WWE beats first-quarter estimates, Nick Khan talks Amazon and Apple as potential bidders for sports rights

At 8pm ET tonight I’ll do a livestream review of the WWE earnings report exclusively for patrons at patreon.com/wrestlenomics. Video and audio will also be available for patrons on-demand afterward.

This article will be updated periodically after 4pm ET with the latest live coverage of WWE’s Q1 earnings report today.

Read the WWE Q1 2021 Earnings Report Estimate and Preview posted earlier today.

The earnings conference call will be streamed live at 5pm ET at corporate.wwe.com. The earnings report and other information is expected to be available on the site as well.

You may also follow along with this tweet thread.

Earnings press release: https://corporate.wwe.com/investors/news/press-releases/2021/04-22-2021-211046456

Trending schedules: https://corporate.wwe.com/~/media/Files/W/WWE/press-releases/2021/q1-2021-trending-schedules.pdf

Key Performance Indicators:

WWE reports Q1 2021 net income of $43.8 million. That means an EPS of $0.51 per share, more than doubling expectations.

Revenue for the quarter is $263.5 million, a few million over expectations.

On profitability, WWE writes that “upfront revenue recognition related to the delivery of certain WWE Network intellectual property rights was partially offset by the absence of a large-scale international event.” The former likely refers to peacock, the latter, KSA events.

WWE resumed its stock buyback program in Q1, buying $75.0 million work of shares, intended to return value to shareholders. “WWE intends to continue opportunistic repurchases under the program.” The program had been paused early in the pandemic.

Online media consumption is up sequentially but down from last year’s Q1, new KPIs show. In Q1 2021 fans watched 367 million minutes of online video.

This measures video viewing across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Twitter, YouTube, as well as WWE platforms.

It’s notable that the slide that in the past would be updated with a count of WWE Network subscribers domestically and internationally is gone from the KPIs. It’s possible international subs are disclosed in the 10-Q, but who knows.

p. 3 of WWE’s trending schedules shows the most granular look at WWE’s finances the company discloses.

There was huge growth in the Network segment, coinciding with the beginning of the Peacock deal in March. Year 1 of the deal is probably front-loaded.

WWE’s social media KPI slide shows huge, unusual growth in Facebook followers. Meanwhile Twitter followers were down 3 million.

For what it’s worth, these numbers include all talent and brand social media accounts. It’s not a representation of unique followers.

I don’t get CNBC on Sling, sadly. I’m hearing CFO Kristina Salen is appearing on the network right now.

Revenue for the Consumer Products segments was up from Q1 2020 despite no venue merchandise. Online merchandise sales were compared to recent quarters since the pandemic, with 10 million in sales. Product licensing was up to $11 million, higher than the last two Q1s.

The more detailed quarterly report (10-Q) has just been released:

p. 7 of the 10-Q further confirms, not that there was any doubt, that this quarter included upfront payments from NBCU related to the new Peacock agreement for WWE Network content.

Doing a quick search of the 10-Q there doesn’t appear to be any international subscriber counts published in the document. Unless I’ve missed something the era of tracking WWE Network subscribers appears to be over.

The webcast link for the conference call, beginning at the top of the hour is here. Anyone should be able to register and listen:

Media operating expenses (including the cost of the Thunderdome) for the quarter was $123.9 million. That’s down from Q1 2020, which included a Saudi event.

In Q1 2019, that number was just $98.5 million, although at that time there was still a Monday-Tuesday TV schedule.

The investor presentation is now available.

It’s pretty nondescript. Some column charts with financial highlights that Salen will probably go over.

The conference call should beginning any minute with comments from Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Nick Khan, and Kristina Salen.

I will tweet notes of their comments and try to paraphrase best I can. These tweets are not necessarily direct quotes.

WWE shares are up 3% currently in after hours trading, probably due the company overperforming stock analysts expectations on profitability for the quarter.

The call is beginning. SVP Michael Weitz begins the call as always with a welcome and introduction of the executives, and reading of disclaimers.

He hands the call off to Vince McMahon.

