How WWE acquired territorial video libraries, a conversation with John Carlan

The following is a transcript of our interview with John Carlan, recorded on July 12, 2022. John worked for WWE from 1998 to 2020 as Director of VOD and Supervising Producer, among other roles. He was a key person involved with putting content on the WWE Network as well as in evaluating and acquiring many of the video libraries WWE purchased.

The audio version of this interview was published on the Wrestlenomics Radio podcast feed and the video version (embedded above) is on the Wrestlenomics YouTube channel.

Thanks to Cory Gibson for producing this transcript.

Brandon Thurston: Hello everybody and welcome to another edition of Wrestlenomics, we are joined today not only by our occasional Brock Lesnar like co-host, Jesse Collings, but also we have a special guest today, John Carlin, who formerly worked with WWE, who has a lot of experience with WWE Network and with acquiring libraries, so we’re really excited to talk to John today. How are you doing, John?

John Carlan: Hello all, I’m doing great, I appreciate it Brandon very much, obviously you and I have been friendly, I guess, are we friends? I guess we are for the better part of the last year or so I would say, right. Does that sound about right?

Brandon: Yeah, that sounds about right to me. 

John: So, I’m ready to go whenever you guys are and hopefully I can help out and bring some great information and like you said, I was on year twenty three before I left WWE, and whatever you guys got, fire away. 

Jesse Collings: So I guess for the listeners at home or the viewers at home can you just kind of describe briefly how you came to WWE, and what kind of your role was when you were working for the company, as like you said, you had a few different roles over 23 years, but kind of describe briefly what you did while working for the company.

John: Sure, absolutely. Before WWE, I was at ESPN at the time in 1998, I was just a kid, 20 something, and ended up poking around a little bit, looking for jobs and WWE just happened to be one of them. At the time, my wife and I were not married, so I’m trying very hard to obviously make a good living and we lived in Stanford, so we were commuting to Bristol in Connecticut, and it was a haul and it was tough and and it wasn’t for a lot of pay and we didn’t have coverage, there was no insurance. So, WWE the headquarters being in Stanford as well as the television studio was right around the corner, more or less directly across the street from where our apartment was at the time, the pay was better and the benefits were all there and it was kind of a no-brainer, and I’ve always been a wrestling guy. I’ve always loved the product, grew up on it as a lot of us did in the Hogan years, and I signed on there in February 1998. Like you said, obviously a lot of different roles in all of those years, but I think the main thing for your audience and for what you guys might be looking for is the latter stuff. I worked as a producer, associate producer, supervising producer, I produced some of our syndicated shows for a while, I worked on long form and short form documentaries in the home video department, I did live shoots, I worked on the road for a while, stage managing which was working with the announce team, I was that that dorky dude that sits with the announcers, I was that guy, and also stage manage which is doing a lot of the backstage stuff with the talent, certainly went all around the country and all around the world doing shoots with talent, so there’s not a lot I didn’t do and haven’t done in the wrestling business and in the TV business, combined. But like I said, the majority of the stuff that I think is good for the topic here is certainly the latter years which was when WWE first started the SVOD service, that was kind of pre-streaming Netflix, which was started in 2004. I was kind of part of the team that headed up that group and what we did at that time was go out and be lucky enough and privileged enough to start acquiring some of these video libraries, all the footage that you see currently on the Network now, or for some of those documentaries, biographies, whatever you want to call them. Certainly a lot of guys and gals had history coming up through the business and in other companies, so we at WWE wanted to have a lot of that, to be able to provide the viewer and our audience, the WWE Universe, with the best possible content. We wanted to make sure we got our hands on that, so I was appointed from the production to be kind of that guy to go out there, to go to Dallas for the World Class Championship Wrestling assessment, to go to Calgary to assess the Stampede library with the Hart family, that kind of thing, which was great, and like I said, it was a privilege and the company trusted me and I would certainly come back, write up a report, give it to the powers that be and they would ultimately make the decision for whatever the price was, if it was worth it. So, my job was to go there and check things out, whether it be the quality of the actual videotapes themselves, the actual physical tapes, to the quality of them when there up, what did they look like, how’s the audio, how’s the video, and then of course to give them a talent assessment, what was the talent, do we have A plus talent, do we have B talent, is it worth a million dollars that they’re charging us for this, those kind of things. So, I was able to do that all over the country, and in Canada as well, to kind of bring that to the table. 

Jesse: At this stage, we’re talking well before WWE Network, we’re talking WWE Classics on Demand or WWE 24/7, I feel like they were called both of those things at different times. 

John: They were indeed, you are correct, Jesse. I was there for both of those, we started with 24/7 and evolved into Classics. 

Jesse: This was kind of like you said, pre-Netflix, pre- what we could consider now your standard OTT service, this was an on-demand service. 

John: Your Paramount Pluses and all that stuff now, none of that stuff existed obviously back in 2004. 

Jesse: Right, but on-demand and DVR and the ability to watch things without having to tape something, or Tivo, was kind of becoming a big deal and WWE was, with a lot of other entertainment companies, looking to see what you can do with this kind of technology, which is can people watch our product using their cable subscription when we’re not on television, and WWE has this video library, so when you first started looking at it, obviously you have WWE’s own archives by, this is what, 2004? Obviously you’re always going to have that, it’s the same company, you would have had WCW, you would have had ECW. Were there other archives that the company already had through various previous purchases, how much of the kind of territorial content library would you say had before you started out on this mission, going to Dallas and going to Calgary? 

John: Like you said, there was definitely… I’m trying to recall, so with the WCW and ECW stuff, that was a package deal, right? I didn’t have to go on those missions only because that stuff again is prior, like you said, those acquisitions were prior to this SVOD venture, but I probably would have been part of it anyway if that was the case, but obviously WWE bought both of those companies, right? So the assets came with. Those two would qualify, and WCW was interesting because there’s a lot of history there, so it wasn’t just the Nitro and Thunder era, or your WCW Saturday Night era, it was all the JCP, which for those of you who don’t know was Jim Crockett Productions, which was bought out by Turner and turned into WCW, a little history lesson I guess. So that stuff went so many years back and came with so many different things which was fascinating because it came with your Mid-Atlantic, that came with stuff that I actually discovered on the back end, a lot of these reels which was GCW, Georgia Championship Wrestling, so that stuff all came with Jim Crockett Productions, so that was a big history, a big haul of wrestling history which was fascinating for guys like me who are into that kind of thing. 

Jesse: It sounds very fascinating, because anything that was a wrestling fan, I’m actually too young to really have done this but people who are a generation older than me, obviously tape trading or going to yard sales or gong to video stores and seeing what people have, going through a box of videotapes and being like “Oh, look at what I found, look at this, it’s 1986 Jim Crockett Promotions” or whatever. You’re doing that, but on this massive scale where you’re to actual whole video libraries and going through this creature trove of tape trading and tape researching, but you’re doing it at a massive, almost incomprehensible scale.

