New Japan Pro-Wrestling concluded its G1 Climax 31 at the Nippon Budokan on Thursday. Kazuchika Okada won the tournament, and the company will be preparing for a three-night Wrestle Kingdom 16 event in January 2022.
Recent vaccination data from ourworldindata.org shows 70% of the population in Japan are fully vaccinated. However, New Japan has been running their shows in Japan with limited attendance throughout the past year, even as wrestling events in the U.S. return to full capacity while just 57% of the American population has been fully vaccinated.
From August 2020 to June 2021, a period when Japan’s leading wrestling company returned to events but had no shows in Japan at full capacity, New Japan barely managed to profit. The promotion was basically a break even business, reporting the equivalent of about $60,000 U.S. in net income, or ¥6,292,000 in Japanese yen.
Revenue is a different story. New Japan stopped reporting the number on its official website after 2019. Parent company, Bushiroad, reported its sports division, which now consists of New Japan and Stardom, generated 4.5 billion yen through the eleven months of August 2020 to June 2021, or about $40 million.
New Japan’s revenue likely held up in part because streaming service NJPW World had 116,000 paid subscribers worldwide in January 2021, the month of the company’s biggest event, Wrestle Kingdom. The subscriber count is the service’s highest ever.
The last time New Japan ran an event at full capacity in Japan was before the Covid-19 pandemic in February 2020. As a result of not being able to run events at full capacity, New Japan more events than in pre-Covid years. Based on the current event schedule, the promotion will run 174 events in calendar year 2021. However, six of those reported events are New Japan Strong TV tapings in the U.S.
This is a slight increase from 170 events in 2019 and 162 in 2018. October 2021, when the G1 Climax took place, was a big month for events, with 21. This is the most events New Japan ran in one month since January 2020, when it ran 19.
Despite taking four months off in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, that year will still likely have a significantly higher total attendance count than in 2021, which had a full year of events.
Due to 2021 events held at limited capacity, the median attendance for shows through October has been under 700. This is less than half of what New Japan has done in previous years, with 2019 being a high year of a median attendance of 1,700.
A slide from Bushiroad investor relations disclosed that New Japan and Stardom combined make up 14% of Bushiroad overall business. Additional slides highlight Stardom’s even in March at the Nippon Budokan show, as well as New Japan’s distribution on Roku.
New Japan content was launched on free ad-supported video service Roku in February. Bushiroad’s slide touts that Roku has over 40 million users, but it’s likely not more than a small percentage of users have ever watched New Japan on the service, where the latest content is from several months ago.
New Japan hasn’t been on traditional television in the U.S. since its weekly program left AXS TV in late 2019.
On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, hosts Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo broke down the news of WWE and New Japan Pro-Wrestling in talks over the past few months.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan is in talks with New Japan about WWE being the exclusive U.S. partner with the promotion. New Japan currently have working relationships with All Elite Wrestling and Impact Wrestling, and they have worked with CMLL and Ring of Honor in the past as well.
PWInsider reported the focus of these discussions centered around free agent Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson), related to having him re-sign with WWE but also able to work dates with New Japan. In the past few years, Bryan has expressed interest in wrestling outside of WWE.
The news has had fans come up with fun photoshop memes, as well as think up some potential dream matches. Thurston noted the timing of this news.
“So consider the timing of this,” Thurston said. “If this information was dropped from the WWE side to Dave Meltzer, on the week of AEW’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view, then from a media strategy standpoint, you’ve absorbed some of the conversation, some of the energy directed towards AEW on one of its biggest weeks of the year. You’ve got people talking about New Japan and WWE, instead of AEW.”
Thurston continued as he gave his thoughts on a WWE-NJPW relationship from a strategy point of view.
“This would be a working relationship that no one was clamoring for, but it would, from a strategy standpoint, from WWE’s perspective, at least block AEW from doing something valuable,” Thurston noted. “A relationship between AEW and New Japan is one of the most valuable cards from a talent standpoint, from a fan attraction standpoint, that AEW has to play.
“A lot of the energy New Japan lost since 2019 with the western market, including in the United States, was a result of New Japan losing Kenny Omega and to a lesser extent, the Young Bucks. Those two are now with AEW. AEW was able to absorb a lot of that fan energy. So getting Kenny Omega back in the ring to rekindle some of these feuds with people in New Japan including Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kota Ibushi is obviously another big one, that’s a big play for AEW to get ahold of if they can put a big, let’s say, an Omega vs. Ibushi match on an AEW pay-per-view.
“That could be huge if it’s built and executed correctly, and it’s important here to note that the Observer mentions WWE pursuing an exclusive relationship, at least among U.S. partners with New Japan. So that would exclude, presumably, AEW from having a relationship. When you think about whether or not you’re going to leave WWE, like Jon Moxley did, and think about where else you’re gonna go, one reason why you might more strongly consider AEW is they’ll let you work New Japan like they have let Moxley work New Japan. They have let Chris Jericho work in New Japan. So if you take that away from them, then you’ve got one less piece that’s going to attract talent who may not be feeling creatively satisfied in WWE.”
