2015: The year in pro wrestling

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.

Q1: 918,000

Q2: 1,156,000

Q3: 1,173,000

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.

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.

The Wrestling Post – 11.24.14

November 24, 2014

Welcome to another edition of The Wrestling Post.  In this post, TNA finds a new TV deal and New Japan comes to America.

TNA finds its Destination

Last week, TNA Wrestling announced a multi-year TV deal with Destination America. TNA ends it run with Spike TV at the end of the year.

Destination America, which launched in May 2012, is owned by Discovery Communications and is in almost 60 million households.  The question is will most people know they have the channel.  TNA Wrestling will move to Destination America in January 2015.

Via TNA press release:

“Our partnership in this uniquely entertaining franchise with TNA IMPACT WRESTLING provides a significant addition to Destination America’s programming strategy,” said Henry Schleiff, Group President of Destination America, Investigation Discovery, American Heroes Channel, Discovery Fit & Health and Discovery Family Channel. “The enduring, cross-generational enthusiasm of pro wrestling is felt by millions of fans around the country, from coast-to-coast and throughout the heartland.  We are delighted to bring this beloved American pastime to the one and only network dedicated to celebrating the unique spirit of the U.S., Destination America.”

Payout Take:   TNA goes from being in 98.7 million homes (Spike TV) to 60 million.  The good news is that it found a television home.  We shall see how it will do on its new home and how it will market itself so that viewers will want to find it.

New Japan to AXS TV

New for 2015.  New Japan Wrestling on American television.  AXS TV has acquired 13 episodes from New Japan Pro Wrestling and will air on Friday nights at 9pm ET/6pm PT according to a press release.

More from the press release:

“With this acquisition, AXS TV FIGHTS now offers one of the most diverse combat sports and sports entertainment programming line-ups on television,” said AXS TV FIGHTS CEO Andrew Simon. “There is a strong relationship and influence between professional wrestling and MMA, and with the addition of Josh Barnett and Mauro Ranallo as our commentators, we’re confident this new venture will be a crossover hit with wrestling and MMA fans alike.”AXS TV’s NJPW episodes were produced by and purchased from TV ASAHI CORPORATION.

NJPW will serve as the lead-in to the weekly Friday night live MMA, Muay Thai and/or kickboxing broadcasts.  Josh Barnett and Mauro Ranallo will provide commentary for the series.  It’s an interesting acquisition and will draw the eyes of many wrestling fans that have heard about NJPW but have never seen entire matches.

The Wrestling Post: Spike TV does not renew TNA Impact Wrestling

July 28, 2014

TMZ Sports first reported that TNA Impact Wrestling on Spike TV will not be renewed by the network.  The company has been with Spike TV since October 2005.

While ratings usually hover around 1.2 million viewers on Thursday nights and once served as lead-in for Bellator, the promotion has fallen on hard times.  Attendance and finances have been the leading causes for the downturn in what is the de facto number 2 professional wrestling company.

According to Dave Meltzer on Sunday night’s Wrestling Observer podcast, the TMZ report has been confirmed by people within TNA.  The current deal runs through October although it’s not clear whether Spike TV will continue to air it through the end of the deal.

Recently, King Mo re-emerged with the organization and it’s not clear whether he will continue on as part-time wrestler, part-time MMA fighter if TNA continues on another network.

Payout Take:  It’s an interesting move on the part of Spike TV to cancel TNA as it does have a following of at least 1 million viewers each week.  Compare that with Bellator ratings and TNA would seemingly be safe on the network.  Perhaps TNA is going a different direction here.  As for TNA, it’s not clear if the company will fold or seek to find another network to air on.  But, if you look at the WWE’s rights fee deal, pro wrestling may not be a burgeoning property in the television industry.

Lawal, Lashley and Kongo added to 9/5 Bellator card

July 16, 2014

MMA Junkie reports that King Mo Lawal, Cheick Kongo and Bobby Lashley have been added to Bellator 123 which takes place on September 5th in Connecticut.  Lashley is a pro wrestler with TNA Wrestling and is currently its Heavyweight champion.

In addition to his pro wrestling experience, Lashley has competed in MMA.  The move attempts to bulk up an already stacked card which is headlined by Pat Curran defending his Featherweight title against Patricio Freire.

Bellator 123

The current card via Bellator press release:

MAIN CARD:

Bellator Featherweight Title Fight: Pat Curran (20-5) vs. Patricio Pitbull (21-2)

Bellator Heavyweight Feature Fight: Cheick Kongo (21-9) vs. Lavar Johnson (18-9)

Bellator Light Heavyweight Feature Fight: King Mo (12-4) vs. Tom DeBlass (9-2)

Bellator Heavyweight Feature Fight: Bobby Lashley (10-2) vs. Josh Burns (8-7)

The Bellator card will go head to head with a UFC Fight Night card that has been bulked up due to the cancellation of UFC 176.  The card, which takes place at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut is headlined by Gegard Mousasi taking on Ronaldo Souza.