John: It is, it’s a thrill, and then getting to… let me just finish that other point, the other one that stands out is the AWA, the American Wrestling Association, and that again for those who don’t know, that was owned by Verne Gagne, and Verne was tough, and I was involved in that but not as involved I would become later on. That was a tough haul, that was a lot of history there too, because some of that stuff went back to… we would have miscellaneous reels that went all the way back to, we… I say we, WWE had if I remember correctly, I believe we had an old Killer Kowalski match from like 1961 that we found on an old AWA taping, of like a television taping from 1961 if I’m remembering that right, which was when you’re a history guy and you know just want to get that kind of stuff on the air, especially if you’re doing a piece on Walter/Killer, those are gems. We had a thing called hidden gems for a while and a lot of that stuff fell into that category. But as these libraries came in, my job was to figure out creative ways, and the team around me to be fair, and our group was to figure out ways to make these things cool again, or obviously we’re catering to the history fan or to these fans who are looking for this, and there are alot of them out there because we would hear from them a lot on some of these websites, certainly. How do we put it on the air to make it cool again make it attractive to all wrestling fans, whether it be to get a host in and do wraparounds or whether it be to change the look or to improve something here and there, and there were challenges with that because you know, one of the main challenges I had a on a daily basis and this morphed into when we moved into the Network use too, was the copyrighted music is a major, major issue that costs the company a lot of money if those things slip through the cracks, and one of my main jobs for our group, and then later it became company-wide, I was kind of the go-to guy company-wide for any issues, I kind of became a liaison between production and legal. So, I was on the phone constantly with the lawyer, with the music lawyers as well as the regular lawyers, because there were other issues with likenesses of folks, or when you bought some of these libraries, back then they were handshake agreements with these old promoters, the handshake agreement in the 2000s and the 2020s. That’s not okay for a billion dollar company like WWE, we’ve got to play by the rules, things have to be right or else WWE ends up on the losing side financially, so I was kind of a watchdog for that, another important role that I embraced and obviously was very proud of. So that was a big deal, and now I became the guy the entire team looked to for this kind of stuff. I had spreadsheet after spreadsheet after spreadsheet… again the team, I don’t want to take anything away from the team, they were certainly involved, up to their necks in this as well, but just having a hand in picking out all the brand new music and then figuring out creative ways to get it into a program, and I’m talking about music that was either in an open, in a package, as a feature, in the closing portion of the program, ring entrances which is obviously a big deal, and a lot of times you’d run into some of those older companies that would just roll out whatever the hit was of the day to their biggest stars. In the Mid-South area, for instance, the Junkyard Dog used to come down to a popular Queen hit “Another One Bites the Dust”, and they didn’t care because it fit JYD and that’s what they went with, and so be it, but we had to address that kind of thing. So, that’s the kind of thing that was either rebuilding the entire entrance with a new piece of music, trying to save the announcing if possible, sometimes we got lucky. With the ECW library for instance, Joey Styles, the main play-by-play guy there as most of you know, had a clean channel and what I mean by that is on one of the channels, channel one used to be just Joey, no crowd, no music, that saved our behinds on numerous occasions because ECW was the biggest violator of this no matter what, because of how Paul Heyman operated and that was the end of the lot, he didn’t care, that’s how they got their freaking reputation in the first place. So, luckily we got hundreds of hours of ECW shows on the air that we probably would not have been able to or would have struggled for hours upon hours trying to figure out how to make that happen and make it presentable. That’s the key, we always had to make stuff presentable, we’re not going to put a product on the air that’s halfway done, that’s not how we operate… 

Jesse: Has no audio… 

John: Right, or is choppy. Some of the times, if we had to lose the music and we didn’t have a clean track of the play-by-plays, WCW had some of that frequently too, so that was helpful, we we would take the new piece of music and what we would call bury the old music, so again we did a lot of the editing on our own and that was another great part of being at WWE, you got so much experience as not only a producer but an editor as well, but some of that stuff was just too complicated, that’s why we actually had real editors, that was what they were paid for, so we would take harder projects to them and just do the best you could, so we would have to bury the old music, we’d lower it to a point, and then maybe dump a little bit of new crowd on top so the crowd still kind of excited, trying to keep it as authentic as possible, and then slide a little bit of the announcers up and down here and there, maybe for some important parts of introducing the character or making an announcement of who he or she would be facing, whatever we thought was important enough to get on the air to help the product obviously not lose it’s integrity was important, so we’d try to slide maybe the announce up just a little bit and get little quips in there without hearing the littlest amount of the “real music”, as was possible. We obviously put in the effort to not have any of that music ever be on the air, with as I said a beat or two here and there slid in just to get the announcer to say a line that we needed, we did the best we could to get rid of it, but those were trickly and that was the most difficult of that, and that same thing happened when we morphed to the Network, it sometimes got even more complicated because then you had to deal with, like you said, all the old libraries, all the WWE libraries, we had to go back and start from RAW number one, back in 1994/1995, and back then the standards and practices were not necessarily what they are today, so those had to be all the RAWs, all the SmackDowns… 

Jesse: I was going to ask, were you involved in the scrubbing of the WWF logo? 

John: Oh, was I ever, Jesse. Another horrible part of what we did there, but at the end of the day enjoyable. Yes, of course, that was right smack dab in the middle of Classics so we would spend hours removing, whether it be obviously audio-wise, you couldn’t say those three letters, right? 

Jesse: WW…  

John: Exactly, we either took the whole thing out or you got what most of the time we got, and people hated it, but there was nothing… I mean our group was basically the group that did that, yes, we were the ones who did all of that, and then you know you had to get the turnbuckles, right? 

Jesse: Yeah, that was bad, in hindsight you probably wish you didn’t put the logo on the turnbuckles… 

John: No, no, and there were various other rules, the rules at WWE changed all the time, for those of you that don’t know. It’s just a quirk, it’s just the way the company operates. So, you know there was a time where it just the scratch logo, so we were good, so the old WWF block one, that was okay, and then a year later it wasn’t okay so we had to go all the way back and re-track our steps and pull all that stuff down and redo all of that, whether it be the referee’s jersey, or sometimes the logo would be on the ring mat, or certainly the ring skirts were a major deal, certainly up in the rafters, sometimes they would have them hanging all over the place back in the 90s certainly… 

Jesse: You’re doing like a “Where’s Waldo?” where you’re looking at still shots going like, “There’s a logo, it’s up there! It’s in the top left corner, hanging from the rafters!” 