Thurston broke down more of WWE’s strategy behind a working relationship with NJPW.
“What’s the result for WWE in this? Maybe get a few really cool matches out of it but at the end of the day, you’ve got Vince McMahon in control of the main roster creative, so I don’t think this is going to be a very good thing if this happens and comes to fruition,” Thurston admitted. “It’s not gonna be this great thing for fans or for WWE, and maybe there will be some benefit for New Japan. New Japan’s probably feeling some financial pressure right now from the state of emergency that’s been declared in Japan related to Covid-19, causing New Japan to postpone events. New Japan relies on live event ticket sales for the majority of their revenue, unlike these U.S. companies that have enormous media revenues.
“So I see this, from WWE’s standpoint, being along the lines of other things that they’ve done in recent years with their strategy, including warehousing 300 wrestlers, many of whom they don’t have anything to do with in their content. It’s along the lines of moving NXT off of the WWE Network and onto the USA Network. It’s not really clear what the financial benefit was. It’s not really clear if moving NXT made WWE more profitable than it would have been otherwise. The value of NXT’s TV rights are, in my assessment, not huge, well under $50 million, probably closer to $20 million per year. The new deal that they just signed, that will go into effect this fall, does not appear to be any significant up step.
“So it’s more about defense, I think, for WWE than it is about offense. And purely capitalistically speaking, I think that’s a smart move by WWE, if this is really happening.
“If I’m Nick Khan and if I really understand the wrestling landscape the way that I think one should, I think to myself, well, the biggest problem for fan retention and for talent retention is Vince’s creative. I can’t get the pencil out of Vince’s hand. Vince isn’t going to change. Vince is so out of touch now that his son-in-law is showing signs of being out of touch.
“So I can’t improve the content internally, and the external threat to the WWE brand is everyone else’s superior content, but maybe I can create a relationship that will mitigate the superior content or get some of that superior content under my control. That means taking the access to New Japan away from AEW and putting it into your own hands. Whether it bears fruit for yourself or not, it’s a net win for you.”
Gullo pointed out how on the New Japan side of things, the move is most likely financially motivated. He noted that New Japan do not take kindly to their talent being mistreated citing World Championship Wrestling under Bill Watts and TNA.
On the same day the news dropped, AEW CEO Tony Khan filmed a promo released on Twitter before AEW Dynamite and during WWE Smackdown. Tony Khan took shots at Nick Khan, addressing the report of WWE’s talks with New Japan. Thurston noted what Tony Khan’s promo signals as well as what it means for WWE’s strategy.
“So not even thinking about whether it’s a good promo or not, I think this is a bad strategy move by Tony Khan. It’s the actual WWE and New Japan offices that are talking to each other. I’ve been told by people on both sides, that between New Japan and AEW, it’s mostly Rocky Romero, who’s the New Japan USA office, talking to AEW, as opposed to the Japanese office.”
“I know a lot of people think the promo is the greatest thing. They’re really positive on it.
“It did make me want to watch Dynamite more,” Thurston said. “The promo was posted during Smackdown when a lot of people are on Twitter, thinking about wrestling. So there’s probably some people who watched Dynamite more than would have otherwise. But again, if I’m WWE and if I feel threatened by AEW, which to some extent I should, and if I think an exclusive New Japan relationship hurts AEW, which it would, then this promo reassured me of that notion and I would double-down on pursuing that deal.
“Personally, I want the wrestling industry to be more competitive. I want the content in all companies, especially the highest profile companies to get better, and this promo tips his hand. Tony Khan encouraged WWE, in my view, if WWE is as smart as they supposedly are, to swallow up more good wrestling into their inauthentic universe, which means the greater consolidation of power for WWE in the wrestling space and a weaker wrestling industry than there would be otherwise.
“And secondarily, it’s another step down the path we’ve seen so many other wrestling executives take. It seemed a year or two ago when AEW was in its first days as a company, if you paid attention to things that Tony Khan said, his background and his demeanor, you’d think, okay, we’re safe with this guy. This guy is not going to turn into an Eric Bischoff, a Vince Russo, a Jeff Jarrett, a Dixie Carter, or a Vince McMahon in terms of putting themselves out there as an on-screen character too much.”
The original transcript of the podcast was edited for conciseness and clarity.
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 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.
This article is available for everyone because of support from our subscribers.
Here I’ll share some analysis of the “Net Promoter Score” survey that was distributed from late December 2020 to early January 2021.
More than 500 valid responses were obtained through a Facebook ad in effort to obtain a more random sample than would be obtained through organic social media sharing of a survey.
A Net Promoter Score survey commonly asks respondents on a numbered scale how likely they would be to recommend a product to a friend. With those results, the percentage of high responses (in this case ‘5’) is subtracted from percentage of low responses (‘0’ to ‘3’).
