WWE Q4 2021 earnings report and conference call with executives

WWE reports $1.095 billion in revenue for full year 2021, its highest ever.

Net income for the year is $180.4, also a new annual record for profitability, as expected, and blowing away analysts expectations.


How 2021 compares to every year WWE has ever publicly reported on.

Revenue: WWE reaches $1 billion for the first time ever.

Net income: The most final measure of profitability.

2021 is easily WWE's most profitable year ever. Even when adjusting for inflation, 2021 was nearly twice as profitable as the best "Attitude Era" years of 1999 and 2000.

Q4 2021 was the first full quarter with live event touring since Q4 2019.

The live events division managed to record $1.4 million in operating income, far better than I was expecting.

WWE's KPI slide on live events reports average paid North American attendance of 5200 across 48 events. Internationally, WWE averaged 3700 for 9 events (doesn't include their Saudi event in the quarter).

WWE states guidance for 2022, saying they'll set new annual records again for revenue and non-GAAP profit metrics adjusted OIBDA.

WWE expects adjusted OIBDA to be in the range of $360M to $375M. For comparison, they reported $327M for that metric this year.

Earnings per share (EPS) ratio (net income / diluted shares) for Q4 was $0.76, exceeding even the highest stock analysts' estimate.

I was higher than any analyst and closer to actual results, but Q4 EPS even exceeded my expectations. I was closer on revenue than the consensus.

Very little after hours movement on the stock so far.

Conference call coming up at the top of the hour may or may not inspire that to change.

WWE's KPI slide on AVOD (ad-supported video on-demand) consumption shows Q4 way down. WWE tries to excuse it pointing out no PLE (nee PPV) in December and "the removal of full matches on YouTube and Facebook".

WWE's updated slides on Raw and Smackdown ratings, showing its programs losing viewers but Raw maintaining year-over-year better than broader comparisons.

A rare quarter where social media followers are down from the prior quarter. Possibly due to talent cuts, since they're adding up followers from all talent and brand accounts to get to this number.

Media (think video) is by far WWE's biggest driver of revenue, reporting $936.2M for 2021, 85% of all revenue. That's exacerbated by the lack of live events in the first half of the year, but media revenues for WWE will only continue to grow as rights fees contractually increase.

It helps, though, that events in service for the government of Saudi Arabia (twice a year for ~$50 million each) are included in the "Other" line in the media division. That line reported $52.1M for Q4 with the quarter including the first Saudi event since Feb 2020.

Guess which quarters include a "large-scale international event":

Conference call is beginning now.

Comments are expected from Vince, Nick Khan, Stephanie and new permanent CFO Frank Riddick.

New IR SVP Seth Zaslow opens the call, makes introductions of the key executives, and read forward-looking statements.

"Welcome, everyone!" Vince says.

I will now do my best to quote and paraphrase WWE executives. This may not be direct quotes.

Vince gives a generic opening statement.

"Our performance speaks for itself…. So Nick take'er away."

WWE president Nick Khan says Jul 2021 MITB was up on Peacock 25% higher than in 2019.

Summerslam was up "over 30%" in 2019.

Extreme Rules was up 20% in 2019.

"international event" up 75%.

Survivor Series up "almost 25%" than in 2019.

Nick says over 3.5 million fully paid Peacock subs have watched WWE content.

"More people are watching PLE than ever before."

WWE has a dozen scripted and unscripted projects sold on our IP. Look for announcements soon.

Look for a launch date on NFT marketplace soon.

Look for WWE branded lottery tickets rolling out in a number of states this year.

Mattel partnership goes back over a decade results in action figures on shelves in 50+ global markets.

"Day 1" PPV date selected with the idea it would attract holiday travelers. It was one of the highest 60% greater than any December PLE in WWE history.

Royal Rumble more than "44,000 in attendance". 2nd largest gate in Rumble history. 45% higher viewership on Peacock vs. 2020.

Bad Bunny, Ronda Rousey returned. Johnny Knoxville involved. Pop culture sensations look to partner with WWE.

Upcoming Jeddah event clear of college football. "Large-scale international event" is uttered, charging me a the first $20 contribution to @pressfreedom.

Rey Mysterio will be cover superstar for WWE 2K22. Steph will talk about gaming in a moment.