John: [laughing] No joke, 100%, you hit it right on the head and that took up hours and hours and hours of our time, for sure, and just to blur… At one point, we just gathered like a dozen episodes at a time let’s just say, I’m just making that number up, whatever it was, and we would have folks and PAs go through them and make sure they wrote down every single time the logo came up, make logs of those things, and just because it was taking up so much of our edit time that we had to do to make stuff get on the air, we just gave it to editors on the side, like either overnight or at a time where we would just have them come in and work with us for 10 hours but not in the edit just by themselves in some room somewhere else, just doing blurring. Blurring was a full-time job. The edit staff had folks that were just there to blue, that’s how big of a project that was, for sure. 

Jesse: You talked about copyright and worrying about that aspect when it comes to editing. When the transition from WWE to Peacock took place, there were a lot of stories about having to go back and look at content and say, is this content appropriate for a major streaming service like Peacock. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened in wrestling history, especially if you go back to some of these older territories, that would not be considered politically correct today, and wouldn’t have been politically correct back then, but it was wrestling and was considered lowbrow. Was that something at all that was discussed, either with Classics on Demand or WWE Network, as far as keeping an eye out for certain things that we can’t have on our on-demand streaming service, or our Network? 

John: Certainly, and I don’t want to lie to you or the folks out there regarding the Peacock switch, the switch over to Peacock happened after my time so I can’t really speak to that directly, but what you said is basically true, yes, because we went through that. My experience with that, because I do have some, is at the beginning, we had two sides to the Network, and I think it still operates that way now, there was a linear side and the VOD side, so I was basically captain of the VOD side. So, on the VOD side we could basically air whatever we wanted as long as we rated it appropriately, so if the show was really, really bad, and I’m talking about politically incorrect, bloody massacre, sexuality, hell… nudity, whatever happened, those kinds of things, we had to rate the show the worst possible rating that we had, that was okay for VOD, anything goes on VOD, that was our direction, that’s what we were told, and that is still the standard as far as I know. But, there was a lot of debate at the early rollout in 2014/2015, around that time, debate about the linear side, so at the beginning the linear side followed kind of the same rules, which was in retrospect a huge mistake, I think all of us… 

Jesse: Real quick, can you just clarify what you mean when you say linear side as opposed to VOD side? 

John: Sure, so the VOD side, you had to have a parental thing, you have to have parental permission, or there’s codes that you have to put in or some sort of a thing that kids can’t access unless their parents know about it, something along the lines. The linear side was more like everyday TV, like you and I just going into the living, putting the TV on, flipping channels, they had a lineup and everything. In today’s day and age, like you said, we like the streaming stuff, we like to stop and go, we like to put on whatever we want, we want to choose this episode or that episode, nobody wants to like hangout and watch whatever you have scheduled for me on your television from 9:00am to 5:00am, that’s just not a thing, but they wanted it to be that way on one side. So, that’s the way the linear side was set up, there was a schedule for every day, what was airing, it was just like an old school TV network. 

Jesse: If people remember, this would be like if you went on WWE Network on their app, you would see they’d always be playing something at certain times, if there was a PPV airing it would be the PPV, but sometimes you would just turn it on and they’d be showing, original content, or old RAWs, or things like that. 

John: Exactly, so anyway, the debate like I said in 2014/2015, maybe 2016, I don’t know how long it lasted, but the problem was to have no rules on the linear side and just let that go, all of us on the other side knew that was probably not such a great idea because anybody has access to it, and to see some of that stuff. The rumors that we heard were folks over at the tower, and for those of you who don’t know how WWE is set up, there’s Titan Tower, which is the main corporate building, which you can all see off the exit if you travel on I-95 South in Connecticut, and there’s a television studio which is around the corner, so we worked around the corner in the television studio, so apparently, again from what we heard, there was folks who were going up in the elevators daily at Titan Tower, high executives and certainly some females, and saw some things on there that were very inappropriate and very not okay for linear, and I guess a lot of people in the hierarchy were hearing about it pretty much regularly, and that changed real quick, which was for the best. It was for the best for the company, it was the best for the Network. 

Brandon: Because in the elevator at Titan Tower, right, there’s a monitor with the Network playing on it? 

John: Correct, 24/7. 

Jesse: It’s WWE executives being surprised… 

John: I think not necessarily executives, I think it was any employees that maybe felt it was uncomfortable or felt like, wow, I’m not sure we should be watching this at 8:00 in the morning, whatever it might have been, and again that’s rumor, that’s what we were told, or what we heard, so again that’s when the linear became, to your point about the Peacock situation, linear became very, very strict. In other words, people would come to me a lot, this was another one of my many hats that I wore, and there were lots of them, folks would come to me through a colleague of mine who I worked closely with, who helped me a great deal in my VOD ventures there, they would often go to her and try to pitch these ideas that she then in turn had to go to me about, and I had to basically yes that’s okay for linear, no, hell no that’s not okay for linear, and one in particular that I always use as an example because I just can’t understand it, because it happened year after year after year, which is because a lot of times on the linear side, folks wanted to use content that was relevant to a holiday, for instance Black History Month, something like that. So, every year, I would constantly get asked the question, “Can we air St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on the linear side?” and every year, the answer was continuously “Not a chance in hell,” because it’s not appropriate for PG, linear was strictly at this point PG only, PG only, PG only. St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, for those of you that’t know, was an old February PPV back in 1999, that had blood and guts and sexuality all over the place, it was like from hour one to hour three, so that was never going to see the light of day under my watch. Those are some of the things to try and give you… Again, since I wasn’t there for the Peacock switchover, it was a very similar situation and I know exactly what you’re talking about, how strict they can get and that same thing happened, that I can speak to, something that I just happened to think of, when we were doing the best of shows, if any of you remember those, the things that we were doing when the pandemic first hit, when we were all sent home because we really were struggling for content. Those shows would get cut down and sent over to FOX because FS1 obviously had no programming either, with all of sports shut down, so that was another project that was very… So their S&P group, and what I mean by that is Standards and Practices, were even stricter than anything that we had to go through, through me or through any folks to get stuff on our linear side, they had an even stricter group over there that they went through and even though we had made it fully PG safe, that wasn’t fully PG safe sometimes in their view, so they would go through and pick apart stuff, like I remember one time I got a list I thought was fully done with, the program was best of Ric Flair as a matter of fact, and I thought it was done, shipped, ready to go, and I think the next morning I got a list of about 30 or 40 fixes that they had, that I would never have seen in a million years unless you scrubbed the thing with a fine tooth comb, which is what they were doing, which was a hassle, but it was what we had to do with our partners, to make people everybody happy and get the product on the air, so that’s what we did, but that’s just another example. 

Jesse: I feel like a best of Ric Flair show that’s PG maybe just contains his entrance, and that’s it. 

John: [laughs] Right. 

Jesse: Like you said, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is kind of a classic Attitude Era PPV. I’m assuming most of the attitude era content, which is I’m assuming by far the most popular retro content that was on the network, and it’s certainly the most popular retro content in the podcasting world, wasn’t on the linear side because basically all of it wouldn’t have passed the test for being PG? 