Regarding Covid, Vince says, at first WWE was in survival mode but then we found a way… We saw this as an opportunity to open a “treasure chest”. He praises the leadership team.

After short remarks he hands it over to Nick Khan.

Khan says he’ll discuss new developments in media industry and then will give an update about programming and live events.

Khan talks about the increases in sports rights fees for NFL and NHL from new deals. He points out that’s despite NHL linear ratings being down.

One of the big takeaways is the media networks are paying to license linear and streaming rights. The days of splitting those rights days are over, Khan says.

These companies view live rights as key for attracting and retaining subscriptions for streaming platforms.

Wrestlemania was distributed on Peacock in the U.S. for the first time. “We were thrilled with the result” and NBCU was even happier, Khan says.

We’re excited about possibility replicating the Peacock deal in key international eras.

Content rights aren’t the only focus. On April 10, WWE dropped its first NFT featuring the Undertaker. Many sold out in seconds. We were thrilled with our first foray into the space. Look for more NFTs in the future, Khan says.

Khan discusses WWE Studios output. A new deal Crunchy Roll, Young Rock on NBC, Stone Cold biography on A&E.

He turns the call over to Stephanie McMahon.

Stephanie says Wrestlemania attracted more than 50,000 fans. She describes the even in glowing terms. “The power of belonging”.

(My note: Tampa Sports Authority records show there were just under 40,000 fans at the stadium for both nights combined.)

Stephanie says Wrestlemania on Peacock was a success. She says Wrestlemania media coverage increased 25%, representing 1.2 billion media impressions.

A list of musicians and celebrities who appeared on Wrestlemania are mentioned. Bianca Belair is also mentioned.

WWE had 14 new and returning blue chip sponsors for Wrestlemania, Stephanie says.

Video views hit 1.1 billion and 32 million hours of content were consumed. Represented a 14% and 19% increase, respectively.

Raw delivered its best P18-49 performance in over a year, Stephanie says. (My note: Showbuzz data confirms this is accurate.)

TV viewership continued to remain stable, maintaining a trends since WWE entered the Thunderdome.

Raw ratings hold steady and Smackdown ratings increased 9%. Appearances of Bad Bunny during Raw led to an 31% increase in Hispanic audiences, Stephanie says.

It clear once again “large-scale international event” is code for Saudi Arabia events.

She turns over to CFO Kristina Salen.

Salen was awed by the WWE team at Wrestlemania.

She’s now discussing this slide from the investor presentation.

“We did achieve some efficiency quarter-over-quarter,” Salen says about expenses related to Thunderdome production.

Salen summarizes live events business since Covid, referring to this slide.

Predicting the pace of that return of live events is challenging. WWE doesn’t anticipate the return of live events until at least the second-half of 2021, Salen says.

Now on to the third major business division, Consumer Products.

WWE was the #1 action figure sold at Walmart, Salen says.

WWE has a ton of cash on hand (my words). Salen mentions that WWE resumed its stock buyback program in order to return value to shareholders.

WWE is maintaining its previous full year guidance of $270 million to $305 million in adjusted OIBDA, due uncertainty related to live events, including “large scale international events”.

Salen finishes her comments and the line is being opened for Q&A with stock analysts.

Curry Baker asks about sponsors. WWE is undermonetized relative to live sports. Can we get insight on inventory for Peacock deal. What’s the size of the opportunity over the next few years?

Khan defers to Stephanie who agree that there’s an huge opportunity. She puts over how there’s an ease of doing business with WWE because of superstars.

Launching product on Peacock was the priority, Khan says. Further monetizing it is next.

Baker asks about the lift WWE expects in ratings in the second-half of the year. Anything new on storylines or talent that you think might reenergize the fanbase?

Khan jokes we have a 4 question limit per person. He says with ratings “it’s the culmination of everything.”

“Eyeballs are going away from” linear, Khan says, downplaying declines in linear TV viewership. WWE numbers are “robust”.

The fans are our fourth wall, Khan says. We think the return of fans is going to have a direct positive impact on all parts of our business.

Brandon Ross asks Khan to size “record viewership” of WWE on Peacock.