Our POV on consolidation in gaming section. MSFT acquisition of Activision. TakeTwo acquired Zinga. Sony bought Bungie. Sector should end up with 4-5 player emerging, depending on IP.

We believe consolidation trend will continue in 2022. Eyes on DirecTV, Dish, Nextstar.

Sports rights space talk. Streamers are spending on live sports. EPL-NBCU deal was largely a Peacock play. ViacomCBS shifting UEFA programming to Paramount+ and picking up Serie A.

Just a matter of time for Apple and Netflix to make moves, Nick says.

In sum with WWE focused on IP value and a market hungry for brands, we couldn't' be more optimistic to drive growth in 2022 and beyond.

Now Steph's comments.

Sasha Banks starred in the cold open for CFP championship game. In Nov, Drew appeared in MTV VMAs. Big E starred in cold open for Fury-Wilder on ESPN+ and Fox Sports PPV.

Paramount Studios partnered with WWE to promoted Jackass Forever. Knoxville talked beating up Zayn on Kimmel

Ronda won Rumble match. Rumble 2022 saw 45% increase in viewership versus 2020 and was the most socially engaging program across all platforms.

WWE launched DoorDash sponsorship, co-presenting with 2K for Rumble. We aired 2K22 trailer which will launch on Mar 11.

WWE is 2K's highest grossing mobile game. 88% of our audience identify as gamers.

We're optimistic as NFLX and YouTube launch their own gaming initiatives.

The next generation of fans and superstars is a huge priority for WWE. We launched NIL, allowing athlete sponsorship.

Many NIL signees have strong social followings. "Think of all the collegiate athletes who won't make it to the NBA, WNBA, NFL, Olympics." Gable Steveson is highlighted.

WWE YouTube channel has 83 million subs. We remain the #1 sports brand on TikTok. Across all social platforms we had 50 billion total views, earning "10s of millions of additional revenue".

Pizza Hut was brought to the ring by the Street Profits during Survivor Series. Fans chanted "We want pizza" showing how successful these integrations can be.

Steph highlights Red Notice starring The Rock integration.

She hands it over to CFO Frank Riddick.

Riddick talks over these slides. He mentions "large-scale international event" twice (we're up to 3 mentions of this euphemism for Saudi event).

MLW's lawsuit against WWE is mentioned in the latter's 10-K, which was just published.

The MLW suit has not been mentioned on the call, to be clear.

Riddick discusses WWE's profit guidance, driven by growth in media, live events being back for a full year, large-scale international events ($) and decreased production costs thanks to no Thunder Dome.

WWE's new HQ move will contribute $235M – $255M in capex in 2022. Riddick highlights the benefits.

Riddick finishes comments and Q&A with stock analysts begins.

Curry Baker w/ Guggenheim asks about ads & sponsors monetization outlook.

Steph says there's no reason why they shouldn't be in the hundreds of millions in the future. ($71.5M was reported for 2021)

Eric Handler w/ MKM asks about Disney+ Hotstar deal. Disney, Discovery covering multiple countries. Why start with 1 country deal, not blanket deal?

Nick says look for more region by region deals. We thought Disney was particularly strong in Indonesia.

Ben Swinburne w/ Morgan Stanley asks about metaverse, markets physical and digital.

Steph says absolutely, WWE is a community based business. There's huge opportunities to expand upon that.

($60 in donations to CPJ in this exchange alone due to "metaverse" utterances)

Steven Cahall w/ Wells Fargo (one of few analysts who have WWE as a sell) asks what's driving increases in media revenues.

Riddick mentions new content they're creating that hasn't been announced yet.

Nick adds "why just limit it to 2?" regarding Saudi events. "We'll see what happens in the next months.

David Karnovsky w/ JP Morgan asks about NIL program.

Steph and Nick respond, largely reiterating Steph's earlier comments about opportunities for college athletes. Nick mentions Reigns specifically as an example.

Brandon Ross of LightShed asks about next-day rights.

Nick says they feel as good about those rights right now as he did about their live rights deal in 2018 and Peacock deal more recently.

Nick asks Brandon Ross if he'll be going to Wrestlemania this year. Nick jokes that they'll have a special piledriver ready for Brandon.

I missed many comments and some questions throughout here. I encourage everyone interested to listen back on http://corporate.wwe.com

The call has ended.

$WWE shares are up about 2% in after market trading after the call, just over the day's open price.