John: Zero, zero, not a chance, none of it, but again, like you know, we filled our VOD side. Everything that’s on VOD right now, or a good or certainly large, large chunk of it was done by myself and my team, which you know at this stage of the game, all the ups and downs that have gone on with the pandemic, and you know certain layoffs and different thing of that nature, is basically… it basically doesn’t exist anymore, the whole team of us are basically, unfortunately I think are gone, but 90%+ of that content was done by our group, the entire ECW library, the entire WCW library, the entire WCCW library, the entire Mid-South library, all that stuff was done by our group and we’re certainly proud of that, and it took a lot of work and a lot of hours and I just hope it was something that the fans today can still enjoy.

Jesse: Can you talk about being in WWE during that time period, and my question is kind of like a timeline of enthusiasm from the company side when it comes to the Network, because it seems like from the outside looking in that enthusiasm for the Network kind of waxed and waned throughout its existence, there were periods of time where it felt like a lot of resources were being pumped into the Network and there was going to be a lot of different content that was going to be developed, then six months later they’d be canceling stuff and programs that were supposed to happen, or programs that did happen are gone. Can you kind of describe what you felt like as an employee, what the enthusiasm internally was for the Network, and if you felt like you had that consistent support for the Network, and the idea of the Network throughout its entire existence. 

Brandon: And I guess… There were a lot of different leadership changes throughout the early couple years of the Network, right? 

John: Right, and still you know, I mean certainly that happened throughout the last couple of years as well, and we were certainly part of that, but I think you described it pretty accurately, to be honest. It definitely waned, there was definitely a long period of time where everybody was all in, and like you said, then six months later it was everybody was all out, and we had to kind of struggle to stay relevant. At one point, the VOD service was the main focus of everybody in the company. The goal was 10,000 hours of programming and I must have heard that line a zillion and a half times, because I would have to go there and present monthly to executives and other folks just what the progress was. I think they wanted 10,000 hours in something like five years and we were pumping out so much content, we were able to get it done in three, again, another proud moment that certainly I still hold very close and I thank the team of course, for sure, but after that point, and that took a lot, at one point we were doing over 250 hours of programming per month… that’s a lot, I think at our height we had 10 folks all together, maybe a little more, like 10 or 11, whatever it was but still folks also doing other things, so that’s a lot, and I had to work right alongside them, I wasn’t just assigning stuff, I was working right alongside them, but to your point, the VOD stuff after that one goal was hit, we were lost in the shuffle to be quite frank. I had to struggle continuously, to stress the importance of all this, I mean we spent millions of dollars on all this footage, we should still continue to get it up, we should continue to use it, fans still enjoy it, if we slowed or we didn’t get a good haul out for the month, whatever it might have been, we certainly heard about it. Yeah, was it a nichey group of fans? For the most part, but we knew there was plenty of fans out there that enjoyed it and that wanted it and you know, not to give it to them when we became, like I said, less and less relevant, I obviously being the guy who was kind of heading up that group, that didn’t make me very happy, but I think you hit it on the head, I mean certainly that’s not just with this, I think that certainly happened throughout my career there and it happened with many different ventures, that’s just kind of how WWE is, that’s just kind of how it goes there, and it happened, and the more it happened the more you kind of got used to it and you knew it was coming, it was just a matter of time, whatever it was and sometimes that’s okay, sometimes that’s just rolling with the times and rolling with what’s hot and I understand that, so that to their point, I can understand that in particular if you think about it that way, sure, but that’s certainly the way it works within the company where it’s in and out, full bore one day, not so much the next day, that’s just the way it rolls. 

Jesse: Do you think their goals changed when the sense that maybe when the Network first, the idea like you said was VOD was so important, and you had all of these kind of ambitious goals set up for how much content we’re going to have available to people who are subscribing, and then as the Network continued to go and as the product continued to go, I feel like it became more, at least from a company perspective, more obvious that the things that were driving people to the Network were going to be the current product, were going to be live events, going to be PPVs, it’s going to be WrestleMania. Do you feel like the VOD was kind of put on the wayside, or at least rendered a secondary goal, or third goal because as the Network kind of matured, it became kind of clear at least to executives that the goal, that the actual driving revenue of the Network is always going to be our current product and not all of this stuff in the past? 

John: I would think, yeah, for sure. I think that there are certainly some folks, there are a lot of folks, like I said that are pretty much all gone now so I’m not disparaging anybody or throwing anybody under the bus, it’s just there was some people there that I don’t think understood as much about, which again to somebody like myself and others who know the importance of the history of this business and you know, gave our blood sweat and tears for it, embrace it and know how important that was to where we are today, to have that kind of poo-pooed from folks that I feel like regardless whether in positions of power or not, I felt like maybe not all of them understood the business, and maybe didn’t know about before 1990-ish, something like that, that were calling some of the shots, so I think that certainly had a part in it. Just to give you an example, like I said we were 250+ hours per month at our peak, when I was let go I think we were barely holding on to 20 hours per month for VOD, so that’s kind of where it ended up. Even though we have a giant platform there, we dump of hundreds and thousands of hour into it, there’s still that much left in the tank, in the library to be honest, so yeah I think that’s the certainly the case, and then they started doing more of those types of things with the current talent, you know, Ride Along and Table for Three, those kind of things, The Bump, that kind of stuff, they incorporated more of the current talent and emphasized that for sure, so yeah I think you hit it on the head on that one. 

Jesse: Were you involved in any of the acquisitions involving current existing independent wrestling talent, we know that they had Evolve programming, they had I think Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Germany, I want to say Progress was also involved, were you involved in any of that?  

John: And ICW, Insane Championship Wrestling. Yep, I was the guy, I was the point guy for it. 

Jesse: So talk to me about that because I’m really interested in knowing like, were you surprised, were you given a directive to open negotiations with these people, that was kind of a very atypical move by WWE to kind of work with active groups, to essentially promote their business. 

John: Yeah I mean look, I think it was an opportunity, I think was a win-win, that’s how I looked at it because it was a win for us because we gained more programming probably for a discounted price, and we didn’t have to buy the library, it was just some of contract, and again that wasn’t something that I negotiated, that was not me, I’m just a TV guy, I don’t negotiate contracts, but again another hat that I wore was the independent wrestling promotion guy, basically anything that went near or touched VOD I had to be involved with in some way shape or form. So like I said a win-win was, we got the discount, we got the footage, and then these folks who were struggling to find a wide platform for their product, holy cow, they got to be on WWE Network now, I mean it took us some years to actually get it up because there was different levels, they wanted to make different levels of the Network and, sorry, tiers, so they went through a couple years worth of how these tiers were going to look and where the indie product was going to go and that was going to be X amount more dollars per month if you wanted that and those kind of things, so it just took a lot to get up, because I worked with it pretty much from the time we started business with these folks, which was probably I want to say 2017, maybe 2018, something like that. 