There are other interesting analyses to gather from the dataset beyond what was shown in the Industry Report.
For instance: What are the age demographics of viewers of each wrestling program?
Contrary to linear TV viewership, WWE and AEW appear more similar in age. In fact median age across all programs landed in early 40s, with Ring of Honor on the high end and NXT on the low end.
If we breakdown viewing habits by whether you watch “regularly” or “occasionally”, there’s some variance in median age, but it’s not dramatic.
My sense is this is more reflective of the actual fan’s age, as linear measurements skew old, simply because linear TV use skews old.
Still, among those who say they currently watch any wrestling program, the overwhelming majority say they have access to linear television.
Smackdown viewers were slightly less likely to have cable access, which makes sense since Fox can be reached with an OTA antenna.
Turning back to age: Younger AEW viewers were most likely to recommend the program to a friend. In fact, age group seems to be a better predictor of likelihood of recommendation than any particular program. The 50+ age group in general was less likely to recommend any program.
Women were more likely than men to say they would recommend WWE programs, and were more positive on Raw and Smackdown than AEW, which was the opposite for men. Differences were smaller for other programs, but generally men were more enthusiastic about AEW, ROH, and NJPW.
Hispanic/Latino fans were most enthusiastic about NXT. Black fans were slightly less likely to recommend AEW, That may be reflective of TV viewership data, which show AEW has a smaller percentage of African American viewers than WWE programs.
What’s the sentiment of viewers toward different programs? For example, are AEW and WWE fans as opposed in their tastes as they seem sometimes online?
Regular viewers of AEW were less likely to recommend WWE programs. But WWE viewers are positive on Dynamite.
The latter result may be skewed, though, since nearly as many respondents said they regularly watched Dynamite as those who said they watched Raw or Smackdown. That’s certainly not reflected in TV viewership. Raw and Smackdown each double or triple Dynamite in weekly viewers.
At least among this sample (which again, I went to some effort to try to get out of an echo chamber by reaching unacquainted respondents through paid advertising), the greatest enthusiasm was for AEW. Still, the majority of current WWE viewers were supportive of their shows too.
The fewest “promoters” (those who rated ‘5’) were among viewers of Impact and Ring of Honor. And while New Japan viewers were 43% “promoters”, there were more ‘0’ responses among those viewers than that of any other program.
I’m glad to have been able to put monetary support from our Wrestlenomics patrons to use to accomplish this research. I hope to repeat this survey periodically, so we can study how any of the results change over time.
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.
Key metrics, analysis and insights for pro-wrestling companies, including: World Wrestling Entertainment, All Elite Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Impact Wrestling, and Ring of Honor. Considering full year 2020 and prior annual trends.
A must-read for understanding and insight into the pro wrestling business.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s parent company, Bushiroad, Inc., released its annual report on Monday for its fiscal year ending July 31, 2020.
Revenues for Bushiroad’s sports division, largely supported by New Japan, were down slightly.
FY2018: 4.891 billion yen = $47 million USD
FY2019: 5.333 billion yen = $51 million USD
FY2020: 5.021 billion yen = $48 million USD
Bushiroad sports division revenue trends are shown here in yellow.
Bushiroad’s report stated that NJPW World has 100,000 paid subscribers. This is about the same as the service had one year prior.
Approximate known data points about NJPW World subscribers are shown here.
The report also highlights that New Japan drew 70,071 attendees over two days at the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom 14 in January, that New Japan established in November a U.S. incorporation associated with their strategy to do business globally and in the U.S., and that in December Bushiroad acquired women’s wrestling promotion Stardom.
As expected, a study of New Japan’s official website reports of event attendance shows attendance was down in FY2020. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, events from March 1 until July 11 were cancelled or had no fans in attendance. Events from July 11 and after have only been allowed with limited capacity.
A pro forma comparison of attendance that excludes the months where events were affected by Covid, and therefore looking only at the months of August through February, shows total attendance was on track to exceed prior years, largely related to an increase in the number of events.
From August 2019 to February 2020, New Japan’s total attendance — Wrestle Kingdom excluded — was up 12% over the months of the previous year. New Japan ran 100 events in that period in FY2020 but only 86 in FY2019. Consequently, average attendance from August 2019 to February 2020 is down 3% from the year prior. Illustrated below:
It’s likely we’ll see a specific report from New Japan about it’s own revenue. FY2019 revenue for the company is show on the New Japan official website in its company profile page. In FY2019, New Japan says it generated 5.4 billion yen in revenue, or $52 million USD. That’s New Japan’s highest grossing year in its history.
A balance sheet for the fiscal year may appear on the official website domain sometime in October that shows net income. In FY2019, New Japan reported net income of 493 million yen, or $4.7 million USD. For comparison, WWE in the calendar year of 2019 reported $960 million in revenue and $77 million in net income.
Bushiroad reported a profitable year for FY2020, with the equivalent of $15 million in net income on revenues of $316 million.
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