I will have to check the transcript but the count of utterances of "metaverse" and "large-scale international event" were numerous and I believe I owe CPJ over $100, iaw my earlier pledge.

Some notes now from their annual report (10-K)…

WWE updated the number of talent count:

WWE reports its full-time employee head count at approximately 870 as of February 2022. Unsurprisingly, that's down from last year. There cuts not only to talent (evident in previous tweet) but many employees were laid off and depts consolidated.



An increasing portion of WWE's revenue is coming from North America, driven by contractually escalating media rights fees in the U.S.

That reverses the increase by percentage in 2018 in EMEA, driven by new payments from the Saudi Arabian government.

WWE doesn't name the customer but discloses amount of revenue from any customer contributing >=10% of WWE's annual revenue.

I believe customers referred to here match w/ amounts as follows.

$412M: NBCU
$200M: Fox

$270M: NBCU
$183M: Fox

$207M: NBCU
$110M: KSA

A short excerpt from Frank Riddick's restricted stock award and non-compete agreement, attached to the 10-K.

Possible other executives have agreed to similar language.

He basically can't go work for another pro wrestling company for 12 months after his employment with WWE ends.

Q4 2021's average North America ticket (by my calculation, since some Q4 data isn't explicitly reported) of $63, gives more clarity on what the average ticket price for WWE events is going forward.

Up until now I've been assuming ~$55, slightly higher than Q1 2020, too low.

Seeking Alpha has the conference call transcript up now here:


Fascinating seeing online sales of merchandise offset the losses in during the touring pause, then those sales relax when touring when back on the road.

I think of venue merch sales as spontaneous impulse buys and not something that would be deliberately replaced by consumers.

Venue merch sales per capita seems to have settled at about $12, higher than the $9 from Q4 2019. Like with ticket price, it's increased from where they left off pre-Covid, probably more than inflation.

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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WWE Q4 2021 Preview: Record profits, media rights optimism, live events trouble

On Thursday’s earnings call, WWE will almost certainly report 2021 was its most profitable year in company history, with annual revenue surpassing $1 billion for the first time.

Wrestlenomics estimates 2021 revenue of $1.102 billion, net income of $174.5 million, with a diluted earnings per share ratio of $2.05 for the year. We estimate EPS for the fourth quarter at $0.68, which we understand is higher than any analyst’s current estimate.

The company will disclose new information covering the months of October to December. This will be the first full fiscal quarter of live event touring since Q4 2019.

Media rights value

WWE president Nick Khan will host another installment of his quarterly masterclass series of podcasts on the sports media business — or as some call them, WWE quarterly earnings conference calls.

U.S. rights fees for Raw and Smackdown are the company’s most crucial deals, currently held by NBCUniversal and Fox, respectively. Terms are still nearly two years away from expiring but they may be the most valuable U.S. sports rights renewal on the horizon. NFL, NHL, and Premier League rights were re-dealt within the last year, and NBA and MLB’s current deals extend beyond 2024, after Raw and Smackdown current terms conclude.

Flirtations with sports rights by the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) continue to drive optimism. Specifically, Apple and Amazon have shown interest in live sports. Amazon currently has a deal with the NFL and Apple has reported interest in NFL Sunday Ticket, as well as MLB and MLS rights.

It’s not clear whether any of the major tech players have serious interest in WWE core content. Next-day rights to flagship programs, though, currently held by Hulu are likely being shopped currently. A new deal should be announced sometime this year. Should WWE reveal a tech player like Amazon or Netflix bought those rights, it would probably excite the stock, which was stagnant in the bull market of 2021. Such an event would fuel speculation (realistic or not) that FAANGs could actually bid for live rights to Raw or Smackdown. An announcement that next-day rights will go to Peacock (where WWE’s monthly peak events and library resides in the U.S.), though, still seems like the safest bet.

But as any wrestling fan active on Twitter can tell you, WWE’s TV ratings are in long-running decline. Doesn’t that mean we should be cautious about the value of the company’s key programs?

Raw in particular has fallen below the general decline of linear TV in some recent years, though not in 2021. Smackdown on Fox, has held up better over the years thanks to moving into improved time slots and networks. The blue-branded show also held up better throughout the fall while Raw suffered as usual against Monday Night Football. Still, new competitor All Elite Wrestling’s Dynamite program on Wednesday on TBS continues to draw nearer to both Raw and Smackdown with viewers in the important 18 to 49 ad demographic, a fact WWE has reacted to by framing AEW as a more violent alternative, unattractive to business partners and viewers.

