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.

The Wrestling Post 2014 year in review

January 6, 2015

2014 was supposed to be a big year for the WWE.  With the launch of its network and its media rights fees up for grabs, the company stock skyrocketed on speculation that the company would become an instant revenue-generating machine.  The stock went as high as $31.39 in March but fell to $10.85 just two months later due to market realities.

WWE Network Launches

In February, the WWE launched it’s over the top network which came with much anticipation and fanfare.  Despite technological issues from launch, people were still bullish on the network.  But the momentum came to a halt with the reveal of the first subscriber numbers.  With a target of gaining 1 million subscribers by the end of 2014, the WWE officially reported just slightly over 667,000 at the end of the second quarter.  It then just grew to 731,000 viewers at the end of the third quarter.

The WWE initially offered the network for $9.99 with a 6 month commitment.  It’s key selling point from the start was that those who signed up would receive Wrestlemania for just $9.999 instead of the traditional price point of $60-$70.

After sluggish numbers, it allowed a free month preview in November.  It also eliminated the 6 month commitment so that no one would be latched on by a 6 month commitment.

It was known that the WWE would lose money this year due to starting the network and essentially losing its PPV business.  But, it appears at this point it overestimated the subscriber interest in the network.  With the rollout of the network in other countries, the WWE hopes that its subscribers will grow as well.

Wrestlemania still an economic boon

Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans generated an economic impact for the region of $142.2 million which is a record for Wrestlemanias and the third straight year it has generated over $100 million in positive economic impact for its host city.  With Wrestlemania available on the WWE Network and on PPV, the total amount of viewers exceeded 1 million.

WWE renews rights with NBCU

In May, the WWE renewed its media rights with NBC Universal.  Immediately after the announcement, stock shares dropped which would indicate that the deal was not near what investors had wished.  The initial hope was to double its prior deal of $140,000 to $280,000.  However, this did not happen.  Low advertising rates and the negative perception of its programming likely held back the WWE’s hopes for a NASCAR or MLS-like deal.

Ring of Honor on PPV

In June, wrestling promotion Ring of Honor tried its hand at traditional PPV.  It was a way for ROH’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, to see where it could take the company.  Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer reported 10,000 buys which was the break even mark for the company.  In comparison, kickboxing organization, Glory only had 6,000 PPV buys for its PPV held the same weekend in June.

TNA Wrestling leaves SpikeTV

In July, TMZ Sports broke the news that Spike TV was not renewing Impact Wrestling for 2015.  Despite initial reports that the sides were still negotiating an extension, it was confirmed that 2014 would be the end of the road for the 2 hour show on the network.  In November, TNA announced it had signed a pact with Discovery Communications for its show to air on Destination America starting Friday, January 16th.  Coincidentally, it is the same night that New Japan Wrestling premieres on AXS TV.

Lucha Underground debuts on El Rey

A new lucha libre, telenovela-style show backed by Mark Burnett (of Survivor and The Apprentice fame) debuted in October.  The show was made available in English and Spanish.  It has received rave reviews although the ratings have not mirrored the praise.  It is a different type of show which infuses drama and action.

Former wrestler sues WWE in first concussion lawsuit

In October, former WWE wrestler Billy Jack Haynes sued the WWE claiming that the company knew of the inherent risks its wrestlers took when it allowed them to perform stunts which included taking shots to the head causing head injuries.  Haynes and his attorneys are seeking class action status.  The lawsuit, filed in the federal district court of Oregon, is ongoing and the WWE lawyers have requested an extension of time to answer the Complaint.

New Japan Pro Wrestling

The Japanese wrestling promotion will make its way to American television in January 2015 as it will appear on AXS TV starting Friday, January 16th.  13 episodes will run on the network and will have the broadcast team of Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett dubbing in the commentary.

In following in the footsteps of the WWE, New Japan unveiled its own over the top streaming network for 999 yen or $8.40 U.S. Wrestling fans may start to see more of New Japan in 2015.

SBJ survey looks at UFC growth, Fight Pass

November 29, 2014

The Sports Business Journal revealed its annual reader survey on various topics related to sports business.  This year included questions about the UFC, WWE and boxing.

In a survey related to over the top networks, readers indicated that the UFC is the “Fight sport” that will see the biggest growth over the next five years.  Of the 684 readers that responded, the UFC garnered 72% while boxing drew 17% and the WWE had 11%.

It also asked readers which over-the-top service was their favorite.  Of the 818 responses, NFL Now drew the most votes with only 11%, followed by 120 Sports with 9%, WWE Network with 4% and then UFC Fight Pass with just 1%.  Notably, 75% of the respondents stated it did not watch any of them.

On an unrelated, yet interesting note on digital league subscriptions, readers found MLB.tv (22% of the 818 respondents) their favorite followed by NFL Sunday Ticket (18%) with NHL GameCenter Live coming in third (14%).  This is interesting considering the NFL usually takes tops with its coverage.

