WWE Q3 2021 earnings report and conference call with executives

Tonight we’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.

WWE reports net income of $43.5 million for Q3 and $255.8 million in revenue.

Net income report means an EPS of $0.52, greatly beating analysts expectations (as I anticipated).


WWE is now willing to say they’re expecting a more profitable year than earlier anticipated.

WWE is now raising its adjusted OIBDA (the company preferred non-GAAP measure of profit) projection for full year 2021 from $270M – $305M to $305M to $315M.

With the return to touring, WWE reports average North America attendance in Q3 (Jul to Sep) of 8,300 paid attendees over 38 events.

I believe this is the highest since at least 2010.

And an average of 7,400 paid for 4 int’l events (all in the UK).

Despite beating on EPS and a narrow miss on revenue, WWE is down 4% currently in after market trading.

The quarterly report (10-Q) later will clarify but WWE is reporting $23.8 million in North American ticket sales, which, judging by the average attendance they reported and count of events, it looks like average ticket price was about $75.

In 2019 average NA ticket was $64.

International average ticket price (for the events in the UK), looks like about $81. The 10-Q will also clarify. It will probably come out sometime between now and tomorrow.

WWE KPI slides show Raw total viewership up 1% from the same period last year. Though USA was up 11% and top 25 cable down 24%.

Smackdown is up 6%, compared to Fox up 13% and the top 4 broadcast networks up 18%.

Counting viewing across practically every major social media platform, WWE’s digital video viewing continues to rise both in time spent and view counts.

WWE sold $5.3 million in venue merchandise for the first quarter back on the road.

10-Q should reveal NA merch per capita.

eCommerce, which increased in early Covid and somewhat offset no venue merch, settled back down to $8.2 million for the quarter.

WWE Network revenue for Q3 was $43.1 million, the lowest for a quarter since Q4 2019.

This is surprising, at least to me. Q2 was a full quarter under the Peacock deal and was at $61.5 million.

Conference call starts in a few minutes. Anyone can listen.

The slides are hardcore financial column charts.

The call begins now. SVP Michael Weitz opens the call and introduces Vince McMahon, Nick Khan, Stephanie McMahon, and Kristina Salen.

He turns the call over to Vince.

Vince on the return to touring: “This is where the WWE brand really comes alive in so many respects”

Vince mentions new ways to monetize IP in the “evolution of sports entertainment”. His comments are brief as usual lately and he hands it over to Nick Khan with prepared remarks.

Nick discusses Hulu and hypes the “battle” for next-day rights to WWE’s flagship programs, which is likely being negotiated with multiple possible suitors currently.

The 10-Q drops:


Nick is giving his usual master class on the recent history of media rights.

He calls cuts of the Netflix documentary on Vince “out of this world. Wait until you see it.”

Nick goes over the PPV schedule, the strategic timing of events, and stadium events.

He highlights the new trading card deal with Panini, calling it “a significant step up from our previous deal” with Topps.

Nick says they’ve spent significant in-person time with Fox executives lately.

He turns over to CBO Stephanie McMahon.

“I have to start with some bad news. WWE superstar the Miz was eliminated from Dancing With the Stars this week.”

Stephanie mentions, as Nick did, Summerslam 2021 at Allegiant Stadium had a gate more than 4x greater than the gate of 2019 Summerslam.

She highlights John Cena’s return and mentions the returns of Becky Lynch, and Brock Lesnar.

WWE’s ad & sponsorships strategy has shifted from transactional to contractual, just as WWE’s business overall has, Stephanie says.

Would you ever see Patrick Mahomes spray players down in water after a touchdown, or zombies replace the offensive line? Steph questions. Well you can in WWE. (paraphrasing, but yes she really said this)

Xavier Woods’ Up Up Down Down gets a mention.

“A slight increase in ratings from both Raw and Smackdown” despite strong competition from sports.

“We are the #1 sports brand on TikTok over the NBA with 14.5 million followers.”

WWE will be creating AR experiences with Snapchat at upcoming events.

Stephanie turns the call over the CFO Kristina Salen, who speaks on the investor presentation slides.