Nonetheless, we believe WWE’s rights values remain strong as long as Raw and Smackdown remain highly-ranked with viewers 18 to 49 and as long as the broader market of suitors for those rights (TV networks and, theoretically, streaming platforms) maintain stable economics. And we believe a disproportionate share of the value in media rights remains with programs that can finish among the top five or so slots on their given night.

Raw and, to a lesser degree, Smackdown’s ratings have suffered for many years, to a worse degree than necessary thanks to often abysmal content orchestrated by head of creative and CEO Vince McMahon. But over the years, Raw and Smackdown’s rankings among programming generally, has held up better, as frustrating as that is for a wrestling fan who wants to see great content rewarded and weak content discouraged.

WWE Network

WWE has also made efforts to change viewing habits for fans with Saturday (rather than Sunday) tentpole events in stadiums. This year’s Royal Rumble was at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, and this year’s Money in the Bank and Summerslam will be held at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and Nissan Stadium in Nashville respectively. These initiatives are led by Khan to extract more revenue out of the company’s biggest events.

According to Comcast’s latest earnings report, Peacock has 9 million paid subscribers. That doesn’t include the 7 million “highly engaged users” who have access to Peacock through their cable subscription like Comcast or Cox. In the U.S., the WWE Network peaked at 1.3 million subscribers in 2018, so the reach of WWE’s newly-dubbed “premium live events” (no longer “pay-per-views”) is higher than ever, even if a large portion of subscribers to the variety of content on the NBCU streaming platform are indifferent to WWE content.

In previous calls Khan disclosed that recent events were more highly-viewed than those in the previous year, not revealed in terms of viewers, but by percentage. Hell in a Cell 2021 was up 25% versus the previous year. Backlash was up 26% on Peacock. Money in the Bank was up 46% compared to the one that took place at WWE headquarters in 2020.

It’s possible a similar disclosure about this past Saturday’s Royal Rumble or other recent events will be reported.

Ads and sponsors

WWE has promoted itself as a company willing to make various brand partnerships. Zombies made a widelypanned appearance at Wrestlemania: Backlash to connect with the movie Army of the Dead, which starred Dave Bautista. Bad Bunny and Johnny Knoxville were in the men’s Royal Rumble match, the latter to promote his new movie. Vince McMahon’s golden egg, a reference to Red Notice starring Dwayne Johnson, was stolen at Survivor Series, and the mystery around it coincided with Raw popping a rating the next night.

Expect these notes along with others to be thoroughly celebrated in a stream of B2B highlights narrated by Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon in her opening comments. The tax the execution of these integrations may have on the audience, reminding viewers they are actually a means to corporate sponsors who are the real audience, surely won’t be raised.

We anticipate the ads and sponsors line under the media division being slightly up from 2020, but not quite to the level of pre-pandemic 2019.

Consumer products

WWE has made efforts to expand their brand in other areas, including NFTs. WWE entered into the NFT space releasing an Undertaker NFT coinciding with Wrestlemania in April and a John Cena NFT for Summerslam in August. Many of WWE’s product licensing deals have seen successful, but WWE’s foray into NFTs has been mixed.

There was no NFT offering associated with the Royal Rumble, traditionally a bigger event than Summerslam. The Cena NFT did not sell well, by Cena’s own admission.

Many successful NFTs give the owner something of continuous value. In WWE’s case that could be the right to every new John Cena T-shirt that’s released in the future, giving the NFT greater resale value. Wrestlemania tickets aside, we’ve yet to see WWE get more creative with the special access these digital assets might provide owners.

Live events

We expect WWE’s live events troubles to return in Q4 reporting. The division struggled to make a profit in the final quarters before Covid stopped touring and relieved scrutiny. Q3 was a great period as pent-up demand produced WWE’s best quarter for live events in many years.

The recent Royal Rumble was the second-highest grossing event by that name in company history, which will be used to obfuscate what we believe will be a loss of several million dollars in the first full quarter with ticketed events.

Perhaps the resurgence of the Omicron variant of Covid over the winter will be pointed to as a cause. But we believe the issue is fan interest and possibly the antiquated system of running untelevised live events, which fans widely know almost never have bearing on storylines.

