WWE Q3 2022: Thoughts ahead of earnings call tomorrow

WWE moved the earnings call date back a day, to Wednesday evening rather than Thursday morning. The company noted that was to accommodate scheduling related to their Saudi Arabia event on Saturday.

Does that mean there will be more involvement on the call from the newly-appointed chief content officer, Paul Levesque, than they previously planned? They may want to have him comment and highlight that he’s done an effective job since taking over creative in late July.

I expect positive stories about TV ratings. Monday Night Raw is holding up well in year-over-year comparisons, despite NFL competition starting in September. Smackdown is also up year-over-year in four of the last five months. I expect an emphasis on “Easter eggs” as they point to how they hinted at the return of Bray Wyatt with clues in their programming and QR codes.

Stronger ratings will help their case for an upgrade in live rights fees. I believe serious negotiations for U.S. rights to Raw and Smackdown will start in Q2 2023 (April to June) and may even be finalized in that quarter. Given NFL on Thursdays has done well on Prime Video, Amazon seems like a more realistic player for one of the WWE shows. Current deals with NBCUniversal and Fox expire in the fall of 2024.

NFL Thursday Night ratings make it seem less likely a core WWE show would be airing in obscurity on a streaming platform. Streaming one of the flagship shows may actually expand WWE’s reach, given the younger demographics of streaming and pay TV’s continued decline and aging audience. Although the trade-off of moving away from the wide reach of broadcast (Fox, in the case of Smackdown) in favor of streaming (hypothetically, Prime Video), may be negative. Amazon can to afford to pay content providers like WWE commensurate to the tech giant’s current lesser ability to reach audiences.

Smackdown I believe is more likely to find a new home since it’s held by Fox. It’s questionable whether Fox is happy with the show’s ratings performance. And Fox can certainly live without WWE content. Contrasting against that, NBCU is deeply invested in WWE, so I see them likely to hold on to Raw and keep it on the USA Network.

Next-day Hulu rights are still in question. Did WWE and Hulu agree to an extension? Don’t expect clarity on that, but I’d work with the assumption that those rights will be dealt with live rights. Where NXT ends up in all of this seems in play, as well. It’s not publicly known when the agreement putting NXT on the USA Network expires, but it’s possible WWE has aligned those rights with Raw and Smackdown’s deals.

If Comcast/NBCU really wants to acquire WWE, it seems like 2023 is the time, ahead of another likely rights fees upgrade. Vince McMahon’s exit reasonably opened up speculation about whether WWE will be acquired. However, I’m neither convinced that Comcast wants to own WWE and fit it into its set of brands, nor that WWE is enthusiastic about selling with family members like Stephanie McMahon and Paul Levesque recently elevated in their executive roles. Acquisition seems somewhat inevitable, though. Endeavor is a well-suited acquirer and their president, Mark Shapiro, sounded interested in his comments on The Town podcast recently. Maybe that happens someday.

WWE’s September 3 “Clash at the Castle” event will be another highlight. Because of how WWE breaks down its revenue lines, we should get an idea of what the live gate was for the event since that was the only international event in Q3.

Domestically, I expect them to report an average paid attendance of around 7,000 per event, based on my reading of WrestleTix data, which would be their highest excluding-Wrestlemania quarterly average since the return-to-touring quarter of Q3 2021.

It will be interesting to see what their merchandise numbers are like, too. I built $28.5 million in revenue for the quarter toward the consumer products division, which consists of three areas: product licensing, venue merchandise, and eCommerce.

Consumer metrics have improved somewhat since Vince left, I believe due to the quality of the content. Some fans say not much has changed, but it seems to me enough has perceptibly changed to strengthen TV ratings and attendance, at least in the short term. It’ll be curious to see how WWE spins these trends without contrasting against the weak performance of their disgraced former CEO and Chairman.