Salen talks about the live events reporting. WWE reported $9.1 million in operating income on its live events division.

My note, the division struggled in pre-Covid non-Wrestlemania quarters to profit, so this is especially remarkable.

Salen discusses WWE raising its adjusted OIBDA guidance.

“Large-scale international event” continues to be the preferred euphemism for Saudi Arabia events. It’s apparent from executive comments today there won’t be another until 2022, as expected. The next is probably Feb.

Q&A begins now. Note for wrestling news sites: these are stock analysts, not callers or investors.

Laura Martin from Needham asks if WWE ad revenue was affected by iOS 14.5 upgrade. Salen answers they weren’t affected.

Martin asks about NFTs, the role of the metaverse. How big do you think NFTs are as a part of metaverse?

Nick thinks it’s “robust now” and will become even more so, here to stay.

Brandon Ross from Lightshed asks about turn over at mid and upper level management. What are org goals with new personnel.

Nick says we want the most efficient business model possible. It’s about having right people in place. It seems to be working, we raised guidance.

Ross asks about NXT changes. How do you feel about progress.

Nick says we think it’s all started the way we wanted it to start. Already seeing some talent elevated to main roster. Recruiting efforts, spearheaded by Paul Levesque and Bruce Prichard are focused on young athletes

…athletes may not be in the quote unquote wrestling space.

Analyst (missed name) filling in for Ben Swinburne of Morgan Stanley asks about international rights.

In the MENA region we continue to work on it. Something we remain optimistic and bullish on.

Curry Baker from Guggenheim asks about sponsorship opportunity size, believes WWE is undermonetized relative to other sports.

Stephanie says no reason why 3-5 years they can’t be in hundreds of millions of dollars (seems to mean annual revenue ad & sponsors).

David Joyce from Barclays asks if there’s going to be more volatility in licensing comparability going forward? 2nd, stadium model, what does it do to event volume?

Nick says no stadium events aren’t going to impact volume of Raw, SD, NXT events. These PPV events are separate.

Salen says a Wrestlemania quarter has the greatest allocation of revenue for Peacock. My note, which possibly explains the difference in revenue in the Network line for this quarter compared to the previous quarter.

SVP Michael Weitz ends the call.

Thanks for following along!

I’ll be going live on YouTube with Live TV Ratings Talk at 7pm ET: https://youtu.be/ALh0Laj2MvI

Then at 8pm ET we do WWE Q3 Earnings talk for patrons only:


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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is patreon-horizontal-1-1024x452.png
Become a Patron!

WWE Q2 2021 earnings report and conference call summary

WWE reports Q2 revenue of $265.5 million and EPS of $0.34.

WWE beats analyst expectations on revenue by $5 million and EPS by 11 cents.

I estimated $261 million revenue and $0.33 EPS. Higher than all other analysts on the latter.

Earnings press release:

Other measures of profit:

Net income for the quarter was $29.2M, down from $43.8M prior year.

Operating income $46.5M, down from $55.7M.

WWE saved enormously in Q2 2020 when they ran TV in the Performance Center. Q2 2021 profitability is well above Q2 2019.

The press release notes WWE spent $18.8 million toward its stock buyback program, as a way to return value to shareholders in addition to the quarterly dividend.

My note: WWE laid off a number of employees and talent during the quarter as well to cut expenses.

Wrestlemania live event business. Footnote in the KPIs notes WM was attended by approximately 20,200 fans each night.

WWE reports $6.7 million in live event revenue for the quarter in which WM were the only events.

I reported in April paid att of 20,172 and 20,634 & $6.2M gate.

What were merchandise sales like for Wrestlemania?

WWE reports $1.3 million in venue merch, the first time that line has any value in it since Q1 2020. This would indicate merch per paid ticket of around $32.

Trending schedules:

Conference call will begin at the top of the hour. Anyone can login and listen here:


Business Outlook section of the earnings release.

WWE isn't changing its $270M to $305M adjusted OIBDA (the company's non-GAAP favorite profit metric) for 2021, citing caution related to Covid-19.

WWE anticipates resuming the new HQ buildout in the second half of this year.