Peacock has asked WWE not to disclose numbers, Khan says. WWE woke up to calls and emails from Peacock, which usually means they’re thrilled. Many of us heard from them Sunday night and Monday morning.

Ross asks about NXT moving nights to Tuesday. How did you weigh that move. “It appears AEW is reaching record viewership … Do you think about them? Do you care?” Ross asks.

Khan says everything is competition. All we’re focused on is attracting eyeballs to our content.

Khan brings up NHL and says he believes NBC and NHL will not continue to be in business together, so that had no effect on the decision to move NXT.

“We’re pleased with the increase in NXT ratings and not focused on anyone other than ourselves.”

Ross asks if there’s other players besides Amazon in the big tech company world that will be suitors for content like WWE.

Khan thinks Apple is working on something and WWE is seeing what they’re moves are going to be. “We know live matters, and that’s what we do.”

Laura Martin asks if WWE can actually sell rights to content during the term of their current U.S. agreements.

Khan mentions international opportunities and says that in terms of the existing content in the U.S., that’s licensed through October 2025.

Salen takes a question on opex. When we’ve discussed TV production on a per episode basis. It’s now up 30% year-over-year, she says. While it’s up, QOQ we were able to make Thunderdome more efficient.

Eric Katz from Wolfe Research asks if WWE would hold a residency while phasing in touring. Is the return “full bore” or a phase-in.

Salen says WWE hasn’t decided yet what their plans will be. Their hope is that they will return to full touring, not phase-in.

Salen adds that the current guidance assumes the return of full touring in the second-half of 2021.

David Karnovsky from JPMorgan brings up increase demand for live content. Will some sports like NFL or WWE disproportionately benefit?

Khan says there’s only so much money to go around. New content will have more challenges. SEC college football is in great shape. Khan looks for some kind of consolidation school or conference wise.

Salen takes a question on eCommerce. She brings up the launching of new title belts, the launch of legends and how enthusiastic fans are about legendary WWE superstars. We’ve been doing a lot to get folks to come to eCommerce and stay.

Ben Swinburne with Morgan Stanley asks if we’ve seen all the revenue recognition of one-time assets, or is there more in Q2? On NFTs, what’s the opportunity there?

Salen says yes it’s largely done. Some one-time revenue around marquee shows, but nothing like the size of Q1.

Khan jokes “we remain undefeated against the weather” regarding Wrestlemania.

On NFTs, Khan says owning IP is something WWE will be in long-term. 100 limited Undertaker cards sold out in 5 seconds. “These are the baseball cards of the digital world.”

Vasily Karasyov asks about the status of the global localization strategy that was rolled out by Paul Levesque in 2018.

Khan says no plans have not changed. They’ve just been delayed by Covid. Khan brings up the Superstar Spectacular for the India market earlier this year.

Weitz says they have time for one more question. Steven Cahall asks if Peacock delivery in Q1 outperformed their expectations and about how NXT TV rights performed compared to expectations.

Salen says there’s no change with impact to full year guidance for Peacock deal.

On NXT, Salen says it’s still within guidance range. They’re really pleased with the result but nothing to update on guidance due to NXT’s new TV deal (going into effect Q4 2021).

The call has ended. Thanks for following along.

Tonight at 8pm, I’ll do a live stream review of the earnings report for patrons only. Link here for current patrons or signup for just $5/month and get access to the massive viewership spreadsheet and more.

Originally tweeted by Brandon Thurston (@BrandonThurston) on April 22, 2021.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.


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WWE Q1 2021 Earnings Report Estimate and Preview

WWE releases its first quarter 2021 earnings today. Financial details will be disclosed covering the period of January 1 to March 31.

An earnings report and other documents are expected to be released soon after the market closes at 4pm ET. A conference call will be streamed live at 5pm ET on WWE’s corporate website with comments from CEO Vince McMahon, president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan, chief financial officer Kristina Salen, and chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon.

At 8pm ET tonight I’ll do a livestream review of the WWE earnings report exclusively for patrons at patreon.com/wrestlenomics. Video and audio will also be available for patrons on-demand afterward.