AEW didn’t see a similar decline in attendance in Q4 for its weekly Dynamite tapings while weekly Smackdown and Raw tapings as well as frequent house shows declined.

Average tickets distributed per event, according to WrestleTix estimates

In one of the last quarters before touring shutdown due to the pandemic, Vince McMahon acknowledged there was a problem and promised to “reimagine” his live events strategy. We never got to find out what he had in mind.

The company is currently considering outsourcing its live events capabilities, as we’ve reported on Wrestlenomics Radio. If the plan comes to fruition, it’s possible those activities would be accounted for under the live events division, perhaps offsetting loses from touring. Whether such activities would be a distraction from WWE’s core issues is another question.

Questions we hope to hear in analyst Q&A

  • Does WWE view the new Premier League deal with NBCUniversal, in which the EPL was given a 2.7x increase in the average annual value of its payments, as encouraging sign for the renegotiation of its own live rights?
  • Does the company have a timeframe for when investors can expect an announcement on next-day rights?
  • Given the decline in attendance, does the company feel that untelevised live events are still a viable product?
  • Is there any more information WWE is comfortable disclosing related to the health or future of EVP Paul Levesque? Given the overhaul of NXT and concerns about his apparent heart issue, Levesque doesn’t appear to be held in such favor any longer. Vince’s son-in-law was widely-believed to be next in the line of succession to take over the creative duties of 76-year-old Vince McMahon one day. Does the company have a succession plan in place that clearly guides how duties would be dispersed if Vince were to be capacitated?
  • WWE launched its NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) program in the quarter. This “Next in Line” program is designed to recruit college athletes and prepare them to become WWE performers. What led WWE to launch this program? Was Vince McMahon dissatisfied with talent that was promoted from NXT to the main roster over the last few years? What will talent developed through the NIL program more effectively bring to WWE versus the previous system?
  • WWE hasn’t resumed it’s local Florida loop of small events since the pandemic. This was how inexperienced talent gained reps needed to develop into viable stars. Will that loop or something similar resume? If not, does the company feel that wrestling once a week in front of a global television or streaming audience is sufficient to develop valuable talent, particularly if WWE is prioritizing talent without prior wrestling experience?
  • What did WWE learn from its two experiments with NFT sales? Why was there no offering in conjunction with Royal Rumble?

We’ll be covering Thursday’s report and conference call here on wrestlenomics.com. You can also follow @BrandonThurston on Twitter for live tweets as details are released.

WWE’s financial documents will be released at about 4:30 p.m. ET on corporate.wwe.com and will be followed by a conference call at 5:00 p.m. ET. Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Nick Khan and Frank A. Riddick III are expected to speak on the call. New Senior Vice President, Head of Investor Relations Seth Zaslow could make an appearance as he has recently replaced longtime WWE finance executive Michael Weitz in the role.

Disclosure: We have no current positions in WWE stock (NYSE: WWE), nor do we have any plans in the next 72 hours to initiate any such positions. This article expresses our opinions, only. This article is not investment advice nor should it be construed as investment research.

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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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.

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


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WWE Q2 2021 Earnings Report Estimate and Preview

Tomorrow is WWE’s Q2 (April to June 2021) earnings report after the close of the market with conference call at 5pm ET. Executives including CEO and chairman Vince McMahon, president and chief revenue Officer Nick Khan, chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon, and chief financial officer Kristina Salen are expected to make comments.

The average analyst estimates a $0.25 earnings per share ratio, according to the Wall Street Journal, which means about $21 million in net income for the quarter.

$252 million for the quarter is expected for revenue, according to Yahoo! Finance.

WWE shares are up nearly 4% year-to-date, compared to the S&P 500 index at 19%.

Before looking at those estimates, I (not a stock analyst) ran an estimate and came up with $27.5 million in net income for the quarter, higher than any stock analyst’s estimate I’ve seen. My revenue estimate is on the high end compared to analyst estimates, at $261 million.

One of the more uncertain factors in the model is anticipating what revenue WWE will get in the “Network” line in the first full quarter under the Peacock deal after getting bigger upfront payments related to transition from the WWE Network in Q1.

I modeled $49 million (plus about $13 million in international revenue) based on Year 1 of presumed escalating payments from Peacock at a reported $1 billion over five years ($200 million average per year).