The call is beginning. SVP Michael Weitz opens the call with a welcome, introduction, and forward-looking statements disclaimer as normal.

I will note statements from WWE executives. In most cases this won't be direct quotes but paraphrasing and summaries.

Vince McMahon says "we have advances for our live events that look excellent". TV ratings are up.

Short comments as usual and he hands off to Nick Khan.

Nick Khan gives a summary of media industry. Says he'll outline recent deals and how it shows there's a premium on live content. Stephanie will talk about sponsorship segment.

Khan says Disney renewed Wimbledon. Red Bird Capital acquired stake in IPL cricket team. We see similar growth in our own international deal, including Foxtel in Australia.

Ratings are up across all shows following return of live fans. Stephanie will talk ratings growth soon.

Khan talks about Peacock. Viewership of PPV events are up 26% (Backlash), 25% (Hell in a Cell), and 46% (MITB) from prior year performance on standalone WWE Network.

Return to touring. One nuisance to note. This was not a return to live events. We held events via video screens. Not one week of production missed. It felt great for fans, superstars.

A taste of how live evnts are performing. Houston sold-out. Highest grossing non PPV event in Houston.

Live merch sales were up 50% versus previous event in Houston. Keep in mind eCommerce sales have grown since then.

Merch sales for Fort Worth (MITB PPV) were almost 100% greater. These events sold out prior to John Cena's reappearance.

Merch sales for Dallas (Raw) were almost 50% greater than last time in Dallas.

In Cleveland (SD) highest grossing non-PPV gate in Cleveland.

Khan talks WWE having 2 matches at Rolling Loud festival. Almost all fans were under the age of 25. "We saw strong merchandise sales there as well."

Pittsburgh house show was the strongest gate for WWE non-televised event in history in Pittsburgh.

Summerslam takes place from NFL stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday Aug 21. A new night for us (Sat). Without a main event or card announced we sold over 40,000 of 45,000 tickets.

Still Khan: New Years Day PPV in Atlanta. College football championship games are NYE. NFL is not playing that day. So we saw an opening on the sports calendar. We believe ticket sales and viewership will be indicative of that. Rest of the PPV calendar is coming shortly.

We announced our first ever ring announcer competition on TikTok. Winners announce a match at Summerslam. Already 9 million views.

Our 2nd NFT drop leads into Summerslam. This time with John Cena. Follows Undertaker NFT launch before Wrestlemania.

Khan talks about United States vs. Vince McMahon limited series announcement.

He turns the call over to Stephanie McMahon.

Stephanie talks fan return. She and HHH visited fans before first event with fans. Energy and excitement. The Summer of Cena. NBCU and Fox support return with different campaigns across programming.

WWE applied key learnings, upgraded audio and visual experience. Talks new set.

Steph: Costs associated per episode are on par with 2019 costs of production. July 16 generated 21% YOY increase and 42% increase in "coveted 18-49 demo".

Raw was up 8% YOY and 15% in 18-49.

Steph: TV viewership remained stable, maintaining trend since Thunderdome. From that time from end of Q2. Raw increased moderately and Smackdown increased 7%.

Digital consumption increased 5% to 394M hours. Views increased to 11.2B. 3x increase in Facebook hours.

Steph talks A&E programming. WWE increased 18-49 for A&E.

Sales and sponsorship revenue increase YOY. WWE goes well beyond generating impressions. Customized content ex across multiple lines of business. Utilizing WWE superstars that resonate.

Stephanie praises the Army of the Dead tie-in at Backlash. "Zombies randomly appeared in backstage scenes and popped up around the ring…"

3 of 14 trending topics were tied to the integration. Played significantly role in becoming one of the top movies in Netflix history.

Purelife (water brand) is activating across WWE. Sponsoring Summerslam after party hosted by Tiffany Haddish.

Stephanie talks how WWE's 2020 community action report shows WWE delivers on mission of putting smiles on people's faces.

She turns over to CFO Kristina Salen.

Salen goes over financial highlights in slides. She mentions employees returned from furlough.

Related severance expense of $8.1 million (from layoffs) was excluded in formulation of adjusted OIBDA.