Payout Perspective:

September 5th will be a big night for MMA fans as it’s the first time the two organizations go head-to-head on television and in the same state.  The signing of Lashley is somewhat surprising but it does add name recognition for the crossover pro wrestling fans.  With TNA Wrestling taping most of its shows through August already, it’s unlikely that Bellator can take advantage of the crossover on its weekly TNA shows (which draw over 1M viewers) unless it edits in info about Lashley in voiceovers.  Lawal and Kongo also make sense as Lawal can sell his fights and the ratings reflect that Kongo (for some reason) produces good ratings for Bellator.

The Wrestling Post – 04.18.14

April 18, 2014

Welcome to another edition of The Wrestling Post.  In this edition we write about a new PPV announced, DirecTV plays hard ball and the latest ratings from Total Divas.

Ring of Honor tries PPV Sunday June 22nd

This week Ring of Honor announced that it would be holding its first PPV ever for the company Sunday, June 22nd.

Notably, the ROH PPV is the same weekend as Glory’s first PPV and a week after TNA Wrestling’s PPV, Slammiversary.  ROH had previously put on iPPVs with some noted difficulties.

The Sinclair Broadcasting-owned ROH have expanded its reach with its weekly show as more affiliates carry ROH.  Of course, it’s at 1:00 am on Friday night here in Seattle so you can still DVR the show. Hopefully promotion of the PPV will attract fans to buy the PPV.

Payout Take:  The PPV can be seen as ROH capitalizing on the WWE popularity and its champion – Daniel Bryan worked Ring of Honor for some time.  104,000 buys is the unofficial number of ECW’s very first PPV – Barely Legal in 1997.  We shall see if ROH can do better in 2014.  ROH has more financial backing and should put on more of a polished product.  Obviously PPV has evolved since the late 1990s and we will see which satellite/cable companies pick up the PPV but it will be an interesting comparison.

DirecTV drops WWE PPVs

Earlier this week, DirecTV announced that it would no longer offer WWE PPVs to its subscribers per PW Torch.  WWE did release a statement acknowledging the move by the satellite company.  “Yes, DIRECTV has decided to stop offering our PPV’s residentially and commercially. The only other option would be to work through the local cable provider.”

DirecTV did leave an out that it may return to carrying WWE PPVs.  You may recall that the Dish Network first announced that it would no longer carry the company’s PPVs since it launched its digital network.  However, the distributor changed its mind and carried Wrestlemania XXX.  The domestic buys for Wrestlemania XXX, the first PPV carried on the WWE Network, drew 400,000 purchases.

Payout Take:  While the WWE is hoping for the success of its network, it still seeks its distributors to continue to carry its PPV.  Distributors such as DTV and Dish saw this as a direct hit against its profits from the WWE PPVs.  We all knew that the WWE Network would cannibalize its PPV profits but would benefit the WWE bottom line in the long run.  We will see whether DTV stands it ground. It has played hard ball in the past.  One need only look at the acrimonious negotiations between DTV and the Pac 12 Network and The Weather Channel to see it doesn’t back down.

Total Divas ratings

Episode 4 for the second season of Total Divas on E! scored 1.164 million viewers for a 0.5 rating among adults 18-49 according to Television By Numbers.   The episode was the first in two weeks having taken off for Wrestlemania XXX Sunday.

The 1.164 million is the second-lowest rating this season for the reality show.  This season’s average is at 1.26 million viewers.

The Wrestling Post – 11.28.13

November 28, 2013

Welcome to another edition of The Wrestling Post.  In this edition we talk Total Divas renewal and TNA’s new television deals.

Total Divas renewed for second season

With the ratings success of Total Divas, it was given an extended first season and now comes news that it will be given a second season.

Via Variety:

“Total Divas” has averaged 1.4 million total viewers since its summer debut, making it one of E!’s most promising new entries and a strong performer on Sunday nights in the 18-34 demo. From WWE and Bunim-Murray Prods., series centers on the lives of femme WWE stars both inside and outside of the ring.

Total Divas ratings took a step back this week with the first rating under 1 million viewers this past week but this may be due in part to the NFL (Broncos-Patriots) and the company’s own PPV, Survivor Series.

Payout Take:  The reality show was one of three new reality shows the network announced as returning for another season.  It received an optimum amount of push by the WWE (with promotion during its programming) and by E! as its primary lead-in was the network’s highest rated show, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

TNA Wrestling forges TV agreement in Japan and Australia      

TNA Wrestling announced an agreement with the Nippon Television Network Corporation.  TNA Impact Wrestling will be seen every Saturday and PPVs will be shown monthly.  In addition, it has signed a two-year deal with Fuel TV Australia.  In addition to the weekly program in Australia, TNA will introduce shoulder programming to complement TNA in Australia.

Payout Take:  The agreements abroad appear to be ways to expand the TNA brand and maybe keep the company afloat amidst rumors of its financial trouble. On another note, Sports Illustrated featured TNA’s head Dixie Carter in an interesting read about how her family decided to purchase a majority interest in the company.

Bellator 98 replay show ratings increase from live show

September 14, 2013

Ratings for a replay of Bellator 98 on Thursday were up as compared to its live viewing last Saturday night.  Thursday’s airing scored 556,000 viewers as opposed to 437,000 viewers for its live viewing.

