Rousey makes appearance at Wrestlemania

March 29, 2015

Ronda Rousey made a special appearance at Wrestlemania 31 in Santa Clara, California at the WWE’s biggest event of the year.  Rousey and The Rock appeared in a promo with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon which was signed off by the UFC.

Rousey actually got physical in the WWE ring as she gave Triple H a judo throw and grabbed McMahon’s arm and performed an arm crank and then “rag dolled” her around the ring.

According to MMA Fighting, The Rock and Rousey share the same agent.  The appearance was likely part of a promotion for “Fast and Furious 7” which both make appearances in.

It was clear that the UFC had agreed to her participation at Wrestlemania.  Rousey is a big wrestling fan and was in the front row of the event with the other three “Four Horsewomen.”

Payout Perspective:

It was definitely a Wrestlemania moment with arguably the UFC’s most popular star in a WWE ring.  Who said that the two audience demos are not the same?  Even though the physical altercation was minimal, it’s still surprising that the UFC allowed this to happen.  But, since Rousey is a big wrestling fan, it was probably something the UFC let her to do.  I doubt she appears in a WWE match while still under UFC contract without some sort of monetary exchange.

I realize that this is not her first physical involvement at a wrestling event as she did what seemed to be an unrehearsed weak chop on a wrestler at a PWG show late last year.  The Wrestlmania appearance was a way to promote Rousey and the Rock (who hosted SNL Saturday night) at the same time on one of the most viewed platforms (Wrestlemania) of the weekend.  It will certainly grab some mainstream interest on Monday.

WWE-Tapout announce joint venture

March 25, 2015

The WWE and Authentic Brands Group, LLC (ABG) announced a joint venture with Tapout as the brand formerly tied with MMA and the UFC will now be the official fitness and training partner of the WWE.

The partnership is reported as a 50/50 joint venture per the Sports Business Journal.  According to the WWE release, it will integrate Tapout across WWE’s global platforms including TV programming, the WWE Network, pay-per-view broadcasts, live events, digital and social media.

As one might expect, the WWE will create advertising and marketing with its Superstars and Divas outfitted in Tapout gear.  It will also be prevalent through the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida and all “performers, trainers and staff” will don the Tapout workout gear.

The Tapout brand is described as “a newly repositioned fitness lifestyle brand” in the press release.  More from the press release regarding Tapout:

The next generation of Tapout™ preserves the original brand essence and drives a hard-body, fitness-centric message positioned around motivation, discipline and determination. An all new line of men’s and women’s performance apparel and accessories will launch at retail in Spring 2016. New Tapout™ branding and packaging will roll out in key categories throughout 2015 starting with beverages, supplements and fitness centers.

Payout Perspective:

There were many rumors about the partnership and the official announcement coincides with Wrestlemania week.  Although not the same as the UFC-Reebok deal, it accomplishes the same premise of partnering with brands in an effort to increase audience and revenue.  With the fitness industry apparently expanding, the WWE and Tapout will seek to make a dent into the market as well.

Lesnar announces re-signing with WWE

March 25, 2015

Brock Lesnar has re-signed with the WWE and foreclosed any notion that he would return to MMA in an announcement on ESPN Tuesday afternoon.  Lesnar will be in the main event at Wrestlemania 31 on Sunday in Santa Clara, California.  The event would have been his last under his current contract if he did not re-sign with the WWE.

Lesnar indicated it was a hard decision but chose to stick with professional wrestling.  Perhaps the most practical reason Lesnar stayed was, as he put it that he worked part-time for full-time pay.

In the interview, Lesnar stated that he signed with the WWE on Monday night in Los Angeles where the WWE had an event at the Staples Center.  Notably, Dana White was also in Los Angeles promoting the Aldo-McGregor fight.  Certainly, there had to be some bargaining leverage for Lesnar with the knowledge that the UFC was in town too.

Lesnar made a very public appearance at UFC 184 in Los Angeles last month causing speculation that he might be considering a return to the octagon.

Payout Perspective:

All we have to know about Lesnar’s return to the WWE is that he’s being paid well for limited work.  While competing and being a UFC fighter is great, Lesnar recognizes that he is older, with the level of commitment and amount of injuries he’s suffered in the past, it was probably best to stick with WWE.  Lesnar would have still been a draw for the UFC despite being gone from MMA.

The underlying highlight here is that the WWE coordinated with ESPN to break the news.  Obviously this helps the WWE with its biggest event coming up this Sunday.  The amount of time Lesnar’s announcement was given was probably good for the UFC as well.

WWE and NBCU announce new brand campaign

March 23, 2015

The WWE and NBCU have entered into a broad marketing plan the first of which will start during Wrestlemania this Sunday as Viacom’s Paramount has signed on to promote its new film, “Terminator: Genisys” with the WWE per company announcement. “For the Hero in All of Us,” campaign will air across NBC’s network and digital properties as well as all WWE platforms.

The new film, featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger will be promoted by the WWE starting this Sunday through its release in July. This Sunday, Triple H will make his entrance to the ring utilizing imagery from the movie. Triple H has a match with Sting this Sunday in one of the featured bouts of the annual event.

In addition, the new campaign includes WWE giving unprecedented access to its Superstars and Divas for creating custom “on-air campaigns, in-show integrations, and social campaigns to its advertisers.”

The new campaign spot created by the WWE is here.

Via WWE release:

Four key, tentpole marketing opportunities have been created for advertisers to take advantage of by utilizing WWE’s powerful engagement at scale:

  • “The Road To WrestleMania” – a 32-day build up to the Super Bowl of sports entertainment.
  • “The Slammy Awards” – an amped up version of WWE’s annual awards show that moves to first quarter in the heart of the red carpet season.
  • “Champions of Fatherhood” – a special series which turns the spotlight on America’s unsung heroes.
  • “Heroes of Tomorrow” – a way to highlight WWE’s legion of young fans.

Payout Perspective:

It appears that the WWE and NBCU will work more hand in hand when approaching advertisers for the WWE product. Perhaps this is an effort to attract more advertisers with the eventual end game of boosting ad sales of the WWE product.   The new strategy hopes to capitalize on the WWE’s broad social media and digital presence and NBCU broad scope of mainstream contacts to enhance advertising for the WWE.

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.

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.

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