Payout Perspective:

SBJ indicates it has a readership of over 54,000 with many business executives in sports reading the trade publication.  The UFC is periodically featured in the publication and the UFC and WWE both advertise in it.  Obviously, the survey is not based on anything other than the opinions of the readers.  Still, it’s an interesting viewpoint on the business from those that do not closely follow the UFC.  With the “growth” aspect, it’s clear that the UFC is moving into more global markets and are forging overseas television deals to advance its product.  The WWE is already global and it depends on what organization you look at when looking at boxing.  Certainly, Top Rank is trying to tap into the Chinese market.  As for the over the top networks, it appears that we are still in the “early adopter” stage for the platform.  The WWE has gone all in with its network but the UFC seems to be doing much better with Fight Pass despite the perception from the survey.

Wrestlemania XXX generates $142M for New Orleans per study

November 13, 2014

The WWE and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced on Wednesday that Wrestlemania XXX generated an economic impact for the region of $142.2 million for the New Orleans region.  The $142.2 million is a record for Wrestlemanias and is the third straight year the destination event has generated more than $100 million for the host city.

Via WWE press release:

Over the past seven years, WrestleMania has generated more than half a billion dollars in cumulative economic impact for the cities that have hosted the event. WrestleMania 30 also generated approximately $24.3 million in federal, state and local taxes.

The WWE commissioned the study by Enigma Research Corporation to determine the economic impact.

More info from the press release:

-$142.2 million in direct, indirect and induced impact derived from spending by visitors to New Orleans for WrestleMania 30.
– 79% of fans that attended WrestleMania were from outside the greater New Orleans region and stayed an average of 3.7 nights.
– $22.5 million was spent on hotels and accommodations within the New Orleans region.
– The economic impact derived from WrestleMania Week was equal to the creation of 1,662 full-time jobs for the area.
– $10.7 million was spent by visitors to New Orleans at area restaurants.

Last year, it was reported that Wrestlemania 29 in New York/NewJersey drew $101.2 million in economic impact and $102.7 million for Wrestlemania 28 in Miami. In 2011, Wrestlemania 27 in Atlanta gave the region a $62 million economic boost.

Payout Take:  Even if we are to look at this cynically and conclude that the economic impact is inflated because the study was commissioned by the WWE and the release does not define “indirect and induced impact” the $142 million would peak the interest of future cities to solicit the WWE to hold the event.  Wrestlemania has become a destination event where WWE fans from all over the world come to the city that hosts the event.  So, to see the city’s tourism industry see a dramatic spike in revenue would not be unheard of.  For municipalities that are hurting economically, Wrestlemania would be a economic boost for the region.

The Wrestling Post: 11.04.14

November 4, 2014

Welcome to another edition of The Wrestling Post.  In this edition, we take a look at Total Divas ratings, a deal for Ring of Honor and WWE halts UK rollout of WWEN.

WWE Network halts UK launch

The WWE Network pulled the plug on its intended November 3rd launch in the United Kingdom because of WWE negotiations with TV operator SKY.  According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer, the WWE and SKY were still in negotiations on the possibility of having the Network as a TV station as opposed to its “over the top” network offering.  At this point, the roll out of the Network is postponed indefinitely.

Payout Take:  The delay is an obvious disappointment for those in the UK although it was pointed out that many of the hardcore WWE fans in the UK likely have the network through their own ingenuity.  Still, pulling the plug from the launch is bad for short term PR.  One must think that the WWE had a deal with SKY which would have been more lucrative in the long term for it to make such a drastic change in schedule.

Triple HHH joins non-profit

Paul Levesque (aka Triple HHH) has joined the board of The Sports Legacy Institute Board of Directors.  The Institute is a non-profit dedicated to concussion education and research.  The organization was founded by former college football player and WWE wrestler Christopher Nowinski.  One might recall Nowinski from the PBS documentary, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.”  The WWE has donated heavily to the organization as it gave SLI $1.2 milloin to fund research that could lead to potential new treatments for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

Logo-Sports-Legacy-Institute2

Payout Take:  The election of Triple H comes after a recent filing by one of its former wrestlers, Billy Jack Haynes, citing that the WWE knew of the dangers of head injuries but did nothing to warn its wrestlers.  The WWE has denied the allegations set out by Haynes in the lawsuit.  As a publicly traded company, the WWE’s image is much more important and the election of Triple H to this non-profit is similar to those made by the NFL when it was sued by its former players regarding concussions.

Ring of Honor Wrestling (ROH) and Figures Toy Company announced a licensing agreement to develop market and manufacture a line of collectible figures and accessories based on the wrestlers and world of Ring of Honor Wrestling according to an ROH press release.  ROH is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.