Bellator 98’s lead-in, TNA Impact Wrestling scored 1.3 million viewers for a 0.5 share.  The numbers were impressive for a night opposite NFL Football featuring the New York Jets and New England Patriots.  According to Television By Numbers, the NFL game scored 8.79 million viewers.

Payout Perspective:

A nice bounce bank for Bellator although the ratings are still low for a live event.  No word on Friday night’s live event from Temecula but it will be interesting to see.  The boost in ratings on a night opposite NFL, is interesting and may persuade me into thinking more that the pro wrestling lead-in helps.

The Wrestling Post – 08.28.13

August 28, 2013

Welcome to another edition of The Wrestling Post.  This time we take a look at Total Divas ratings, a new philanthropic endeavor by the WWE and the plight of Jesse Sorenson.

Total Divas returns to form

The show that everyone hates but people cannot get enough of E!’s Total Divas did a respectable 1.46 million average viewers despite going up against the much talked about (due to Miley Cyrus) VMA awards.  The VMAs stole the night with an average of 10 million viewers.  Yet, the WWE show about its women wrestlers was up from its previous week when it went up against its own event, WWE Summerslam.

Episode 1:  1.34 million
Episode 2: 1.53 million
Episode 3: 1.67 million
Episode 4: 1.34 million
Episode 5: 1.46 million

Payout Take:  The show has found an audience and despite its corny hijinks, it is doing well for the E! network and the WWE.  Its even provided a storyline for RAW wherein one of the characters (AJ Lee) calls out the show for being stupid since its not “real”.

WWE creates $100K anti-bullying campaign

Wrestling is fake.  But, the WWE’s social conscious initiatives are real.  the WWE has been able to reinvent itself into a global company that is publicly traded.  One of the more impressive things about the organization is the different types of philanthropic endeavors which it aligns itself.  According to a WWE press release, it will offer 4 $25,000 grants to non-profit organizations that develop and implement programs promoting anti-bullying.

Via WWE press release:

“Our mission at WWE is to put smiles on people’s faces and we do that, in part, by supporting programs and initiatives that positively impact children and families around the world,” said Stephanie McMahon, Executive Vice President, Creative, WWE. “We are proud to offer organizations tools and resources to help fight bullying, a critical issue facing young people today in schools, communities and online.”

Payout Take:  This is an admirable program that will foster a lot of good will from people that do not necessarily like professional wrestling.  The WWE’s involvement is good publicity and allows it space into the childhood demographic which will in turn help its other departments (i.e., merchandise, television, etc.).

Ex-TNA wrestler forced to pay medical bills

The story of a professional wrestler having to deal with their own medical bills is not new.  But in the case of Jesse Sorensen, its a public relations hit for TNA.  Sorensen literally broke his neck in the ring during a match in TNA.  The injury caused him temporary paralysis.  News has surfaced (via HighSpots.com and The Wrestling Observer) that TNA refused to pay his medical bills. Moreover, he was released by the organization, along with several other wrestlers, as a result of what appears to be an overall cost-cutting measure.  Sorensen claims that TNA head Dixie Carter promised him a job for life within the company.

According to Cageside Seats, Sorensen relied on his mother’s medical insurance (we assume Sorensen was uninsured) to pay for the bills from his broken neck.  It appears that the insurance didn’t cover all bills as his mother filed for bankruptcy due to the overwhelming debt.

Payout Take:  This is another unfortunate example of the perils of the independent contractor.  Sorensen’s story is much more a PR problem considering his public injury and the alleged promises made to him about his bills and his position within the company.  We’ve heard of stories of the WWE stepping up and assisting retired fighters (that worked for the company) with medical care and pay for surgeries and/or rehab.  But, TNA is not the global company that the WWE is and without the funds to help people like Sorensen.  So the problem is the claimed assurances made by TNA that Sorensen would be taken care of after his horrific in-ring accident.  Unfortunately, it appears that Sorensen may need to seek legal help in this matter.

Fight Master Episode 8 bounces back: 595,000 viewers

August 20, 2013

Ratings for the 8th episode of Fight Master are back up to 595,00 viewers according to Spike TV.  The show debuted in its new timeslot and night.

Episode 1: 432,000 viewers

Episode 2: 545,000 viewers

Episode 3: 676,000 viewersDVR + 3; 810,000 viewers

Episode 4:  505,000 viewers – DVR + 3; 607,000 viewers

Episode 5: 441,000 viewers – DVR +3; 498,000 viewers

Episode 6:  629,000 viewers – DVR +3; 745,000 viewers.

Episode 7:  398,000 viewers – DVR +3; 505,000 vieweres

Episode 8:  595,000 viewers

Payout Perspective:

A good week for Fight Master after it changed times and nights.  After a disappointing low point last Wednesday, moving the show with TNA Impact Wrestling as its lead-in helped boost the ratings. Certainly, the angle with Tito-Rampage at the end on TNA was a subtle nudge that Bellator’s reality show was next.  We will see if the viewership remains steady and up at its new location.

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