnar as it is in need of PPV needle-movers.  Also, Bellator might be a destination under the new Scott Coker regime.

WWE Network celebrates one year

February 25, 2015

The WWE celebrated the one year anniversary of its network on Tuesday by allowing all free access to its network.  Variety also posted an article summarizing what the company learned with its over the top network.

Its clear that the Network is inextricably tied with the company’s future financial performance as it is stated in the WWE’s latest earnings report that the company’s future financial performance is dependent on subscription adoption of the WWE Network.

The company surprised analysts by besting Wall Street expectations for the fourth quarter and all of 2014.  While the company has incurred a net lost due primarily to the large investment in the network, it has not been as heavy as previously predicted.

As it reported in January, the network surpassed 1 million subscribers and is picking up more viewers as it rolls out in more foreign companies.  It has also done well with its promotions for the network including a free November and allowing subscribers to pay mont-to-month rather than establish a 6 month commitment as it was originally rolled out.

Variety cited 4 lessons the WWE has learned since its launch last February. Among the lessons it indicated the “balancing act” the company had with its “direct-to-consumer” initiative while maintaining its partnerships for distribution.  Essentially, this means keeping the people paying for its television rights fees happy as while as having amicable relations with the cable and satellite company.  The latter being a harder balance considering the company has cut into PPV revenues.  It also may have angered companies by playing most of the Royal Rumble last month during an episode of Raw due to the live event cancellation as a result of snow.

Payout Perspective:

The WWE Network has had measured success despite criticism about the product.  It may have not met its lofty expectations of subscribers yet but one may have to wait to see how it fares with international distribution. For its part, the WWE has been willing to make changes on the fly to the network (i.e. Free November, month-to-month payment, content, convenient options for viewer usage, etc.) It was a bold move for the WWE to take this step to create the network and the early adopters have spoken.  In year 2, we will see if more subscribers add on, or if the Network will face more hurdles for subscribers and retention.

Punk and Cabana sued by WWE doctor

February 21, 2015

MMA Fighting reports that UFC fighter CM Punk and indy wrestler Colt Cabana are being sued by a WWE doctor for defamation among other claims resulting from Punk’s comments on Cabana’s “Art of Wrestling” podcast last year.

The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court (IL) by WWE doctor Christopher M. Amann accuses the former WWE wrestlers (Cabana had a brief stint with the company) of making defamatory statements regarding his professional duties as a medical doctor for the company.

In support of Dr. Amann, the WWE has released a statement and video which refutes Punk’s story told on Cabana’s podcast that he had a MRSA staph infection on his back and Dr. Amann misdiagnosed it.  Punk also indicated that the doctor did not treat him for a concussion.

Cabana was sued as Dr. Amann claims that he “helped Brooks falsely depict Amann as lazy and a bad doctor per the Cook County Record.

Payout Perspective:

When I first heard the much heralded podcast where Punk aired out the WWE, I wondered about whether there would be any response by the WWE on the comments made by Punk on how his injuries were addressed. It appears that the lawsuit is the response.  Certainly a physician filing a defamation claim against what was essentially a patient are unusual.  One might think that Punk may now bring a counterclaim alleging medical malpractice based on his side of the story from Cabana’s podcast.  Then again, the WWE statement (via the Wrestling Observer) includes a claim that there are no medical records documenting Punk’s condition and that Punk did not communicate his condition (i.e., lump on back) with the WWE’s doctors.

The news of Punk’s health will be interesting when he applies for a license to fight.  We will see if this lawsuit brings up additional information since it is an issue in this lawsuit.  Punk is at an “advanced age” for a first-time MMA fighter and one would think an athletic commission would look more closely at his health history when issuing him a license.

But, the Punk-WWE legal issues look to continue.

Widow of former WWE performer sues

February 20, 2015

Cassandra Frazier widow of the late WWE wrestler Nelson Lee Frazier (aka Mabel, Viscera, Big Daddy, V, King Mabel) has sued the WWE in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Tennessee.

The 124 page claims that Frazier suffered multiple head injuries/concussions while he wrestled with the WWE.  The Complaint claims negligence, negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation and loss of consortium, a personal injury to Ms. Frazier among other claims asserted in the Complaint.