Brandon: I was listening to a talk from George Barrios who was probably the co-president at the time and he just sort of brought up, just without prompting, “Oh yeah, and we have deals with Progress and ICW,” this was around 2017. It was just really surprising to me listening. 

John: Yeah, I remember that happening, but yeah, so we’ll call it 2017. So, and then when I left, again when I was let go in 2020, and at that time I worked on those shows, that was exclusively me, like I was the only one who worked on those shows unless I got overwhelmed, and there was too many, I would have to have some help, but those were basically just all, so they would send in, I don’t know, a half dozen or so, six or eight or ten maybe at a time of their weekly shows, as well as some of their PPVs, like you hit them all on the head, Evolve, ICW, Insane Championship Wrestling was is over in the UK, Progress… 

Jesse: Scotland? 

John: Yeah, Scotland. Progress, also in the UK, that’s more of an English brand, and then WXW which was the German folks that you mentioned, which is kind of where today’s, I guess Gunther is what he’s called nowadays, was kind of a big star over there. 

Brandon: Yeah, June 2017 looks like the timing for that comment from Barrios, just to update everybody. 

John: There you go. I knew we kept that dude around here for a reason, but nonetheless, all of those, I mean I probably did hundreds of those shows and like I said when I was let go, they still hadn’t made air yet, I don’t believe, or they might have been just starting, or they might have started when the pandemic hit because we figured what the hell, we need programming, why don’t we just it now. And again, a lot of that stuff, most of that stuff, I had to check through every show that came in, so again similar to the other shows but not as bad because we were obviously living in the late 2000s, go through all the music, what was the music, where did it come from, some of them had their own composers and stuff so was fishy, you had to kind of look into that all from a legal standpoint. Every now and then they try to roll a real piece, they try to slide one through, obviously we had to put a stop to those kind of things, but all those shows, the audio was all over the place, so that was tricky, we had to deal with that a lot, and by that I mean it either way too freaking low or way, way too high and so I would do that. Those are pretty much weekly, every other week or so maybe, so yeah, I did all of those four libraries for sure, everything that they went to our company went through me, and I got to know a lot of that, I really studied guys, so that’s why when I see them nowadays, I’m like man, back then I was probably the only that knew who that dude actually was, or whatever, and that kind of helped out the UK spin-off, for the UK NXT, so that was similar, a lot of those guys work there now. 

Jesse: Were you given a directive when the indie company content started coming in, were you told like “this will be good additions to our video library, we’ll have matches of guys who are on our shows,” as obviously NXT UK guys, a lot of them started in Progress, in other European promotions, were you given kind of a directive like this is why you’re suddenly now doing all of this work with all of these independent companies, and these European companies? 

John: Not necessarily, I don’t remember that being a thing. I think it was just providing us with more footage and providing them a platform, a bigger platform so they could get exposure and I mean obviously, I think there was a point where we probably saw a future for us to use it in some capacity and probably wanted to have an inside track on deals with talent that they felt were worthwhile to come over, obviously, that’s got to be an assumption, but I was never told that or given the directive, no. 

Brandon: I would like to get into some of the libraries that are pretty prominent to me in wrestling history, especially the territory era, but are certainly not on the network, and one of them that comes to mind is, I think you said this was wrapped in the Jim Crockett Promotions acquisition, so like Georgia, there’s no Georgia Championship Wrestling on the Network as far as I know, so what do you think the story is with that, or do you know why none of that content is out there? 

John: Yep, I can tell you 100%. So, what’s tricky with Georgia was we weren’t able to get original, and again this could be wrestling folklore for all I know, but the original Georgia Championship Wrestling, the original assets we never were able to get out hands on for whatever reason. What we heard was, once again take this with a grain of salt, was that Ole Anderson, who was the promoter at the time before they were kind of bought by Crockett, I believe is the way it went down, was so crazed and so angry that they were going to be purchased and then somehow into our hands at some point, because he was a big anti-Vince, anti-WWE guy, he still never did business with us at all, like even when we did the Horseman stuff, when we did the Flair stuff that we really needed him for, didn’t really, I mean screw him, if he didn’t want to do it he didn’t want to do it, but he still held the grudge to this day, but what we heard was he took all the original Georgia Championship Wrestling tapes, took them around back of an empty arena and set them on fire. That’s the story we got and again you can take that with a grain of salt and do with it what you will, but the point is that the Georgia footage that we ended up getting, and I mentioned this a little bit earlier that I was able to find, or one of us was able to find on the back end of some of these old like, I don’t think it was the MId-Atlantic reels, although it might have been, or it was old WCW shows prior to Saturday Night, they were on the back of all of those reels, like weird out of nowhere but they were clearly recorded off of a DVD right, you could see the DVD start, and then you could see it finish, you knew that’s what happened, and a lot of times the footage was garbage, I mean, unairable, so poor that you would do yourself a disservice, I would do the fans a disservice if I wanted to air it, and I would certainly get fired, so that’s your answer for Georgia. With Georgia, there’s not a lot of it. I think we have probably enough episodes if you wanted to run a few in a consecutive, but they’re just so hit and miss and the footage is so poor and the audio is so poor that it’s hard. We’ve used it in the past, I think we’ve never aired an episode, I think we’ve used it, I know have, for B-roll, and for of you that don’t know B-roll, that’s just miscellaneous shots over if somebody’s speaking or whatever that might be, and I definitely used it for that because I can see a Tony Atlas shot from Georgia that I definitely used in an old Legends of Wrestling Shows, so that’s your answer for Georgia. The other one that I would fit in that category, that I was part of purchasing certainly, is CWF, the old Florida stuff. 

Brandon: Florida, yep. 

John: So, we did that and that was a twofold situation because that was dual owned, one chunk of the library was owned by the Grahams, Eddie Graham was the original promoter down there, Mike Graham was in charge when we there, and then there was another later chunk of the library was taken over by Steve Keirn… 

Brandon: Later in time? 

John: Later in time, yeah, so Mike had all the really, really good stuff, you know for guys like me who just would like to sit back and watch for hours, and it was all this stuff, you know the 1970s Dusty, all the stuff. 

Brandon: Gordon Solie? 

