January 9, 2016
We leave the last review of 2015 to that of professional wrestling.
Let’s do some quick hits before we get to the high spots.
- New Japan debuted on AXS TV to rave reviews. Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett served as the English commentators for the shows.
- Ranallo recently made the move from New Japan and commentating boxing events to being the voice for WWE’s Smackdown. He debuted as the new voice as it the Smackdown brand moved from USA to SyFy this year.
- Lucha Underground on the El Rey Network was the most-talked about independent hit. The mix of telenovela and independent wrestling action served as something different for wrestling fans. The second season of the show was in peril as it lacked the necessary funding and a television deal. However, news surfaced late in the year that it would return to the El Rey Network for a second season starting in January.
- ESPN and the WWE entered into a partnership in which the sports cable network will feature a weekly segment with WWE wrestlers. 2015 saw ESPN expand a little more into the world of entertainment which included covering Summerslam (which was in Brooklyn, NY this year) and the announcement of Brock Lesnar’s re-signing with the WWE.
- Lesnar’s signing in early 2015 was big news as it seemed as though he was going to head back to the UFC. He was in attendance at UFC 184 in Los Angeles. He re-signed with Vince McMahon in LA as the WWE was at the Staples Center at the time. Also in LA at about the same time was Dana White who was promoting the Aldo-McGregor fight.
- The much maligned TNA Wrestling organization was dropped by SpikeTV and then picked up by Destination America. Soon thereafter, Ring of Honor was added to Destination America as a syndicated show for the network. However, it has since moved once again to POP TV.
- Ronda Rousey appeared with The Rock at WrestleMania in Santa Clara, California. The annual event drew in $139 million in economic impact for the Santa Clara/San Francisco region.
- The WWE and TapouT announced a joint venture in which performers would wear the former MMA brand which revamped itself into an athletic performance brand.
- The WWE was one of the many sports leagues to announces a deal with a fantasy sports operator as it announced a deal with DraftKings.
Hulk Hogan banished from WWE as a results of racist comments
Hulk Hogan was terminated by the WWE this past July after audio of a racist rant surfaced. The audio relates to racist remarks he made 9 years ago. It appears that the discovery was made as a result of an ongoing Gawker lawsuit in which the former pro wrestler sued the media outlet for publishing a sex tape. Hogan’s Gawker lawsuit continues into this year as a trial date last summer was continued.
CM Punk sued by WWE physician
UFC contracted fighter CM Punk was sued by a WWE physician for libel. The lawsuit stems from comments Punk made on Colt Cabana’s podcast about the type of medical treatment he received from the doctor while with the company. The podcast was one of the most listened to podcasts from Cabana, who was also named in the lawsuit. A motion to dismiss the case by Punk and Cabana’s lawyers was denied and the lawsuit continues.
More head injury lawsuits filed
The estate of former WWE performer Nelson Lee Frazier sued the WWE for wrongful death as a result of multiple head injuries/concussions while a wrestler with the WWE. Matt Osborne’s estate filed a similar lawsuit. In addition, Billy Jack Haynes,, Vito LoGrasso and Evan Singleton also filed lawsuits related head injuries they claimed they suffered while working in the WWE. The WWE is aggressively defending these lawsuits claiming that they were filed by “ambulance chasing” lawyers. The WWE file motion to transfer the lawsuits to the company’s home state of Connecticut.
In a unique strategy, the WWE filed a lawsuit against several former WWE stars seeking a declaratory judgment against them. The lawsuit would seek a ruling that any allegations of head trauma are “time-barred” by the statute of limitations.
Via our July post:
The WWE strategy is a result of the growing swell of lawsuits filed by former WWE performers claiming that the company knew or should have known about the risks of head trauma and that they suffered injury as a result. Although not a named defendant in the lawsuit, the WWE names (and blames) plaintiff attorney Konstantine Kyros for the litigation. It identifies several notice letters (below) which request that the WWE not destroy any information it may have. The lawsuit identifies the existing lawsuits Kyros has filed on behalf of former WWE stars including Billy Jack Haynes.
The lawsuit requests a court ruling indicating that the defendants’ claims are time-barred by the statutes of limitations/repose under Connecticut law. Essentially, the defendants did not file their claims on time. This is always a very hard issue to consider as most of the claims that wrestlers could make occur when they are still contracted by the company.
The WWE Network
What was once thought as a foolish idea, now reveals that the WWE Network was ahead of the curve with it’s over the top platform. With UFC Fight Pass making efforts to produce more content for its network reflects the fact that digital platforms are not going anywhere. Of course, we don’t think the UFC is going away from its PPV business but its digital service is becoming more of an economic driver for the company.
The WWE Network has kept its strategy of offering a free month for new subscribers in growing its current paid subscribers. Further, the expansion of the network to other countries has helped its subscriber base grow. In January 2015, it surpassed 1 million subscribers.
The fourth quarter has yet to be reported, but through September 2015, the WWE has brought in almost 2.3 million unique subscribers and half of those were active as of September 2015.
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.