Production expense for Raw and Smackdown will decline with return to touring, Salen says.

My note: In other words, touring is less expensive than Thunderdome.

There was a modest decrease in eCommerce merchandise sales in YOY comparison versus early pandemic, offset by first venue merch revenues since Covid.

Much of Salen's comments consist of reviewing details in the earnings release noted earlier in this thread. Her comments will likely be followed by Q&A with stock analysts.

Notably there's been no mention of a "large-scale international event" (Saudi Arabia event) yet. ( = $50 million in revenue)

The 56-page quarterly report (10-Q) has been published:


Q&A begins. First question from David Karnovsky from JPMorgan.

Soccer rights are having an uptick w/ streaming bids. How do you view WWE as similar?

Khan says soccer is #1 sport globally. We see positive not equal to soccer but appeal on the scale. La Liga rights deal high for deal outside U.S. … We think there are more of those deals out there.

JPMorgan asks Salen about number of events for 2021. She says guidance does include "large-scale international events".

Salen says at or below second-half of 2019. Schedule announcements are coming shortly.

Curry Baker from Guggenheim asks on sponsorship, what's size of opportunity next 2-3 years. Areas for increase in monetization?

Stephanie says tough to give projections but we believe significant upside. Peacock increases sponsorship. On digital and social opportunities.

Any update on the MENA TV rights deal? Still in conversations?

Khan says Vince, myself others still into it. Optimistic on the situation. Hope to have some news shortly.

Eric Handler from MKM asks about out of ring TV production plans. How many hours? Preselling these so no risk? Profit centers rather than promotional tools?

Khan says "Yes to all of that… meaning profit center, promotional tools". A&E ratings were good. Look for more.

Handler asks about new HQ. How's capex cadence in 2022. When does it start to decline? Previous plan was to sell existing HQ and off site facility. That still a goal?

Salen says on prior Q, expectation is not to take financial risk like a TV studio would re: out of ring content.

Salen says supply chains are backed up so to meet timeline we need to order materials sooner so they arrive on time in 2022. We anticipate moving to new HQ in Q4 2022. Already broken ground in June. Capex will taper through 2022.

Salen anticipates selling existing buildings.

Brandon Ross from LightShed follows up on sponsorship. With touring return does it go up right away or come in time?

Steph says return to events increases opportunity but that hasn't stopped us from growing sales/sponsorship business. We've seen increases across business.

Ross asks Vince AEW seems to be making significant investments in roster and has gained in viewership esp in demo. How do you view them as competitor? Rising Tide?

Vince says it's not a situation where rising tide because Ted Turner was coming after us.

Vince says I don't consider them [AEW] a competition in the way I considered WCW back in the day. I'm not sure what their investments are.

Nick says "it's sort of like a horserace where the horse has blinders on" At the same time everything is competition. Sleep is competition.

Salen is took a complex finance question from Ben Swinburne of Morgan Stanley that I'll have to relisten to later as I'm still recovering from Vince mentioning Ted Turner.

Univision investment in Combate is brought up. Do you see mergers of sports? Crossover events to expand fan engagement? Peacock on Sky in Europe. Are you tagging along?

Nick Khan says not sure we see consolidation in MMA space. UFC guys like their market share.

Nick says Vince's original vision is to have one big global territory. "What was called quote-unquote 'wrestling' at the time." We like any new entrant that's well-financed in the combat space.

Nick says, on Peacock international situation, almost all US media conglomerates are looking to go internationally soon. We're optimistic. Let's see what we have in the next couple of months.

Alan Gould from Loop Capital asks Salen to confirm large scale international event (Saudi event).

Salen says it's included in their financial guidance.

Michael Weitz thanks everyone and ends the call.

Thanks for following along!

We’ll be going live with a special podcast at 9pm ET tonight for subscribers at http://patreon.com/wrestlenomics

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

What to watch for from WWE’s Q3 2020 earnings report

WWE will report Q3 earnings on Thursday, October 29 after trading closes. Information will be published that evening on corporate.wwe.com for the period from July 1 to September 30. A conference call with statements from WWE executives and questions from stock analysts will happen at 5pm ET. Anyone can listen in live.