Keep in mind Wrestlemania happened in April, so details related to those events may be limited. The two-day event generated $6.2 million in ticket revenue, according to records we obtained through the Tampa Sports Authority. Information related to ticket or merchandise sales for Wrestlemania would be included in reporting for Q2 (April 1 to June 30). Earnings for that period will come out in the next quarterly report, in July or August.

The average stock analyst covering WWE estimates the company will report an earnings per share ratio of $0.22 for Q1, according to Seeking Alpha. That implies an expectation of about $18 million in net income. The consensus revenue estimate is $257.5 million. The market will be closed for trading for the day, but WWE’s stock price might move accordingly if WWE reports figures lower or higher than those estimates.

For the quarter, my estimates are $231.5 million in revenue, an EPS of $0.20, operating income of $31.2 million, and net income of $16.9 million.

Cells shaded in green for Q4 assume there is a major event held in Saudi Arabia during that period. Categories shaded in pink are profit metrics.

Here are a few subjects and questions that might be addressed in the earnings report or that stock analysts might ask about in the Q&A session on the conference call.

Revenue structure of the Peacock deal

On the last earnings call, in February, CFO Kristina Salen indicated 2021 would be the biggest revenue year in the five-year lifetime of the new Peacock deal. Salen said:

2021 will be the biggest year in the deal from an incremental revenue and adjusted OIBDA perspective, because upon delivery of the deal, so to speak, upon the onset, we have to value the subscribers that we’re transferring over and we have to value any IP that we’re transferring over. And that will be all recognized in 2021. And then in 2022, you’ll have the regular revenue recognition of the ongoing deal.

Details reported or other new guidance related to the WWE Network segment might shed some light on how the company was compensated by NBCUniversal for the Network content in Q1. It’s important to remember Peacock launched WWE Network content on March 18, with just under two weeks remaining in the reporting period, so Peacock payments might be prorated into only a small fraction of the quarter. The Network segment might also be affected by cancellations of U.S. subscriptions for the final days of domestic version of the Network.

Measuring WWE Network success going forward

How do investors measure success for WWE on Peacock? Nick Khan said in a recent interview (before Wrestlemania) that the Fastlane pay-per-view, the first monthly peak event on Peacock was a success, but that NBCUniversal had asked WWE not to disclose numbers. I would be mildly surprised if WWE is able to quantify any information related to the performance of WWE content on Peacock going forward. That said, WWE might still continue to disclose subscriber counts for its international markets, as it has in the past. If so, that will be a way to track engagement in Network content

In that case, how did international subs perform in Q1? Do we get any news on what the international sub count was immediately after Wrestlemania?

Growth opportunities in licensing

The Other media segment (when it doesn’t contain Saudi event revenue), which contains WWE Studios, is increasingly driven by licensed content, including from A&E programs, E! reality series. There’s a Netflix document on Vince McMahon announced. What other licensing opportunities does WWE think are possible there?

What other areas of growth is WWE going to focus on? With perhaps a return to live events and normal life in the foreseeable future, is there an opportunity to license WWE content to a major theme park? Universal Studios seems like an obvious candidate, since NBCUniversal is by far WWE’s biggest customer. Perhaps the lesson learned early in the pandemic about how much money can be saved by producing Raw and Smackdown at a fixed location could be adopted in short-terms as part of a theme park agreement.

What did WWE learn from its release of its first NFTs (featuring The Undertaker) earlier this month? Does the company feel this is a product its fan base will continue to have interest in? Are there more NFT sales on the horizon? Is this yet another licensing opportunity?

International strategy

Nick Khan made clear he sees Latin America and specifically Mexico as a region where WWE could grow revenues. Does WWE see that region as a destination for a performance center and an NXT brand. Given how different the wrestling culture is in Mexico compared to the U.S. and western environment where WWE dominates, what’s the company doing to ensure it’s ready to execute effectively in that market? 

Is EVP Paul Levesque “global localization” strategy still a vision the company intends on executing in the way Levesque presented it at the WWE Business Partner Summit in 2018? What other regions, possibly including India and Japan, does WWE see opportunities for expansion?