Payout Take: An interesting deal for the company as most, if not all, of its wrestlers is independent contractors (in the real sense and not the WWE-sense) as they take dates from other organizations.  Still, it appears that Sinclair believes that it has gained enough traction with the product to roll out action figures in time for the holiday season.  These probably will not get wide release and will only be in markets where ROH run shows.

Total Divas Season 3 (mid-season)

Last week’s Total Divas on the E! Network registered the second highest rating for Season 3 with an average viewership of 1,130,000.  Despite lower ratings, it will return with the second half of its third season in January 2015.

Through 10 episodes of the third season, it averages just over 1 million viewers.

Total Divas Season 3

Episode 1:  1,200,000

Episode 2:   974,000

Episode 3:  1,180,000

Episode 4:  999,000

Episode 5:  1,050,000

Episode 6:  888,000

Episode 7:  975,000

Episode 8:  826,000

Episode 9:  860,000

Episode10:  1,130,000

Payout Take:  Although there has been a decrease in viewership for this season, it has gone without the Kardashian lead-in most of the season.  It also has gone up against two WWE PPVs this season.  This season seems to have moved toward more storylines which have seeped into WWE programming.

Total Divas S3 halfway

WWE announces 731K total WWEN subs for 3rd Quarter

October 30, 2014

The WWE announced its 3rd Quarter ratings on Thursday as it reported a net loss of $5.9 million ($0.08 a share) compared to net income of $2.4 million ($0.03 a share) from the third quarter in 2013.  The big news is that the WWE Network has not picked up subscribers as projected and now a new strategy has been implemented.

First, the WWE Network subscription number which one may conclude has been disappointing so far.  This past quarter, it had just picked up a total of 31,000 subscribers total (including international subscribers). Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal (via twitter) indicated that it had a gross subscriber add of 286,000 to end up with the 31,000 number. As Fisher points out, lots of “churn” from people subscribing then dropping the network.  In its first quarter of offering the Network in Canada, it added just 28,000 subscribers.

Average Paid Subscribers (numbers from WWE Investor Relations)

2014

Q1 – N/A

Q2 – 665,000

Q3 – 723,000

YTD

Q1 – N/A

Q2 – 406,000

Q3 – 515,000

Perhaps as a direct result of this poor number, the WWE announced in an email to its subscribers that it will no longer require a 6 month commitment for those paying $9.99 per month as of the December billing period.

In addition, it now will be offering the Network for free to new subscribers for the entire month of November. You will see the new catchphrase/hashtag #FreeFreeFree everywhere.

In other segments of the business, from data from the WWE, the WWE is off of its 2013 earnings in domestic attendance, home entertainment ($718,000 vs. $429,000) and of course, PPV buys ($761,000 vs. $285,000 – which is due to Network).  Online merchandise was up and the International attendance average for this quarter has gone up in comparison to last year.

On the brighter side, the WWE stated in a press release that revenue from its “seven new key television agreements is expected to increase from approximately $130 million in 2014 to approximately $235 million in 2018, providing over $100 million of revenue growth subject to counterparty risks.”

Overall, the WWEN is up 68% from the prior year but the financial investment of $5.1 million due to lost PPV revenue and additional costs have impacted the initial gain.  The WWE hopes that availability in the UK will continue to grow the network but so far it does not seem to show growth with it overseas.

Payout Perspective:

At the time of this writing, WWE stock is down 6% to $12.48 in early morning trading.   This is before its earnings call scheduled for 8amPT/11amET.

The new strategies offered by WWE with its Network (no commitment/free to new subs in November) infer strong concern as it is way off its projections at this point.  Earlier this month, it announced that it would be adding “limited advertising” to the network which may reflect a pressing need to find some financial gains in lieu of subscribers.

It’s interesting to see the divergent paths UFC Fight Pass and the WWE Network have taken since both started.  While many thought that the WWE had the better platform at the beginning, it appears (from all reports) that the UFC Fight Pass is flourishing while the WWE news is discouraging.  Obviously, WWE is the only one that has to publicly report its numbers so we really don’t know the whole story for the UFC.  Still, this has been a rough year for the WWE.

Former wrestler files lawsuit against WWE regarding head injuries

October 27, 2014

A lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court of Oregon by former professional wrestler William Albert Haynes III (aka “Billy Jack” Haynes) citing class action status related to “head injuries occurring in former and current WWE wrestlers” per the lawsuit.

Haynes wrestled in the WWE for only two years from 1986-1988.  Perhaps his most notable match was at Wrestlemania III.  Most of Haynes’ career was spent in the Pacific Northwest.