Cost of the Thunderdome

The biggest unknown factor making it hard to anticipate WWE’s Q3 finances is that we don’t have a sense of what the company is paying to produce Raw and Smackdown with the Thunderdome set.

The enormous set of lights and numerous remote live streams of fans watching the matches has been received as an improvement over the atmosphere at the Performance Center, where there were either no spectators or new recruits playing along as if they were fans.

On earnings calls, WWE CEO Vince McMahon repeatedly cited the lack of a live audience as a factor in declining viewership, and the Thunderdome seems to be the response.

Raw and Smackdown were produced at a relatively low cost at the Performance Center for the entirety of Q2. This resulted in a more profitable quarter than most analysts expected. The Thunderdome debuted on August 21 and has been the presentation for every Raw, Smackdown, and pay-per-view taping since.

A similar presentation, branded the “Capital Wrestling Center” was unveiled for NXT at the Performance Center — but on October 4, just after Q3 ended, so won’t be a factor in this report.

The Thunderdome is provided through WWE’s partnerships with The Famous Group. They also work with Quince Imaging and Frozen Mountain to create the set.

Thunderdome era production costs per program must be higher than they were in the Performance Center (March 13 to August 17), but by how much? Relative to pre-Covid costs when WWE was touring, is the cost higher, lower, or about the same? I think each Smackdown and Raw taping cost WWE about $1 million to produce, with pay-per-view events running higher.

In my earlier estimate, I modeled the cost of production during the Thunderdome to be roughly equal to the pre-Covid touring Raw and Smackdown costs.

That would still result in a profitable Q3 for WWE, but this results in an estimate lower than what any stock analyst is estimated. I was relieved to find there is now one analyst who’s modeled an EPS nearly as low. However due to my lack of access to the Bloomberg Terminal, I don’t know who my prognostic neighbor is.

My EPS estimate implies a net income for Q3 of about $13 million on quarterly revenues of $222 million. (The full estimate is here.)

What will Kristina Salen bring to WWE?

Kristina Salen will debut on the call as WWE’s new permanent chief financial officer. She replaces interim CFO Frank Riddick and, before him, former long-time CFO and co-president George Barrios.

What role will the new CFO play in the company? Will investors get an impression of her vision for the company? Will she be the key public figure for investors, as Barrios was, or will that role be more dominated by new president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan?

Will the former Etsy CFO change the company’s reporting methods, resulting in changes in how we get information on WWE’s corporate website and in its SEC filings? The company’s finances are generally broken down into three major divisions: media, live events, and consumer products. Eleven revenue segments are revealed across those three divisions. This has not always been the case and may change under new management.

Further, will the company’s “Key Performance Indicators” slides change? Are there metrics the Barrios regime focused on that Salen will not, and vice versa? Does it make sense to focus on viewership trends for Raw and Smackdown, or are there other metrics that more full tell the story? (I think there are.) Will Salen continue to focus on the Barrios-favored non-GAAP profit measure, adjusted OIBDA? In the past WWE focused on OIBDA (the non-adjusted variety) and something called “profit contribution”.

These questions may not be answered with the Q3 report, but gradually over time.

WWE Network subscribers

End-period paid subs for the WWE Network were up in Q2 after being down year-over-year throughout 2019 and into Q1 2020. Average paid subscribers (the key metric for calculating revenue related to the service) however was down slightly for Q2 from the prior year.

Did paid subscribers grow in Q3? Streaming services across the board seem to be growing in strength. After stalling in 2019, probably related to popularity of the product overall, is broader consumer behavior encouraging a rebound for WWE in this area?

Vince McMahon’s comments on TV ratings

Vince McMahon was grilled by analysts on Raw and Smackdown ratings in the Q&A portion of the Q2 call. It was pointed out to him that NXT and AEW bounced back after a lull following Covid, but Raw and Smackdown had not.

The key internal weakness that chronically affects ratings and broad trends in other metrics is, and will for the foreseeable future will be, creative. In particular, Vince in his role as CEO also functions as the head of creative. He’s held the role for decades, for far too long. WWE’s ability to create stars and storylines audiences care about will always be unduly hindered while Vince controls this role for Raw and Smackdown.

