Breaking down just how much stock and what portion of WWE voting rights are controlled by whom can be complicated, though.
The confusion is mainly because WWE has two share classes, which is common for many publicly traded companies. Facebook is another company that grants its founder a preferred class of shares that allow the founder-shareholder to possibly sell shares down to a small minority while still maintaining control of the company.
As of today, Vince McMahon holds about one-third of WWE shares, however, he holds the vast majority of voting rights. His class B shares give him 10x voting power over that of class A “common stock”.
Other McMahon family members, Linda and Stephanie, also hold class B stock. Shane McMahon used to hold a large amount of class B shares but appears to have disposed of all his shares by 2014. Only Vince, Linda, and their descendants can hold class B stock. Those privileged shares cannot be sold or transferred to others who are not descendants. When McMahon family members sell stock, those shares are necessarily converted to class A stock.
Despite his marriage to Stephanie, WWE EVP Paul Levesque can only own class A shares, which are awarded to him regularly as part of his compensation.
As a result, voting power actually breaks down as shown in the pie chart below:
Let’s look at who are some of the top WWE stockholders.
Vince McMahon: WWE’s long-time chief executive, current CEO and chairman of the board of directors. He holds about 38% of shares and 81% of voting power.
Lindsell Train Limited: The largest institutional owner of WWE shares, owning about 15% of shares and less than 4% of voting power. The U.K.-based firm is majority-owned by founders Nick Train and Michael Lindsell.
Stephanie McMahon: WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, a member of its board of directors, and Vince’s daughter. She holds about 2.5% of all shares and 5% of voting power. This doesn’t include the shares held by her husband, EVP “Triple H” Paul Levesque. His shares are just a fraction of Stephanie’s.
Linda E. McMahon: The former WWE president and husband of Vince McMahon holds less than 1% of WWE stock, but those are class B shares. So her voting power accounts for about 1.6% of the total.
BlackRock, Inc.: Another massive investment corporation that holds stake in thousands of companies. BlackRock holds about 8% of WWE and less than 2% of voting rights. You can buy stock in BlackRock itself on the New York Stock Exchange.
Vanguard Group: This multinational investment firm is headquartered in Pennsylvania and holds 5.4% of shares and about 1% of voting power. Vanguard holds shares in thousands of companies. Their assets were worth more than $6 trillion in January 2020. Vanguard is the largest provider of mutual funds and the second-largest provider of ETFs, second only to BlackRock.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 widely–pannedappearance 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Follow our ongoing coverage of WWE’s Q3 earnings report and conference call on Thursday, beginning at 4:00pm ET, both here at wrestlenomics.com and on Twitter @BrandonThurston.Anyone may view WWE’s public filings and listen to Thursday’s 5:00pm conference call at corporate.wwe.com.
Subscribers at patreon.com/wrestlenomics get access to a live stream discussion with Brandon Thurston at 8pm ET Thursday night, covering WWE’s Q3 earnings report.
WWE’s third quarter earnings report on Thursday will be the first since the return to touring, which resumed on July 16.
My estimate of earnings per share ratio for the quarter ($0.56) is well above the highest of 11 analysts. Analysts’ mean EPS is $0.35, the low is $0.27, and the high is $0.39, according to a Refinitiv Stock Report.
I made an effort to not consider other EPS or revenue estimates before formulating my own. In some recent quarters, my estimates have been more accurate than the consensus of stock analysts. [See Chart 1 and 2]
Possibly stock analysts are overestimating the expense of WWE’s return to touring or are overlooking the likelihood the company will recognize several million dollars in production incentives, the norm for Q3, which I’ve modeled as a $17 million negative expense. My understanding of comments from CFO Kristina Salen on recent earnings calls is that media expenses for the return to touring will be similar to those of 2019, when media expenses were lower than those associated with WWE’s elaborate Thunderdome presentation that was used instead of touring.
I estimated $273.9 million in revenue for the period of July 1 to September 30. The consensus is at $260.6 million, according to Seeking Alpha.
The projection that WWE would report $195 million in net income and more than $1.1 billion in revenue for 2021, would set annual company records, adjusted for inflation.
RETURN TO TOURING
Expect WWE to celebrate its best North American average paid attendance in many years. My estimate is 7,900, which would be the highest for a quarter since 2010 Q1. High attendance was driven by strong ticket sales early in the return and the Summerslam event in Las Vegas in August. The latter alone had about 45,000 tickets distributed. I anticipate total worldwide paid attendance for Q3 at 330,000 across 42 events. I assumed 10% of all tickets distributed, reported by WrestleTix, were comps, and the rest paid.
A Live Events division revenue estimate for Q3 is difficult to anticipate because it’s evident WWE benefited from “pent-up” demand as it returned to running shows with fans in attendance for the first time since March 2020. Results reported on Thursday also probably won’t be as informative about Q4 and future time periods.