The lawsuit spells out the dangers of the professional wrestling business amplified by embedded photos in its lawsuit as well as YouTube links.  Essentially, WWE allowed its wrestlers to perform dangerous stunts, some of which include taking shots to the head causing head injuries.  The claim made by Haynes’ lawyers is that these head injuries cause traumatic brain injuries (i.e., concussions) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”).

photos of WWE wrestlers CM Punk and Rob Van Dam getting stitches after a match

photos of WWE wrestlers CM Punk and Rob Van Dam getting stitches after a match

Vince McMahon swinging a chair makes the case for Haynes that WWE allowed head shots.

Vince McMahon swinging a chair makes the case for Haynes that WWE allowed head shots.

A section of the lawsuit includes: “WWE is a Fake Sport with Real Consequences to Its Wrestlers.”  It also cites the numerous matches which include the use of chairs, chains, ladders and tables.  It also details different wrestling moves which involve potential trauma to the head including the “Brain Buster,” “Bulldog,” and “Facebreaker.”  They also bring up the case of a 13 year old that killed his 5 year old sister while performing a move he saw from the WWE.

Haynes vs. WWE

The lawsuit accuses the WWE of not protecting its wrestlers from brain damage.  Essentially, Haynes and his attorneys accuse the WWE of doing little, if anything, to protect its wrestlers.  It also claims to denying or concealing injuries of its wrestlers.

The claims in the lawsuit include:

-Fraudulent Concealment and Failure to Disclose or Warn

-Negligent Misrepresentation

-Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

-Negligence

-Medical Monitoring –this claim requests that the WWE establish a trust to pay for medical monitoring of all wrestlers as frequent as medically necessary and would pay to develop and research other methods to reduce risks

-Strict Liability for Abnormally Dangerous Activities

In addition to the requests under “Medical Monitoring,” it is requesting that the court grant it class action status and designating the attorneys as Class counsel.  It also is seeking actual, compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney fees.

In response to the lawsuit, the WWE’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications provided a brief statement: “Billy Jack Haynes performed for WWE from 1986-1988.  His filed lawsuit alleges that WWE concealed medical information and evidence on concussions during that time, which is impossible since the condition now called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) had not been discovered.  WWE was well ahead of sports organizations in implementing concussion management procedures and policies as a precautionary measure as the science and research on this issue immerged.  Current WWE procedures include ImPACT testing for brain function, annual educational seminars and the strict prohibition of deliberate and direct shots to the head.” (H/t :  wrestling-online.com)

Payout Perspective:

I grew up watching Haynes wrestle in the Pacific Northwest mainly in a Portland, Oregon based promotion.  He had a very brief stint with the WWE.  This is a lawsuit that shall be interesting to follow and see whether or not the court grants Haynes class action status.  For those wondering, the essential elements a court determines when deciding whether or not a lawsuit may receive class action certification are:

-Commonality:  One or more legal or factual claims common to the entire class.

-Adequacy:  The parties in the class must adequately protect the interests of the class.

-Numerosity:  The class must be large enough that individual lawsuits would be impractical.

-Typicality:  The claims or defenses must be typical of the plaintiffs.

The four elements commonly are remembered (mainly by bar exam takers) as CANT.  It will be interesting to see whether or not the law firm can attain enough members willing to be a part of this lawsuit.  Certainly there are enough wrestlers out there that could establish a sufficient amount of plaintiffs.  However, how many are willing to come forward?  On his own, Haynes may not have a strong case considering he only spent two years with the company and much of his time wrestling was on the regional circuit where he could have been subjected to similar risks and injuries.  Thus, his case may not be as strong as someone who may have spent 20 years with the company.

This will be an interesting case that the UFC should take note of for future consideration.  While the ways that the participants attainhead trauma are different, there are still issues related to MMA fighter safety and blows to the head that might be a part of future legal claims.

The Wrestling Post – 09.21.14

September 21, 2014

Welcome to another edition of The Wrestling Post.  In this post we’ll catch up on Total Divas ratings and the WWE brokers a new television deal in Latin America.

Total Divas Ratings –Season 3, episode 2

The second episode of the third season of Total Divas did just 974,000 viewers with a 0.5 rating.  It’s a decrease from the debut episode for the third season which drew 1.2 million viewers.

Payout Take:  Without a Kardashians lead-in on the E! Network, Total Divas is finding it hard to grab its own audience.  It also doesn’t help that it is up against the NFL and other must see Sunday night television.  Don’t expect a huge uptick this Sunday as it goes up against a WWE live event on the network.

WWE and Fox Sports Latin America announce 5 year pact

Earlier this week, the WWE announced a deal with Fox Sports Latin America.  The 5 year deal includes Fox Sports Premium platforms across all of Latin America which will make WWE programming available in 56 million homes.  The deal begins October 6th with WWE airing Monday Night Raw across the Fox networks.

Payout Take:  The move into countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Venezuela will help with its global footprint.  It will also help with the future proliferation of the WWE Network.

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