The Thunderdome is expensive

Media operating expenses should reveal another round of hints about expenses related to the Thunderdome and Capital Wrestling Center, although it’s been made pretty clear at this point by executives’ comments and company filings that the current production setting, with fans watching remotely on screens, is more expensive than a live touring model would be.

Stock buyback program

Is WWE resuming its stock repurchase program that it put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic? The company ended 2020 with more cash on hand than at any time in at least the last 15 years by a 2x multiple, so can likely afford to buyback shares again as a way to return value to investors. If WWE is not resuming the program, what’s the argument to shareholders for doing so given the cash-rich state of WWE’s finances and guaranteed nature of much of the company’s revenues?

Reporting methods

This is the first quarter for the new year and with a new CFO in place. Will WWE’s reporting methods change? Is the current segment detail structure (seen in the table above) the way Salen and WWE want to report going forward?

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.


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WWE Wrestlemania 37 sold 40,806 tickets, bringing in $6.2 million combined for both nights, additional attendance figures

Wrestlemania earlier this month drew 40,806 individual ticket sales, generating $6.2 million for the two-day event on April 10 and 11 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

The first night was attended by 17,946 people and the second night by 18,501, according to records obtained through a request to the Tampa Sports Authority, the entity that manages the stadium.

Paid ticket sales for each night were slightly higher due to more than 3,000 tickets each night that were distributed but that didn’t ultimately reach the gates, possibly due to an overeager secondary ticket market. Saturday’s event drew 20,172 ticket sales and the second night sold 20,634.

WWE announced higher identical attendances for each night, of 25,675, and claimed both nights sold-out. Shortly before the events were held, company officials said the capacity for each night would be 25,000.

The records don’t confirm the intended capacity of the events, but if the company intended to put 25,000 tickets on sale for each night, it appears both nights of Wrestlemania fell short of selling-out.

Attendance revenues total $6.2 million, with Saturday selling $3.1 million in admission and Sunday selling $3.2 million. This calculation splits sales of two-day ticket packages evenly between the two nights.

Night 1 drew $3,058,140 in ticket revenue ($57,600 from suites, $843,230 from 2-day stadium seating, and $2,157,310 from single-day stadium seating). Night 2 drew $3,187,465 ($40,275 from suites, $843,230 from 2-day stadium seating, and $2,303,960 from single-day stadium seating).

There were 7,952 sales of two-day packages, all of which were stadium seating, as opposed to suites. Saturday sold 11,964 stadium seating tickets, for that night only. Sunday sold 12,503 stadium seating tickets specifically for that night. Although single-night and two-day sales were offered, fans could have bought separate single-night tickets and still attended either event.

An additional 256 and 179 tickets were sold for suite attendees for Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Altogether the average price of sold tickets for both days was $190, which is well below that of recent pre-pandemic Wrestlemania events. The marquee event in 2019 had an average ticket price of somewhere between $248 and $292 based on our estimates.

The gate for this year’s two-day Wrestlemania falls short of ticket revenue from full capacity events since 2012, but still brought in more ticket revenue than Wrestlemania 27 in 2011 in Atlanta and Wrestlemania 26 in 2020 in Phoenix — although that is not adjusting for inflation.

These records don’t shed light on merchandise sales. Throughout 2019, WWE sold $10.00 in venue merchandise sales per paid attendee for all events in North America. The rate of merchandise sales for Wrestlemania might be higher with a disproportionate number of avid fans likely to attend. With an unclear portion of fans attending both events, though, an estimate of merchandise sales for this year’s Wrestlemania is more difficult.

Records from the Tampa Sports Authority may be viewed by patrons at patreon.com/wrestlenomics

EDIT: This article has been updated to correct the total number of tickets sold and the total attendance.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.


Support quality reporting on the wrestling business

The “Wednesday Night War” Is Over

Last night was the final encounter of the “Wednesday Night War”. Since October 2, 2019 through today, AEW Dynamite on TNT and WWE NXT on the USA Network aired simultaneously, competing head-to-head on 75 Wednesday nights.

NXT moves to Tuesday night next week, WWE announced recently.