John: Exactly, Gordon doing the hosting, like standing up and pitching stuff, and all that stuff, and Keirn’s ended up being like 80s and 90s, not that it wasn’t quality stuff, it was, it just didn’t have the allure that the Graham stuff had. That stuff I always tried to figure out how to get it aired because it was so good. They just came in pieces, for lack of a better term, they weren’t well put together, there’s a lot of Gordon and just pitching and stuff and then he would go in a different direction and it was footage from another spot or another time, and sometimes there was those handshake agreements where we’d have to pull footage out because we didn’t have the rights to it, but those were such good quality, they just didn’t have good cohesive versions of the shows which I thought was a shame, because we were able to put together a nice series of them for Classics, but that’s because we used Mike Graham as a host, and that’s what we did with a lot of that stuff, which is a point that I wanted to bring up earlier, we did a lot of that stuff on Classics, which is we use guys or gals who were relevant, and that was my thing, which I thought was most important to the audience was we use people who relevant to the product. I never, ever in my life wanted to use Michael Cole to host the history of ECW show, like I was never going to do that ever, because that was just not something I could bring myself to do, nothing against Michael, I like Michael we’ve always been friends, but Tazz was a no-brainer because here you’ve got a guy who lived it, who better would I want to host the show than somebody who lived it? So that’s why we used him for that, we used Mike Graham for the CWF shows, we used Michael Hayes and Kevin Von Erich for the WCCW stuff, we use Gene for Hall of Fame because who better to host Hall of Fame than Mean Gene? So those were the kind of things that we did to try to make the product as great a quality as we could. I’m sorry I got off on a completely tangent there, but yeah, the CWF is unfortunate, I wish we could have found a better way. The only other one is Stampede, Stampede was always tricky..

Brandon: And some of it appeared on the Network for a time, and then it suddenly disappeared. 

John: Yeah, because it became a Bret issue, it’s always kind of a Bret issue, so usually Bret had some sort of legal say in the stuff, so sometimes we, again I go with the we, WWE thinks they’ve got everything square with Bret, and then it’s not square with Bret, so that’s why that stuff happens with Stampede. 

Brandon: And the issue is that he owns the rights to his own matches? 

John: Correct, and I don’t know why we wouldn’t air other ones, I don’t know why that never became a thing because I was in charge of programming most of the time. 

Brandon: Do you know how he got rights to that, or was the Stampede library sold to WWE but not the Bret matches, is that how it worked? 

John: I think that’s how it worked, yeah, I mean because I certainly was there for Stampede too, I mean I was there with that person, I’ve met with his brothers, so there was Ross and Bruce, they were the guys who were running the library purchase. 

Brandon: So would that have been before the Bret DVD came out, I think in like 2005 or something, I can imagine him being more protective and afraid… 

John: Thank you for bringing that up, Brandon. So that’s exactly correct, when it was time for the Bret DVD, then we had to get into a negotiation with Bret, that’s how that went down, so then he signed off on rights for X amount of footage, or footage for that I guess, and then somehow I think we thought… There was confusion that maybe he signed off on all of it, and that’s why some of it started to air and then that was not the case again, I’m picking at details that I don’t know exactly the facts, that’s just what we heard and what kind of the rumors were, but there’s other shows out there, certainly I did a run of them on Classics, there’s plenty of them on Classics or were on Classics. You’ve got me thinking now because I’m not sure why I never went back to that, I think people just because of that situation that Stampede became such a headache that nobody wanted to deal with approving it, so it just kind of got left behind I think, because I was a big fan of their library so I don’t know why, there had to be a reason why I didn’t at least pitch it a couple of times because I used to do the schedule, the entire 12-month schedule for the Network for everything VOD, so everything that came out every month, I was the one that was scheduling. Every August, I would go and schedule the next full 12 months and get it approved, so somebody must have along the way said “Hey, can we stay away from the Stampede stuff?” That must have happened at some point, I just can’t remember when that was, and I probably just never revisited it for whatever reason. 

Jesse: You talked about this before, you’re no longer with the company, and you’re talking about what I would consider almost lost stuff at this point, like the Stampede stuff exists but it’s not on there, some of the Florida stuff exists but it’s not on there, do you have any optimism that we will see any of this stuff ever uploaded it. It seems like the philosophy of what they’re interested in putting on their streaming services has changed, but do you have any idea whether fans will eventually be able to see some of this stuff? 

John: Yeah like, I don’t want to paint the picture the wrong way, there wasn’t like anybody saying that CWF couldn’t air, and again there was the Bret stuff, but I don’t think there was anything necessarily blocking that stuff from airing, it just was difficult to put together to air, I guess is the answer, so I’m not blaming anybody. I’m just saying most of the time it was more of a difficulty putting it together than anybody saying that they wanted to go in a different direction or were preventing us from putting anything up, that wasn’t necessarily the case at all, I do want to make that clear. But do I have hope? I don’t know, at this stage of the game, and from what I do know because there is a former colleague of mine and a close friend that is still there, that stuff kind of ended up in his lap and from the last time I spoke with him a couple of months back about that kind of thing, he said it was still a thing, still going but it’s basically an afterthought at this point, so he just kind of does it, puts it up, and kind of no one says anything. 

Brandon: It’s just the Peacock era, I think almost everything has made it over to Peacock for US viewers, but I don’t think they’ve added anything, I know there’s some WWF Superstars episodes I believe that have been added, but as far as like older territorial stuff, that’s apart of libraries that were acquired, I don’t think any of that has been. 

John: It’s very small, but to be fair, a lot of the stuff, like I think I mentioned earlier, a lot of those territorial libraries are for the most part complete, like World Class is complete, Mid-South proper is complete. There’s another Mid-South show that I can’t think of off the top of my head, it was another weekly Mid-South show that we didn’t bother doing that work on because it was too legally difficult to get around, because the music was too much and we just couldn’t get it out, but let me clarify, the Mid-South library from what we acquired, what WWE acquired, like there are missing episodes, absolutely there’s missing episodes, but that wasn’t our fault. We put up every episode that was given to us in the purchase from the Watts family, whatever they gave us we put up. World Class is the same, some of the episodes were damaged, some of the episodes are missing, 100%, but the weekly WCCW show, all of those episodes that are owned by WWE are on the air. There’s nothing that was left behind, that library in our view… Another thing that people were really interested in at that time was okay, well give me news when the library is complete, that’s what we want to hear now, we want to to hear this library is complete, this library is complete, so that was kind of my thing for a while, for a good running year or so, was make sure we tell everybody when we complete the libraries. So in our view, like I said, and there’s more you know, ECW is complete, certainly WCW is not because there’s so many facets of it but like, Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, that’s complete. I’m trying to think of what else, let me see I got some notes here. 

Brandon: There’s a little bit of Smoky Mountain on there. 

John: Yep, trying to think but those are complete, those libraries are complete. Smoky Mountain was, I’ll get to that in a second, and I say that because a lot of times like you were saying earlier, I think about the tape exchanges back in the day, old school style, that was done often, if we thought something was really important and we didn’t have access to it, there were guys on our staff that were very, very good at that kind of thing, that would go out there… 

Brandon: So you’re saying that if you didn’t have the master of a given episode? 

John: True, and if we thought it was important, now we didn’t do it on every episode because that would be a waste of money, so we did it on episodes or in certain instances that we thought were super, super important and we thought we have to have this as part of this package or this library or this story that we’re telling here, we certainly access to knew how to get access to folks online that would have said masters, and then it was kind of a kayfabe situation, we certainly didn’t tell them WWE were knocking on their door; we just told them we were miscellaneous, like whoever was doing it, and we did that about a million times, I mean, all those ECW Supershows, which are now complete, I had a part in, one of the last things I think I was very involved in, those were all purchased online. Paul never gave us any of those. Those are all online purchases and redone, so those are tricky too because you don’t have any audio to mess around with, you have to figure it all out, because it’s kind of a complete master, it was difficult to work with, let’s put it that way. 