I’ll cover the earnings report Wednesday evening on Twitter, @BrandonThurston. The call is at 5 pm ET, live on corporate.wwe.com.

I’ll be talking about the report with John Pollock of POST Wrestling on Thursday at 1 pm ET. It streams live on POST Wrestling’s YouTube channel and will be in both the Wrestlenomics Radio and POST Wrestling podcast feeds afterward.

My full WWE financial model and outlook are available to subscribers.

My latest estimates for WWE’s Q3 2022:

Revenue: $293.7 million
Operating income: $37.7 million
Adjusted OIBDA: $55.3 million
Net income: $24.5 million

For full-year 2022:

Revenue: $1.302 billion
Operating income: $291.3 million
Adjusted OIBDA: $369.4 million
Net income: $206.8 million

Brandon Thurston

Is AEW’s business growing? At this point, the answer is “yes”

Edit: YouTube views in the table below have been corrected, which overcounted YouTube views for Q2 2021 and prior, resulting in negative comparisons for 2021 and 2022.

All Elite Wrestling made splash play after splash play over the past year. It began with CM Punk’s return to pro wrestling and debut with AEW in August. That moment was followed up by the double debuts of Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson at the end of All Out in September. Since then, fan fervor for AEW has been on up the upswing as more talent continue to be brought into AEW.

It’s less likely the company that launched in 2019 will be very profitable until it gets a significant upgrade in U.S. media rights fees, which could be the result of negotiations that happen in the next year or two. But the data shows AEW’s revenues and other key metrics have grown over time.

Click to enlarge image

The metrics measured above are TV ratings, pay-per-view buys, YouTube search and Google web search. It is worth noting the numbers for Friday night program Rampage are not included in the data because the show is not a year old yet.

For AEW Dynamite, the show has seen a 29% growth in overall viewership through the first quarter of 2022. In the P18-49 demo, AEW’s flagship program has experienced a 28% growth through the first quarter of 2022. These numbers coincide with Dynamite’s move from TNT to TBS and having a strong lead-in from The Big Bang Theory. AEW also benefited from full-capacity crowds compared to limited crowds in 2021.

AEW has been running on the model of quarterly pay-per-views throughout its existence. They have added some slight wrinkles with the introduction of TNT specials, and a special pay-per-view co-promoted by AEW and NJPW was announced on April 20.

For AEW’s main four pay-per-views, with the exception of Double or Nothing, every show saw at least 50% growth in pay-per-view buys. All Out 2021 exceeded 200,000 pay-per-views, the most for a U.S. pay-per-view since 1999. In the first quarter of 2022, Revolution did not see the same growth in 2021, but it still was up 17% from 2021.

YouTube views and Google web search are not an exact science, but they do provide a view on how often people are watching content and how often a topic is in the mind of consumers.

YouTube views have grown 8% through the first quarter of 2021, but Q2 and Q3 do not seem to be great quarters for AEW, according to 2021 numbers. While Dynamite has seemed to have found a groove on cable television, it appears there is a lot more room for improvement when it comes to the digital space in places like YouTube.

YouTube data was sourced from Social Blade, which takes a daily count of the public video view count on a channel’s page. That data was adjusted by Wrestlenomics to correct for videos removed or re-added, which influences the view count.

In April, Brandon Thurston tweeted an analysis of worldwide Google web search for “active” wrestling personalities through January and March 2022. The top three of the list featured WWE talent, with Cody Rhodes taking fourth, though Rhodes now is with WWE.

To be clear, WWE is ahead of AEW in all categories discussed here, in some cases by multiples, with the exception of pay-per-view. WWE distributes its pay-per-view equivalent events primarily on streaming services like Peacock.

However, AEW itself has seen sharp growth in Google web search. In worldwide searches, AEW has grown 50% through 2022 Q1, and in the United States, AEW has grown 57% through 2022 Q1. While these numbers are promising, like YouTube, there is room for improvement in the digital space for AEW.

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

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