Through 75 head-to-head Wednesdays AEW led NXT in total viewers on 63 of 75 nights. Both programs aired from 8:00 to 10:00pm. NXT often had an overrun of a few minutes past 10:00pm.

NXT led in total viewership ten times. One of those time was this week, despite the program airing simultaneously and without commercials as Peacock, as WWE and NBCUniversal push their fans to sign for the new home of WWE Network content ahead of Wrestlemania this weekend.

The shows tied to the nearest thousand twice: 12/11/2019 and 11/25/2020.

The ten nights NXT had a bigger audience than AEW were: 11/20/2019, 11/27/2019, 12/18/2019, 4/8/2020, 4/15/2020, 6/24/2020, 7/1/2020, 7/8/2020, 10/28/2020, and 4/7/2021.

The P18-49 viewership demographic, an important measurement to advertisers, was the subject of much consternation among fans and pundits as the competition went on.

In that category, AEW led on 74 of the 75 nights.

NXT led with adults aged 18 to 49 just once, on 12/19/2019.

Beginning in the summer of 2020, AEW extended its lead over NXT in the key demo, possibly as audiences in that group settled into watching AEW more regularly than NXT, at least in live and same-day viewing.

On the P2+ (total viewers) vs. P18-49 subject, Turner and therefore AEW are far more concerned with P18-49 than P2+. Advertisers never buy based on P2+; they buy based on demos.

It’s not clear to me WWE or NBCUniversal or other television networks view it quite as exclusively.

Recent WWE TV deals were made after including P2+ as well as P18-49 data in their pitches.

Younger viewers are more desirable, for sure, but all cable viewers are in a home with a cable subscription. And cable networks make the majority of their revenue from carriage fees supports by those subs.

Nonetheless, AEW dominated with younger viewers. NXT dominated with viewers age 50 and over.

“Unknown” cells appear in the tables below for some weeks because Showbuzzdaily reported limited demos for NXT when it didn’t finish among the top 50 cable originals in P18-49.

In recent months, AEW’s lead weakened. Dynamite lost viewers in the first quarter of 2021, particularly among younger female viewers.

Source: Showbuzz Daily / Nielsen

Meanwhile NXT better maintained its female audience while losing more of its male audience.

In the final quarter of the “war”, female viewers aged 18 to 49 accounted for about 40% of NXT’s audience was female and about 31% of AEW’s.

Source: Showbuzz Daily / Nielsen

And then there were quarter-hour numbers, first reported weekly by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (or on very rare occasion, Wrestlenomics/me).

Here’s how total viewership by quarter-hour sorted out.

P2+ (total viewership) quarter-hour comparison

NXT led in 110 of 592 (19%) quarter-hours in total viewers. AEW led 480 (81%). There also two ties.

P18-49 viewership quarter-hour comparison

NXT led in P18-49 viewers in just 13 of 592 (2%) quarters. AEW led the other 579 (98%).

It’s tempting to look to these quarter-hour data to make sense of which stars are big attractions to viewers and which are not.

More than any star, viewership correlated to time-slot.

The first 15 minutes, at least partly due to lead-ins, was often the most viewed quarter.

Quarter-hour viewership analysis is also compromised by needing to account for, not just time placement, but also commercial breaks. Quarters consisting of matches also tend to perform better than video packages or other pre-taped segments.

Minute-by-minute data is tracked by both companies. Datasets of entire shows for either AEW or NXT have never been reported. AEW vice president of business strategy Chris Harrington (and creator of Wrestlenomics) did a screen share video interview with me in December of one night of minute-by-minute data, the December 16 episodes of Dynamite and NXT.

How did the “war” start?

In May 2019, the week before AEW’s first pay-per-view event the company announced it would have a weekly program on TNT. Despite AEW previously filing for a trademark “Tuesday Night Dynamite”, the show was scheduled on Wednesday nights, beginning in October. NBA games often occupy primetime Tuesdays on TNT.

NXT at the time was a one-hour program, taped in multiple-episode blocks at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, and airing first-run on the WWE Network at 8:00pm Eastern.

