Summerslam’s business results in context

Summerslam 2021 delivered huge numbers for WWE. In its press release, WWE touts Summerslam as “the most-viewed and highest-grossing Summerslam in the company’s history.”

On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo analyzed the press release and examined the context of the numbers WWE has released. The following bullet points were looked at on Wrestlenomics Radio:

– More people watched Saturday’s event live across Peacock and WWE Network than any other SummerSlam in the company’s history. The seven-figure global audience marked a 55% increase over 2020 and a 29% increase over 2019.

– The sellout crowd of 51,326 broke SummerSlam records for indoor attendance and gate receipts. With tickets purchased by fans from all 50 U.S. states, Saturday’s live gate was more than four times greater than the last SummerSlam held with fans in attendance in 2019.
Merchandise sales posted an increase of 155% over 2019.

– SummerSlam set a new sponsorship record, growing by 25% vs. 2019 and 18% vs. 2020.

– With more than four million views, Brock Lesnar’s return became WWE’s most-watched Instagram video of all time – surpassing the video of John Cena’s return at WWE Money in the Bank. In total, SummerSlam videos generated more than one billion views across all WWE social platforms during the week.

Thurston went point by point through the press release on Wrestlenomics Radio. He gave more detail and and context to the numbers that WWE have released.

“‘The most watched Summerslam in the company’s history,’ which makes some sense,” Thurston stated. “What we gather from this too is the cynicism that the WWE Network is now being viewed less because they moved from the standalone WWE Network in the U.S. to Peacock, not the case. As we know, the standalone WWE Network had about 1.2 million subscribers. In March this year, the standalone WWE Network in the U.S. shut down, and now everybody’s been encouraged to sign up for Peacock. There was no automatic transition, but you were encouraged and marketed to. Nonetheless, there’s more people watching Summerslam than ever. I don’t doubt the veracity of this.

“There’s some truth to the hype that this enhanced reach of Peacock over WWE’s direct-to-consumer network is paying off, is producing some results. That said, there’s some interesting fact to get out of this where it says, ‘The seven-figure global audience,’ so that just means there’s somewhere in excess of a million viewers, and who knows if that means average throughout or just checked out at least 10 seconds of it, but anyway, ‘marked a 55% increase over last year,’ which was on the WWE Network standalone, ‘and a 29% increase over 2019,’ which means that 2020 was down from 2019. 2020 is a COVID year with Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt with Roman Reigns running in at the end, finally returning. You got John Cena and Roman Reigns here, bigger match.

“John Cena had not wrestled since the Wrestlemania at the Performance Center [in April 2020]. It had been over a year since John Cena wrestled in WWE, and so I think that that means something. The 2019 Summerslam was at least in front of a live audience, and it certainly doesn’t dispute the notion that in 2019 to 2020, there was less interest in WWE. Whether you want to discount that because of COVID or not, it’s just two data points without true values here but with relative values in terms of percent.

“But maybe there was some increased interest, and I think we saw that too when Nick Khan disclosed a similar comparison using percentage changes from year to year when he discussed the Money In The Bank difference in viewership, which was up in this year 2021 as well because now they’re on Peacock and apparently that really does result in more people watching these WWE PPVs.”

Thurston then moved to the next bullet point that regards Summerslam attendance. Wrestle Tix reported that the estimated capacity for Allegiant Stadium was over 46,000. However, WWE reported a much larger number, and Thurston noted what Nick Khan had to say about Summerslam attendance.

“A sold out crowd of 51,326,” Thurston continued. “In the last couple of days before Summerslam and there could have been some sales, I’m sure there were some sales on the last couple of days, but Nick Khan said in print, in Variety and to Ariel Helwani for BT Sport that the paid ticket sales were over 45,000. Sounds pretty close to what Wrestle Tix found in their analysis of Ticketmaster. 45,000 is the paid. Sure, everybody exaggerates their attendance.

“People get cantankerous about it, though, when it comes to wrestling because wrestling’s a work, and this is the only objective measurement that we have of success. We can’t look up how many touchdown passes Roman Reigns has thrown. We can look up, though, the attendance or at least we can look at what Wrestle Tix, for example, reports what the attendance or what the tickets distributed count is. And when we see a number that doesn’t reflect what was possible, based on the ticket map, it’s worth talking about.”

Thurston went through the final bullet points. He explained that while the numbers for merchandise, sponsorships and video views may sound impressive, the whole story is still missing.

“Merchandise sales increased 155%. This is probably not venue merge per capita, right?” Thurston questioned. “This is an audience of 45,000 people compared to 2019 in the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. We’ve got probably well over two times the audience so maybe that’s what’s happening there. It’s not clear if this is a venue merge per capita number or if this is a revenue comparison, if you see what I’m saying there. It’s possible that the venue merch per capita was down from that event, but the revenue was up just by sheer volume of customers that may have made a purchase.

“Summerslam sets a new sponsorship record growing by 25% vs. 2019 and 18% vs. 2020, and I think that’s WWE’s business brand, which is pretty good and going in the right direction. WWE’s business brand is becoming more advertiser and business partner friendly, even while WWE is not a great consumer brand, in my view. It is becoming a stronger business brand, and that bears out here in the ad revenue, the sponsorship revenue that they were able to get here. It probably helps too that you’ve got a bigger audience. You’re on Peacock now, and you can tell these potential advertisers that we’ve got a track record now.

“We can look back at Money In The Bank that we had earlier this year and see how much viewership was up vs. when we were on the standalone network. Now we’re on Peacock. The reach is bigger, the audience is bigger and it probably helps your ability to sell advertising, even though advertising is probably sold so far in advance. I’m not sure how this is all working out on streaming, but a genuine positive for WWE. Video views, who knows what context to put that in. It’s in front of such a tailwind. Social media viewing, it’s hard to get an idea of what a true index would be and what true great numbers are, but they did a bunch of billion video views and who knows how many of them were even monetized? Well, some of them were through YouTube, certainly. Maybe some others on other platforms were but hard to say.”

Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.

Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.

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