I anticipate a profitable Q3 for the Live Events division, with as much as $7 million in operating income for a division that has struggled to show profitability in the last few years before the pandemic. However, I expect negative operating income for the division to return in Q4 as WWE runs more events than the prior quarter (about 56), and with lower attendances.
The first few events in July drew especially well. It’s likely WWE was able to charge higher ticket prices for these events in response to the increase in demand, but to what degree is more or less guesswork. The company will report the average price of tickets sold, broken down by North America and international regions, but those average ticket prices will look different going forward, in time periods with more relaxed demand. Indeed, some events in Q4 already appear to be struggling to move ticket sales. WWE offered discounted tickets in at least two markets recently, San Francisco and Long Island.
With the return of events WrestleTix has emerged as a fantastic resource, tracking activity on publicly-visible seating maps, and reporting ongoing counts of tickets distributed for events held by WWE, All Elite Wrestling, and other wrestling companies. My estimate of metrics related to live events largely rely on information from WrestleTix.
The return to touring clearly benefited television viewership of WWE’s flagship programs, Raw and Smackdown. Sequentially, total viewership was up 2% and 6% in Q3 for Raw and Smackdown, respectively, following four consecutive quarters of often double-digit sequential losses in viewers for both shows.
Raw and Smackdown averaged viewership in Q3 slightly higher than the prior year [Chart 3], a period when TV was produced in front of no fans and mostly before the Thunderdome was introduced. Raw is averaging well below its Q3 2019 numbers; Smackdown is slightly higher by the same comparison but in Q3 2019, Smackdown was on the USA Network, before the move to Fox with its higher reach.
Internal trends aside, WWE’s flagship shows remain among the most-watched programs on television, especially in the key ad demographic, with viewers aged 18 to 49. During Q3, Raw’s median rank among both broadcast and cable programming on Mondays was #4; Smackdown’s median rank on Fridays was #1. These programs deliver those results at the cost of about $1.7 million per hour of new content, in the case of Raw, and $2.0 million per hour in the case of Smackdown, likely on the low-end of the cost of comparable programming.
For one peer example, ESPN’s new deal with the NHL is reportedly worth an average annual value of $400 million, nearly twice as high as TNT’s deal with the league. ESPN gets about 118 games per year, which comes out to about $3.4 million per game. The season opener in October delivered a 0.38 P18-49, the best for a game so far this season, and a number that would be under Raw’s lowest ever (0.39). WWE charges $4 million and $5 million per episode of Smackdown and Raw, delivering an average demo rating in October of 0.57 for Smackdown on broadcast and 0.45 for Raw on cable. WWE is paid more per event than the NHL while delivering better in the demo, which suggests in my view WWE live broadcast rights are fairly-priced if (and it’s a big “if”) ad and carriage values for WWE and NHL are comparable enough.
AEW COMPETITION OUTLOOK
WWE is increasingly vulnerable to direct competition from All Elite Wrestling, which launched in 2019 and is funded by the Khan family, who also own the Jacksonville Jaguars. While WWE remains by far the leader in wrestling, it’s my long-standing belief the company will continue to cede market share to AEW for at least as long as Vince McMahon remains WWE’s CEO and head of creative. I believe McMahon has no plans to retire, nor does he intend to sell control of the company, despite what I view as weakly-supported speculation.
WWE’s greatest challenge in my view is the quality of its content and the direction of its creative, headed by McMahon. Management doesn’t genuinely recognize the problem, so they won’t meaningfully address it. The increase in value of live sports rights, which has benefited the sports industry in general, provides ample cover, driving WWE to set financial records.
In the meantime, AEW, a company I believe wouldn’t exist if WWE had been producing better quality content over the last five years, has managed to have its weekly program, Dynamite, on TNT essentially tie Raw in P18-49 in the same week on twooccasions in September. AEW is also out-selling WWE in six markets currently in which both companies have upcoming live events.
WWE’s wide lead over AEW in total viewership is almost entirely driven by viewers age 50 or older, a group less valued by TV advertisers. However I believe WWE’s product is more appealing to kids. Suggesting WWE is still well ahead with kids, the company dramatically outperforms AEW on YouTube [Chart 4], albeit with a massive historical video library at its disposal. AEW is not seeing the year-over-year declines in views WWE is for the early pandemic months [Charts 5 and 6], possibly related to increased interest in AEW since the addition of former WWE stars CM Punk and Bryan Danielson.
But on a new platform, TikTok, WWE also has a huge lead. AEW has just 338,000 followers on TikTok, as of the end of October. WWE had 14 million, or 41x the number of AEW’s followers [Chart 7]. AEW actually went months with little or no activity on TikTok until this summer [Chart 8].