Thanks to Wrestlemania, WWE will have significant live event revenue to report for the first time since Q1 2020.

Gate receipts showed $6.2 million in revenue related to the two-day event at Raymond James Stadium. There were no other live events in Q2.

WWE executives might give clarity on whether there’s a “large-scale international event” (they won’t say “Saudi Arabia”) in the works. Andrew Zarian and John Pollock have heard October 21 as a return date, which would be in Q4.

Each event in service of the KSA government is worth at least $50 million to WWE. For context that’s 3x a typical pre-Covid Wrestlemania gate and more than one year of TV payments from Turner to AEW.

Expect much discussion of WWE’s return to touring and how that’s affected not just ticket revenues, but, more importantly, TV ratings. There have now been two Raws and Smackdowns back on the road.

Recent live event attendance and TV ratings trends

Ratings during this two-week period are better than when viewership bottomed out in July 2020, but will those increases sustain?

Wrestling fans can expect any mention of AEW from stock analyst Q&A to be met with a “we’re focused on us” talking point.

Last 365 days: total (P2+) and P18-49 viewership for AEW Dynamite, WWE NXT, WWE Raw, WWE Smackdown, and Impact Wrestling

What else will we learn? Lately Nick Khan, who does most of the talking on the calls lately, has regaled listeners with insights on the media business. Last call he said NBCU and the NHL would part ways before that was public knowledge.

Will there be hints about next-day rights for Raw and Smackdown currently held by Hulu? That deal expires in 2022 and there’s said to be increased interest since the last time that deal was made in 2018.

Will Nick Khan give an update on his thoughts on whether Amazon, Apple or other new players might have interest in WWE content rights?

Is current Smackdown rights holder Fox comfortable with its partner promoting Peacock and delivering viewership hovering around 2 million?

As usual, I’ll live tweet information from WWE’s newly published documents and from the conference call.

We’ll do a special Wrestlenomics podcast on Thursday night after the call for subscribers at http://patreon.com/wrestlenomics.

Disclaimer: I do not and have not in the past held any stock positions or ownership in World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: WWE) or any wrestling companies. I have no plans to initiate any such positions.

Wrestlenomics content does not constitute investment advice and should not be construed as investment research.

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 may be “open for business” but don’t expect it to sell anytime soon

Vince McMahon addresses the audience at Wrestlemania 37

In a Patreon exclusive livestream version of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed the idea that has permeated across wrestling media: WWE potentially preparing for a sale. The idea grew hotter after the releases last week Wednesday of many WWE talents like Braun Strowman, Lana and Aleister Black. That news followed lay-offs of dozens of corporate employees the week prior.

Fans, at least one former WWE writer, and reportedly some current WWE wrestlers believe a sale might be in the works.

While Gullo was open to either side of WWE selling or not, Thurston expressed his pessimism of Vince McMahon selling his company. He first cited a 2019 Variety article that profiled Vince McMahon as that issue’s cover story. “He doesn’t look like a man who’s ready to retire,” Variety wrote.

“We’re open for business,” McMahon told Variety at the time about the possibility of whether he’d be open to selling the company.

The article mentions that while Fox Corp. may look to buy WWE after entering into a TV rights deal involving Smackdown, McMahon wasn’t looking to sell.

On an earnings call in 2016, McMahon was also asked about the subject and used the same “open for business” line.

“We’re open to anything. I think controlling your own destiny is so important,” McMahon said in 2016. “I don’t know how much you lose control of that by being sold.”

Thurston cited WWE President Nick Khan’s interview with Colin Cowherd in April of this year where the topic of McMahon selling WWE came up. Khan also said he didn’t expect McMahon to see the company. He noted how deeply involved and invested McMahon is in WWE, citing how McMahon does not “summer” to exotic locations like many other executives.

Thurston believes Khan is being honest about McMahon’s lack of intent to sell WWE, and that the CEO has few interests outside of his working life. 

Thurston detailed the current state of WWE ownership.

“Vince owns 38% of the shares, but because he, Stephanie and Linda own class B shares, their class B shares give them 10 times voting power per share versus everybody else. Yes, including Triple H,” Thurston noted. “Shane used to be a stockholder; he’s not a stockholder at all anymore. The other major shareholders are financial firms. The biggest by far is Lindsell Train.