Over the summer of 2019, WWE was reportedly in discussions with Fox to take NXT off of the WWE Network onto FS1 as a live two-hour program that would oppose Dynamite. But in August, WWE and NBCUniversal announced NXT would move to the USA Network.

NXT’s weekly program was one of the most popular shows on the Network at the time, so the move was met with some confusion by those in Wall Street. In a January 2020 conference talk, stock analyst Laura Martin mentioned to WWE’s then-co-president George Barrios (in one of his final public appearances on behalf of WWE) that taking NXT’s first-run off the Network was “one of my least favorite things you’ve done.”

WWE argued moving NXT was an opportunity to grow the value of NXT’s media rights, like Raw and Smackdown which had just attracted new U.S. deals worth in excess of $200 million per year.

How much NXT has been able to attract in rights fees from NBCU, in its original two-year deal or in the new deal just announced, is unclear.

When AEW started to decidedly take the lead in the ratings competition, some wondered if it was the best thing for NXT to move to a different night where it was not opposed by another wrestling program. Maybe Tuesday or Thursday.

WWE EVP Paul Levesque, in a September 2020 conference call with media, seemed to respond to the notion that WWE put NXT on Wednesday night on cable to compete with its new competitor in the wrestling space, but wanted to point out AEW put its program on a night NXT long occupied.

“It’s a funny thing. I don’t hear anybody else asking people about moving on Wednesday since we were always on Wednesdays,” Levesque said.

“But it’s not like every other channel just has free air all the time.”

Full audio of Levesque’s comments are here:

WWE EVP Paul Levesque is asked about NXT moving away from Wednesday night (September 30, 2020)

Why is NXT moving to Tuesday?

The impending close of the NBC Sports Network is probably the biggest factor leading to NXT move.

There’s little debate to had, while NXT was close on total viewers, AEW was usually winning in every viewership category publicly reported except for viewers age 50 and older.

But there’s a good chance NHL games will be coming to the USA Network in the near future. A deal between NBCU and the NHL is not finalized, but the NHL’s new deal with Disney and ESPN included the “A” package of games. It didn’t include the Wednesday night games currently carried by NBCSN.

While Fox is an outside possible suitor for a package that would include Wednesday night games, NBCU is still the likeliest home, and USA Network the likeliest network home.

NHL games on Wednesday nights on NBCSN do comparable P18-49 viewership to NXT, but NHL probably drives better ad rates. And USA Network is running reruns of NBC programs like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in primetime most nights when WWE programs aren’t scheduled.

What will happen to NXT and AEW viewership now that they’ll be unopposed?

In August and September, AEW and NXT were both preempted due to playoff games form the NBA and NHL, respectively. When left in their normal timeslot, the shows did drew more viewers than usual.

In August when NXT was twice unopposed by AEW on Wednesday, its viewership improved by 29% an 24% compared to the median of the previous four weeks. In P18-49 viewers, it improved 37% in both instances.

Based on recent performance, if viewership improves to that degree when NXT moves to Tuesday, the show could see total viewership of around 800,000 and a P18-49 rating of about 0.23 (about 300,000 viewers in that age group).

When unopposed on Wednesday on two occasions in September, AEW viewership was up 13% and 24% compared to the median the previous four weeks when it was opposed by NXT. In P18-49 viewers, it increased 13% and 16%.

And increase to that extent would mean total viewers of around 875,000 and a demo rating of about 0.33 (about 425,000 viewers), based on AEW’s recent performance.

In other words, audiences the programs deliver might be even more comparable when they’re on separate nights.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.


Support quality reporting on the wrestling business

Google web search trends for Q1 2021: WWE, AEW, New Japan, Impact, Stardom, ROH, and more

Q1 2021 just ended, and WWE still has about 10x the Google web search volume of any other pro wrestling brand.

But let’s dig deeper into Google Trends.