While AEW may be capturing young and middle-aged adults, WWE continues to outperform AEW on online video platforms. WWE also has a higher percentage of its audience who are women and people of color. Furthermore, while there’s a generation of wrestling fans (and talent) disenfranchised by WWE who may be attracted by AEW, there’s also a generation of fans who have embraced WWE’s brand of wrestling for what it is.
Disclosure/disclaimer: I do not currently hold any positions in WWE stock (NYSE: WWE) and have no plans to initiate any such positions. This article was written independently. It expresses my own opinions, solely. I am not receiving compensation for this article. This article is not and should not be construed as investment advice.
EDIT: This article has been updated to correct YouTube data that incorrectly showed higher view counts for WWE and more negative year-over-year growth for AEW.
This week’s episode of Smackdown is set to run for an extra half hour on FS1, commercial-free. Game 1 of the ALCS will occupy Smackdown’s normal timeslot on Fox, so a “super-sized” episode of the WWE show will be broadcasted on FS1. This means Smackdown is set to go head-to-head against a live broadcast of Rampage for 30 minutes, from 10 pm to 10:30 pm on Friday night.
This will be the first time a main roster WWE program will go head-to-head against an AEW program on national TV. With viewers aged 18 to 49, the valued demographic for advertisers, AEW’s Wednesday night program, Dynamite, twice edged out WWE Monday Night Raw in the same week in September.
AEW President Tony Khan’s tweet, welcoming the challenge, came before fast national data was reported on Saturday, and then final ratings data come out on Monday, showing Rampage viewership was down significantly, while going against MLB playoffs on Friday.
Smackdown viewership was lower than usual, too, but not to the degree Rampage suffered. Compared to the median of the prior four weeks, Smackdown was down 13% in the 18 to 49 demographic, and Rampage was down 37% by the same comparison.
This past week’s Smackdown on Fox was watched by an average of 2,147,000 viewers and did a 0.52 rating in 18 to 49. AEW Rampage was watched by 502,000 viewers and did a 0.17 demo rating. The showed ranked at 15 among cable originals for the day, according to Showbuzz Daily.
The MLB playoff games had a strong effect on these numbers. The Dodgers-Giants game on TBS was the most viewed, and the Red Sox-Rays game on FS1 aired during all of Smackdown an most of Rampage. The games were watched by 3,982,000 (1.08 demo rating) and 2,618,000 viewers (0.65 demo rating), respectively.
This resulted in the least-viewed Rampage in the show’s nine-episode history in both total viewership and in the 18 to 49 demo. For Smackdown, it was the lowest total audience number since September 24 and the lowest 18 to 49 number since July 9.
On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed “the 30-minute war,” specifically what numbers both shows could likely do.
When on broadcast network Fox, Smackdown is usually the most-watched weekly wrestling show on television, seen by more than 2 million viewers live and same-day. On the lower profile FS1, though, Smackdown’s ratings will likely be much lower.
This is not the first time Smackdown has been on FS1, and Thurston looked back at how Smackdown has done on FS1 when preempted in 2019 and 2020.
BrandonThurston: “There are three occasions so far in the history of Smackdown, and what’s it done in the past?
“888,000 viewers, 885,000 viewers, just barely over 1 million viewers. There was a Pac-12 college football championship game that it was preempted for in December of last year. But I think more importantly, yes, we need to look at the demo. What were the demo ratings?”
Chris Gullo: “For 18-49: 0.27, 0.25, and 0.30.”
Thurston: “Okay, and read to me what the last three demo ratings have been for Rampage.”
Gullo: “0.28, 0.29, and 0.25.”
Thurston: “Those are pretty similar numbers aren’t they?”
Smackdown having an extra 30 minutes, which will happen to air simultaneously with the first-half of Rampage, makes it more likely Smackdown finishes ahead of Rampage in the 18 to 49 demo on Friday.
Before the final numbers were released on Monday for this past Friday’s programs, fast national ratings came out for Smackdown and Rampage on Saturday, first reported by Wrestling Inc.
The kinds of ratings normally reported by sources like Wrestlenomics and Showbuzz Daily are called “final ratings”.
Fast nationals, though, are different. They’re a kind of “overnight” rating that’s requested and paid for by a Nielsen customer so the customer can get viewership data sooner than they would otherwise.
Thurston predicted we’ll see more of these early reports in the coming weeks.
Thurston: “I would expect these fast national ratings continue to come out in the weeks to come throughout October, not only for the programming on Friday but maybe for the Saturday Dynamites too, especially if the fast national data can be read in such a way that it looks favorable for WWE or unfavorable for AEW.”
Due to NHL hockey on TNT on Wednesdays this and next week, AEW Dynamite will be preempted to Saturday on October 16 and 23.
Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.