That said, this should be an easier Q&A session for Vince this time.

The Thunderdome will be touted as a success. It was a positive factor; but so was the return (he’d been out since March) and long-awaited heel turn of Roman Reigns, which supported interest in Smackdown. Smackdown was the most-viewed or tied (Showbuzzdaily reports P18-49 ratings for network with the traditional one decimal place) for most-viewed in the key demo on network primetime on every single Friday night in Q3.

Raw too held up better than one might expect against Monday Night Football. The show is doing better so far during NFL season than it did in July.

I think an additional psychological factor is at work. WWE audiences have settled into the mindset during Q3 that the pandemic era is more permanent than temporary. Temporary breaks audiences may have been taking from WWE programming, waiting for events to get back to normal, have been lifted, as life with Covid has proved to be unending.

Meanwhile, there’s been anxiety throughout the sports world about the decline in sports TV viewership, and its by no means apparent there will be any stop the growing value of sports broadcast rights.

In light of wider sports viewership suffering and a mild upswing in WWE’s ratings, some of the pressure will be off. Competition from AEW is still present, but Raw and Smackdown continue to be among the most highly-viewed weekly programs on cable within the key demo. And that’s not changing any time soon.

Is the WWE NXT agreement with NBCUniversal (USA Network) expiring next year?

When the deal was made to take NXT off the WWE Network and put it on USA, Guggenheim said they believed the deal was for “one or two years”.

A one-year deal would’ve expired a few weeks ago. Is the deal for two years? Is it going to be renegotiated soon? Is it being renegotiated now? Is it attached to the five-year agreement for Raw somehow?

WWE said at the outset of the move that the strategy was to build on TV rights value for NXT so it could be monetized in the way Raw and Smackdown are. Does WWE feel they’ve accomplished this in the last year and are looking for a sizeable upgrade in fees, relative to its delivery of P18-49 viewership?

Are online merchandise sales continuing to make-up for loss of venue merchandise business?

Venue merchandise sales, like live event ticket sales, are rendered to $0 due to the pandemic.

However eCommerce sales were up strongly in Q2, seeming to compensate for fans’ inability to purchase merchandise at venues.

eCommerce compensating at the rate it did in Q2 for merchandise sales overall (92%) would result in sales of $9.3 million in Q3.

What the latest outlook on a second Saudi Arabia event in 2020?

Each Saudi event delivers about $50 million in revenue for WWE. It’s seems doubtful now there will be a second event there this year, given unrelenting Covid deaths in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Vince said in the Q2 call that if there isn’t one this year, any missed events would be tacked on the end of the current ten-year deal with the government, which runs through 2027.

No second Saudi event in 2020 is probably baked into the current stock price. This is probably the last time investors will hear from WWE’s top executives until 2021. Will they affirm there will be no second event?

Is Nick Khan closer to getting WWE a PPV rights deal?

With Nick Khan in place as chief revenue officer, the agent who WWE tapped to complete its 2018 Raw and Smackdown rights deals, is he working on selling rights to pay-per-view events away from the WWE Network and onto a major streaming player?

Vince previously speculated such a deal would be completed in Q1 2020, before Covid struck.

What’s the outlook now on such a deal? Is making this move still within WWE’s strategy to further monetize its content? Is there any clarity yet on what content WWE is trying to sell? The pay-per-views only, or additional Network content? Or the Network altogether?

Should investors give up hope on a MENA TV deal?

I don’t recall any discussion about this on the Q2 call in July. Is WWE still negotiating with Saudi government-owned Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC) for rights fees for core content in the Middle East North Africa region?

The Saudi government also reportedly supports a pirate broadcaster, beoutQ. According to the complaint in an ongoing class-action shareholder lawsuit against WWE, beoutQ is illegally broadcasting WWE content in the Middle East North Africa region, discouraging MBC’s incentive to complete a deal with WWE.

I believe WWE’s previous deal in the region with OSN was worth $10 million to $15 million annually. OSN dropped WWE in 2019 when it decided to cut all sports programming. Conspicuously, OSN cited piracy as a reason.

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