Frazier, who weighed near 500 pounds while wrestling for the WWE, died of a heart attack on February 18, 2014 at the age of 43.  Perhaps in honor of the anniversary of his death, the lawsuit was filed February 18, 2015.

The Complaint includes a timeline of events in which Frazier suffered injuries while working for the WWE.  It also includes a list of nearly 40 WWE wrestlers (photos of each included) that have passed due to issues related to head trauma.  Notably, the lawsuit includes some information revealed by CM Punk and Colt Cabana on Cabana’s infamous podcast last year.

Ms. Frazier claimed her husband suffered concussion symptoms, CTE, disfiguring scar tissue, head trauma

The WWE released a statement with respect to the lawsuit by Frazier (via Wrestling Observer):

“WWE has not been served with a lawsuit by Cassandra Frazier.  If served, we will vigorously contest this lawsuit brought by the same lawyers who have been soliciting people to sue WWE without merit.”

Payout Perspective:

This is the third lawsuit in less than a year against the WWE which relates to the issue of head injury/concussions that may have caused injury to former performers.  “Billy Jack” Haynes filed a lawsuit he had hoped would gain class action status in Oregon and Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton in Philadelphia.  As you can tell from the WWE’s initial statement, it is shifting the focus to the fact that we have “ambulance chasing” lawyers and not true claims.  The lawsuit has been filed by one of the lawyers that filed suit in the LoGrasso and Singleton case.  Hence, the statement by the WWE.  The Complaint includes information revealed by CM Punk on Colt Cabana’s podcast about the WWE medical policy.  The veracity of the statements made on the podcast are in question as a WWE doctor has filed a defamation lawsuit against Punk and Cabana.

MMA Payout will keep you posted.

WWE 2014 Q4 earnings reflect growth of Network

February 13, 2015

WWE Earnings for the 4th quarter of 2014 exceeded company expectations as it increased 19% to $140.5 million from the fourth quarter of 203.  WWE announced the results during a conference call on Thursday.  The company stock is up over 7% at close of trading on Thursday.

During the 4th quarter (October-December 2014), the WWE Network added 85,000 subscribers which reached 816,000 by the end of 2014.  The “free” November promotion was credited with adding 242,000 trial subscribers.  It appears that the WWE seeks to replicate this strategy with a free February for new subscribers.  In January 2015, the network indicated it had exceeded 1 million subscribers.

On the conference call, WWE CFO George Barrios stated that the network reached 1.4 million unique subscribers as of the January 27th “1 million subscriber announcement” with 71% of the subscribers’ active at that date.

The U.S. version of the WWE Network was made available in more than 170 countries and territories in August 2014 and had approximately 44,000 international subscribers.  Barrios indicated that he hoped the network would be available in all of Canada by Wrestlemania this year.  The WWE also announced a deal for the Network with OSN in the Middle East and North Africa.

Overall, in 2014, the Network revenues reached $115 million which reflected an almost “break even OIBDA for the year” according to Barrios.  The WWE’s adjusted OIBDA (Operating Income Before Depreciation and Amortization) for the Network was $5.1 million.

Vince McMahon noted that its social media reached over 454 million followers as of the end of January and that its YouTube content reached over 3.9 billion which put it as the number one sports channel on the platform overtaking the NBA.

One of the interesting things coming out of the conference call was the question about whether the outrage over the outcome of the Royal Rumble was a concern.  Essentially, WWE fans angered that Roman Reigns won the Rumble started a #cancelwwenetwork twitter hashtag.  McMahon stated that the controversy was good for the WWE.  More importantly, it did not result in substantial losses in subscribers.

There was a question by an analyst about whether the WWE could compare and contrast its fan base with that of MMA.  Barrios indicated that the WWE is “multi-generational family viewing.”  The inference is that MMA is for a different demo, namely the young adult demographic.  Thus, the WWE has a broader audience.

Other tidbits worth noting:

  • WWE Network advertising revenues in the quarter were not substantial.
  • WrestleMania, the company’s biggest event, will continue to be carried by satellite and cable providers despite also being carried on the Network. Barrios stated that the pricing is set by the cable operators.
  • When asked about subscription “churn” post-WrestleMania, Barrios indicated that it would provide “great content” and indicated that there would be “a lot of new content” which the WWE intends to combat the possibility of subscribers dropping the Network after WrestleMania.