First, an explanation of the data we’re looking at:

  • We’re measuring topics, not strings. In all cases here we’re measuring search topics that Google Trends creates, not individual search strings, which would be less all-encompassing and probably less informative. For example, in the case of WWE, we’re not measuring how often the string ‘wwe’ was searched for but rather we’re measuring all searches Google Trends purports related to WWE, the wrestling company (or as GT identifies it, the “media company”).
  • These are relative values, not absolute. The values you’ll see below in the tables on the left are relative values. GT does not provide the absolute number of queries in any form; all its data is relative to the peak for the parameters you enter. I collected monthly data, which is the granularity that GT allows when you’re collecting data beyond a span of five years. A 100 value in this case equals the month with the highest search volume. I’ve made the decision for comprehensibility sake (and because Q1 2021 just ended) to average months into quarters, so you won’t actually see any instances of 100 below.
  • Below, a given value in one table is not equal to the same value in another table. Because the values are relative and standardized against the peak volume for that topic, the values below are not comparable between wrestling companies. For example, below, a 50 for WWE is not equal to a 50 for AEW or any other company. You can put multiple topics on the same scale, but that’s not what we’re doing in this article other than in the above bar chart.
  • This data is volume adjusted. But hasn’t Google search volume in general increased over time? How can we measure activity from 2004 on the same chart as 2021? The data is volume adjusted over time. It’s a measurement of searches as a percentage of all search activity. For more info, read the Google Trends FAQ.


WWE’s worldwide search volume declined again in Q1, for the seventeenth consecutive quarter.

If this was the stock market, we would say WWE’s search volume has been in recession since Q2 2017. That period is roughly when ticket & merchandise sales, and Network subs began declining.

But what about WWE’s domestic market? Maybe that’s different.

In the U.S., WWE’s search volume has been down 17 of 18 consecutive quarters. The exception was when volume was up 1% in Q2 2019.


All Elite Wrestling finally got a search topic in Trends this year.

Worldwide searches for AEW were up in Q1 by 4%. The U.S. trend is similar, up 7%.

Q2 2019 and Q4 2019 were big debut periods for AEW, when the company had its first pay-per-view and first Dynamite episode, respectively.

We’re only now getting into a “steady state” time for AEW where these comparisons are becoming meaningful.

New Japan

New Japan is up 15% worldwide in Q1, which is probably skewed by the fact the company shut down for the pandemic at the end of February 2020. That’ll be a factor through Q3 comparisons as New Japan didn’t return to running events until July.

Queries in the U.S., though, are still falling. This was the ninth consecutive quarter of decline in U.S. volume, which notably began with the Q1 2019 launch of AEW, when former New Japan stars Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks signed with the new promotion.

But domestically for New Japan, searches remain strong. For Japan, Q1 2021 approached the quarterly high of Q1 2019.


Impact Wrestling search volume is a fraction of what it was in the early 2010s. But Impact has seen quarterly gains in three of the last four quarters. That lines up with the beginning of the pandemic, actually.

U.S. trends for Impact are comparable.


The Japanese-based women’s promotion Stardom continues to climb and outpace Ring of Honor and Dragongate in worldwide Google web search volume.

This is even with Stardom’s May 2020 data point excluded as volume was exceptionally high coinciding with the passing of Hana Kimura.

Note the above chart uses a logarithmic scale. AEW, NJPW, Impact are in a separate stratosphere relative to the other companies shown (and WWE in a stratosphere above that).

Google web search is suggestive at best, and other important metrics like ticket sales are hard to take any meaning from in the pandemic era, but it’s probably past time to start including Stardom in conversations when we consider, say, the fifth biggest pro-wrestling company in the world.

If you’re wondering where U.S-based brands like Major League Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance fall in this comparison, Stardom is ahead of either by about 3x over the last twelve months, globally.

Stardom has grown in worldwide search for 20 consecutive quarters, since Q1 2017.

In Japan, volume for Stardom has doubled in many recent quarters, including Q1 2021.

In this U.S., though, the recently ended quarter put an end to twelve consecutive quarters of growth.

Ring of Honor

Ring of Honor searches appear to be at an all-time low. Could searches for ROH be lower now than in 2004? Google Trends also shows 13 consecutive quarters of decline, worldwide.

Searches for the Sinclair Broadcasting subsidiary peaked in 2015.

U.S. results for ROH are similar.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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