Brandon: And what do you do if there’s a New Jack match where they’re playing “Natural Born Killaz” through the whole match? 

John: I wish I had my editor, my editor friend on this call, he could tell you a story or two about that because him and I worked deep into nights doing New Jack matches, just New Jack matches only, I kid you not, and you laugh but I’m telling you Brandon it wasn’t funny, it was painful, absolutely. So what we had to do, and we got it down after a while, after you did five of them you didn’t have to worry about it as much anymore. We would have to through… I picked out a new piece of music, which was one of my all-time favorites, and again that was one of those lucky occasions, for the most part, that we had Joey Styles on a clean channel, so we had the commentary, if you have the commentary the rest is basically cake, except for New Jack, so when we got into those matches, we knew we had Joey, so we were good, but we ended up just combing through his sound effects machine, all our audio editors have thousands of sound effects that they could choose from, so we would find one and we would label it “toaster” and we would find one and label it “keyboard” and we’d find one and label it, uh, “broomstick”, you know? We would find one and we would label it “computer monitor” or whatever, “toaster oven”, “mop”, “can”, and then we would just use those all throughout, and rebuilding those matches, no lie, just those matches alone would take longer than it would take us to rebuild the entire PPV, it was that difficult, and it was an adventure, but every one of those New Jack matches is on there, we never lost any of them which is again something I’m real proud of. We tried to keep the integrity as best we could. I’m really glad you brought that up, because that was a memory that I hadn’t thought of in a while. 

Jesse: Speaking of editing, anyone that ever had WWE Networks knows that if they were to type in “Benoit” in the search bar, nothing would come up, what was it like dealing with that kind of content, because to my knowledge I can’t think of any Chris Benoit matches not existing on the Network, but it did seem like obviously there was a directive to not promote him in any way shape or form on the Network, I’m sure he’s not in any thumbnails, I’m sure he’s not in any match listings, the content is there but you have to find it yourself. Did that require specific editing on your end, and I’m also curious to know if there’s anybody else who was given that directive, or was it solely an issue related to Chris Benoit? 

John: So yes, certainly that was a major, major directive especially pre-Network, so pre-Network, for Classics, he was a no-go. He was a no-go, matches were removed, mentions of him were removed, graphics of him were removed. He was an absolute, and that was a tough, tough get too, because that was similar to what we spoke of earlier with your blurring the WWF logo, it’s the same kind of thing, and you would have to make notes of it. In the notes they would say, “scratch logo, massive cursing, Benoit,” that would have to be noted, every time, and that was I guess more when we got to Network because then he was allowed, because we didn’t want to lose any integrity of any shows, and I guess he did a lot of good wrestling, let’s be honest, he did, so I think things changed, I think legally it changed, I think feelings changed, again we just follow direction. I don’t want to give you information that I don’t have because that’s not fair, that was never something I made any calls on, I just did what was I told. But, so others, if I can think for a moment, I know that there were, certainly down the line… Like I think one that I can remember that came in the last five or so years, ten years, whatever it might have been, was Buck “Rock n’ Roll” Zumhofe, if you guys know that story about that dude, it’s not a good one, he did a lot of really bad things to a lot of really young women, so he was certainly then on the list.

Brandon: He would have been in AWA, somewhat. 

John: Yep, but the other tricky part was he jobbed for us a lot, that nobody knew about in the 90s, on like Superstars. 

Jesse: Right, because you have this massive library and you never know where the guy’s gonna come up, especially if it’s someone who you never thought of before, and I remember seeing all that Buck Zumhofe stuff here and there. 

John: Right, and if you’re not a wrestling guy like we are, you wouldn’t know who the hell Buck “Rock n’ Roll” Zumhofe was, so a lot of our younger staff had to be taught that, and I’m trying to think if there were others. I’m pretty sure there were definitely a handful but I can’t think of any other off the top of my head, but if I do I’ll bring it up later, if we’re still on the call here. 

Brandon: I’m looking at this Wikipedia page that’s called “WWE Libraries”, and they say within that is IWA-Puerto Rico, so that is something that WWE owns?

[Editor’s note: WWC’s library is actually being discussed here, not IWA Puerto Rico]

John: Yep, forgot about that one. Absolutely, so that one was definitely when I was there, I went through all of it because again, one of my jobs was to comb through the stuff and make sure everything legal to air, right, so I did a lot of that, it took the guys a long, long time to get because there was a lot of it and, at the time we were all tapeless at that point so it takes the guys a long time to ingest large, what we call ingest large chunks of footage, it just takes a long time, so I wanted to air it I want to say in 2019, if not 2020, right before the pandemic, I think I was going to air in some sort of a… It might have been late 2019, I wanted to air in like Spanish heritage month, it’s a combo of September/November, September/October or October/November in that area, and I don’t remember why, I don’t know if it was maybe an approval thing or we couldn’t find enough full episodes that were good enough to air without so much problematic music that would have taken us weeks to turn it around, I think that was what I remember, but yeah I combed through a lot of it, that was a library that we definitely had on our radar for a long, long time, because so many guys wrestled for Carlos Colon, who was the owner and promoter. 

Brandon: It’s saying 1999 to 2001, do you know if that’s accurate? Obviously IWA-Puerto Rico existed long before that. 

John: That is inaccurate. 

Brandon: It looks like it’s just listing the development. 

John: Yeah, that’s not accurate. Yeah, it’s the whole thing, because I saw footage from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s. 

Brandon: Right. 

John: Yeah, their music situation was dreadful, so I know that was an issue, and it was harder because it was outdoors a lot, so they aired a lot of this stuff from Roberto Clemente Stadium down there, so that was difficult to match the audio and the music and things of that nature, an outdoor crowd to an indoor crowd is a lot different. So yeah, that’s definitely a library that WWE does own, I did not have a part in that one, I don’t remember why, I think it just kind of came up and then I heard about it, next it was in the can, so I don’t know why I didn’t, but the answer is yes, it’s definitely WWE owned. 

Jesse: Were there libraries that you tried to purchase that you were unable to, where you reviewed the quality and the content wasn’t worth what they were asking for. 

John: Absolutely, yep, one that stands out to me is… Do I know the name of it off the top of my head, that’s the challenge, it was owned by Dick the Bruiser…

Jesse: IWA, in Indianapolis?

John: I was going to say IWA… 

[Editor’s note: World Wrestling Association (WWA) was the wrestling company based in Indianapolis and associated with Dick the Bruiser.]