Payout Perspective:

One note to mention about the Network is the success the company had with the strategy of “sampling.”.  The company attributes some of the additional subscribers to the “free” November.  The WWE hopes that it will happen again with a “free” February.  The Network may still be behind the projections but it is catching on and will gain more subscribers as it expands globally.

It is interesting that WrestleMania will still be available on the Network for $10 (per month) while satellite and cable operators will likely charge $60 for it.

WWE Network posts 1 million subscribers

January 27, 2015

The WWE announced that its WWE Network has surpassed 1 million subscribers in just 11 months.  Despite early concerns about retaining subscribers, the company has hit a significant benchmark with its digital platform.

The announcement comes a week ahead of its 4th Quarter earnings for 2014.  The increase in its subscribers is a dramatic turn from its 3rd Quarter announcement of 731,000 viewers.  The WWE offered a free November for potential subscribers to have a chance to check it out.  It appears that this promotion, the appearance of “The Rock” and others at the Royal Rumble as well as launching the network in the U.K. and Ireland have helped boost the subscription number.

The results reflect a 37% increase globally and 24% domestically.  Despite the buzz that people were going to cancel the network en masse due to the Royal Rumble result, the show actually reflected positive gains.

WWE stock is up 20% on Tuesday at the time of this writing.

Payout Perspective:

Great news for the WWE Network as it is near the 1.4 million subscriber number which would put the WWE investment in the platform at break even.  It is behind its projected 1.25 million subscriber number per Dave Meltzer.  Yet, with the rumor that it will once again offer a free February and with “Wrestlemania Season” upon us, the subscription number should remain solid for now.  The 1 million subscribers could be attributed to the “Free November” which was interesting considering the content during that month was not astounding.  MMA Payout will keep you posted on the earnings report next week.

WWE sued by former wrestlers

January 20, 2015

Two former WWE wrestlers have sued the company in Federal Court in Philadelphia claiming they suffer from serious brain injuries as a result of “repeated concussions” in the ring.  The lawsuit is said to be similar to the one filed by “Billy Jack” Haynes in Oregon.

Vito “Big Vito” LoGrasso and Evan “Adam Mercer” Singleton are the plaintiffs.  The lawsuit seeks class action status and accuses the WWE of “selling violence” and turning a blind eye to the health of its wrestlers including “ignoring” concussions suffered by the plaintiffs.

LoGrasso wrestled for the WWE from 1991 to 1998 and from 2005 to 2006.  He claims to suffer from “serious neurological damage.”  Singleton wrestled for WWE from 2012 to 2013 and was one of the youngest wresters in WWE history at 19.  He also claims to have “an array of serious symptoms” as a result of his time in the WWE.

The WWE’s attorney, Jerry McDevitt, claims that the company has “never concealed any medical information related to concussions, or others.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified economic damages and medical monitoring.

LoGrasso is now 50 years old and Singleton is only 22.

Via Reuters and AP/ESPN

Payout Perspective:

It will be interesting to see if this lawsuit will be tied with the Haynes lawsuit.  One of the law firms involved in the LoGrasso/Singleton lawsuit may be involved with the Haynes litigation as well. The WWE will file its response to the Haynes lawsuit shortly.  LoGrasso’s stint in the WWE should help with the claims as both Haynes and Singleton had shorter stints with the company.  These lawsuits appear to be patterned after the NFL concussion lawsuits.  We will see if more wrestlers join the litigation which may evolve into a class action.  If that is the case, it could spell big trouble for the WWE.

MMA Payout will keep you posted.

The Wrestling Post – Total Divas returns to E!

January 9, 2015

In the second half of its third season, WWE Total Divas drew a season high rating average of 1.41 million viewers according to Television By Numbers.  The WWE reality show on the E! network received help from the Kardashians.

Total Divas drew a 0.7 rating while it was aided by lead-in Kourtney & Khloe Take the Hamptons which drew 1.836 million viewers and a 0.9 rating.  It was the season finale for the Kardashian show.  The show which is morphing into its own reality to the annoyance of some WWE fans is building its own audience in addition to WWE followers.

Payout Take:  Total Divas did not lose a lot of audience from the Kardashians which is an actual positive sign.  Notably, the Kardashian replay which took place after Total Divas drew 806,000 viewers for a 0.4 rating.

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