Source: SEC filings

“So when it comes to voting power, when it comes to who actually controls the company, because of his class B shares, which again give him 10 times the voting power per share of non-McMahon family members, he controls just over 80% of the voting power in WWE. Depending on how the math works out, he could sell his stock down to a small minority but still own 51% of the voting power.”

Thurston also pointed out that WWE’s stock price hasn’t responded much to recent talent releases and employee downsizing. Nor have any of the usual stock analysts who cover the company given these issues much notice. As of this writing, no stock analyst has updated their report on WWE since April 23 and trading volume patterns have so far been normal.

Source: Yahoo! Finance

On Thursday, the day after this discussion, Thurston tweeted that he raised the notion of a company sale with five people in the WWE investment community. None believed WWE’s recent cost-cutting moves indicate a sale is likely coming soon.

Thurston gave his thoughts on Vince McMahon potentially selling WWE.

“I just can’t imagine Vince McMahon in his lifetime selling the company. I can’t imagine him doing anything else,” Thurston admitted. “This is a man who has no known hobbies, except for working out of course. I think above any amount of money, he values the control he has of the company, especially over creative, and I don’t ever see him relinquishing that as long as he has more time to do that job.

“All these layoffs, which are substantial to the finances of the company, but the layoffs, and the releases and the restructuring, I think they have more to do with the new WWE president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan and the new WWE chief financial officer Kristina Salen. I think it’s more about them critiquing what they’ve been handed, what they’ve inherited from the former executives, the co-presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, who left in January 2020.

Nick Khan and Kristina Salen were brought on in August 2020. This is about the new executive team reviewing what was left to them by the old executive team and saying, ‘Well, why are we doing this this way, and why do we have these employees who are doing the same job across two or three different departments? Why do we have all these wrestlers when we’re not using them all the time?’”

Thurston continued reiterating his point that he doesn’t see McMahon selling in his lifetime, and he talked about who would buy the company.

“I think Vince will never relinquish control in his lifetime, and I think that tendency to control his environment has increased over the time that he has been the leader of WWE,” Thurston said. “I think when he’s gone, you might see WWE sell to NBCUniversal or another media company. I think, at this moment at least, NBCUniversal is the most obvious suitor. It’s the one that makes the most sense. NBCU is by far their biggest customer, which has been laid out as we’ve noticed in certain SEC filings, and I understand there are wrestlers out there who believe that they’re looking to sell the company. And I think that’s wrestlers looking for a grand reason about why they or their friends were cut, rather than looking at the more boring minutiae of the company.”

Thurston also discussed the amount of talent that WWE has across all their brands compared to how many are actually being used weekly.

“WWE has roughly 254 wrestlers currently under contract after these cuts that were announced. And then I looked at Raw, Main Event, Smackdown, NXT UK, NXT, 205 Live in the past week. Those are all of their weekly programs.

“There’s 77 wrestler spots in that period. That includes things like Riddle being at ringside with Randy Orton, Commander Azeez being at ringside with Apollo Crews. 77 wrestler spots across all of those programs. Again, you’ve got at least 254 wrestlers under contract. So you’re using 30% of your wrestlers on a weekly basis. That ratio doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I think a lot of that was just motivated by the fact that they wanted to keep talent away from their competitors, especially AEW, and even if you take into account some inactive wrestlers, you’ve got a lot of wrestlers who are just going to be in developmental and who aren’t going to be used on screen just yet.

“I still don’t think that that ratio makes a lot of sense, and I think that’s one strategy along with the strategy to put NXT head-to-head with AEW on cable, that has a cost to it that’s proved to be ineffective. In the case of putting NXT head to head with AEW on cable, it has an opportunity cost, whether that’s keeping NXT on the WWE Network, whether that’s putting it on its own night. In April, they decided to put it on Tuesday. So that was a cost. It’s costly to keep talent under contract when you don’t really need them. It’s costly to try to use NXT as a bulwark against AEW, and ultimately, it proved to be ineffective. AEW won the Wednesday Night War. AEW did better in the ratings. It seems to be finding an audience regardless of what WWE throws at them, and now we’re seeing that strategy get undone.”

The original transcript of the podcast was edited for conciseness and 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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WWE pursuing New Japan is good strategy, AEW’s reaction wasn’t

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.”

So when Tony Khan said New Japan agreed the promo was a good idea, it’s questionable whether he’s referring 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.

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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