Jesse: He ran like an outlaw promotion…

John: Yeah, like a lot of it was an AWA spin-off, a lot of those AWA guys. So, we went to Indy, it was always me and another colleague of mine, and it was good, it was okay, it’s just like some of the talent wasn’t great, and I want to the quality was decent, I don’t remember it being poor, I know it was in a nice storage facility, some of these things were not, so that was a major issue on some of them, but it was run by his wife, because he had passed away, so I think the asking price was too high for what we viewed the quality of the purchase was, I don’t think there was enough A, B talent that was worth a million dollars if that’s what he was asking, and I just made that up. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I believe that was the conclusion, it was not worth the price, I mean we certainly spent a few days down there and certainly combed through a lot of it, but I think that was it and like I said, I don’t recall it being a quality issue, but like for instance, to that point, the Von Erichs, the library on one hand, the tapes, the regular show, and we got multiple shows from him, there was another thing called Texas Wrestling, which was prior to WCCW, so some of those episodes are around, I don’t think there was a full library to air, and then there was another one that was…No, no I’m sorry, Texas Wrestling was way back, that was in the Fritz era so the 50s and 60s, and that was all film and there’s definitely been clips of that on air here and there, but those again are difficult to put together because they’re only like one or two matches, it’s never like a full show, and those were awesome and in great quality. The tapes themselves for the regular World Class show were stored wonderfully, they’re in a storage facility, cooling, the right temperature. The film footage and a lot of this Texas Wrestling stuff was, and Kevin is a good friend, Kevin Von Erich, he stored them on the Von Erich ranch in a barn, in the backyard, so you imagine how some of the quality of those tapes were, those film reels were. You know what happened to some of those film reels? When they opened them, they turned into soot is what happened, so we lost a lot of those, which was unfortunate because they just weren’t stored properly. 

Brandon: And that was older footage? 

John: Yeah, film canisters. 

Brandon: Before the 80s footage? 

John: Like I’m talking about when we got them back there, we had guys in hazmats suits opening them up because the smell was so raunchy. It just was hard to even be around them, because they were stored in a 150 degree barn for 20 years, or whatever it was, so sometimes those things didn’t work out, thankfully we were able to save some of them, like I said there’s probably at least 30 or 40 of those reels that are good, and that’s just a guess, there was a couple of others that we never went to see and review, it got to a point where it was non-negotiable anymore, because I think obviously there was a pricing issue and I think that happened with the Paul Boesch group down in Houston. 

Jesse: That’s a famous missing library. 

Brandon: Billy Corgan now owns those rights, I believe. 

Jesse: “Missing” isn’t the right word, but a famously… 

John: They had it, it was negotiated with for quite a while, I had a buddy that was involved in it and I think they just couldn’t come to the right asking, so they never sent us out there, that’s what I believe, and some of it came over with Watts, so we do… Sorry with the we stuff, I’m just so used to it, I worked there for a long time, but WWE has some Houston Wrestling because Watts and he [Boesch] had an agreement, and again, somehow this part of the agreement was actually legal, I don’t know how it was, but it was, because they did a lot of swapping, and Watts did a lot of shows in Houston with Boesch, like a co-promotion kind of thing, so some of that does exist in WWE, and we did some stuff with Portland I think, we definitely did a negotiation for the Piper DVD because that’s where Roddy started, and we got the rights to the Roddy footage from Portland and then I think there was a deal on the table and somehow it got scrapped. I don’t remember what happened to that, and then there was certainly talk over the years with the LeBelles, out in LA, because that was a lot of good stuff with Pat Patterson and Ray Stevens and a lot of that type happening out there in San Francisco and LA and that kind of thing, and I don’t know why that never happened, again I think there was a pricing issue but this is just me speculating, and then there was a lot of other ones that were on the list, like there was a master list at one point with all the libraries that were out there, some of them I didn’t really even know, or know about, so certainly there was some more up in Canada that were talked about from time to time, with like the Rougeaus, and… 

Jesse: Yeah, I was gonna ask about Grand Prix. I feel like I remember WWE purchasing Grand Prix? 

John: Grand Prix was on the radar for a lot of years, and again, I don’t know, I don’t have the answer, it would have been nice, it would have added us another territory to deal with, which is always… 

Jesse: Because that would have a lot of A level content, like you’d have a ton of Andre stuff. 

John: Yeah, without question, and I don’t know what the answer is, I know it was talked about probably for a decade, and then nothing happened, I don’t know. Like I said, that was kind of out of my realm, I didn’t have anything to do with it, I was just the guy who went there and made sure it was good. 

Brandon: I wanna ask you about one of the tape libraries that I hear territorial wrestling fans talk about a lot, as sort of this revolutionary era of TV wrestling, and I think it’s pretty fragmented as far as the ownership goes, but that’s the Memphis tape library, particularly throughout the 80s. 

John: Yep, 100%, unfortunately. You know, we did get… it was a separate purchase, I forgot about this, too, there was a separate purchase of USWA, not the Lawler version, the Jerry Jarrett version so WWE owns that. 

Brandon: Is that Global? Is that what people mean when they say Global? 

John: Global is part of that too, yes, there was a couple different shows, Global was one, and then like USWA Excitement, or I forget what the name of the show was, but there was that, because we’ve aired those before, definitely have seen the light of day because Booker T and Stevie [Ray], that’s where they started, so we’ve used that before for those guys before they were Harlem Heat, so that does exist, and that was basically… That is when Fritz went out of business, Jarrett took over the territory basically and made it USWA, they had a match at the end that was like World Class versus USWA, that was like the last World Class match that ever happened, and they had [knocks on table] I should remember this too, the USWA prevailed, so they became USWA, they were wrestling right out of the Sporatorium in Dallas like World Class, but it was a different organization, but Memphis was always talked about, and the fact that a lot it was owned by Jerry The King Lawler, and he was a loyal employee of WWE for a hundred years now, that we couldn’t make that negotiation happen always blew my mind, I just could never figure it out, he certainly let us use it from time to time, but the full purchase just never came to fruition, he was always weird about it. 

Brandon: Does he own it, because the impression I have is that the Memphis promotion went through various different entities, and different owners over time, so… 

John: You’re absolutely correct, so what happened was I think that was a big stick in the negotiation because he would say “Yeah, this is all mine,” and then upon further review it was like three different guys, it wasn’t all his, at all, so thank you for jogging my memory, that’s exactly what it was, it was owned by several people, I think Jarrett was still one of them. There was certainly a couple other guys that were involved over the years, that’s why we could never make that happen because there were so many different moving parts that it was not doable, and like I said half the time The King was on the up and up, and the other half of the time he wasn’t, so that was hard to figure that out. 

Brandon: In March, Tony Khan acquired Ring of Honor, are you aware of any negotiations or pursuit that WWE had of the Ring of Honor library or any kind of licensing of their tapes? 

John: I’ve got to image that was on the table, but that again I can’t speak to it because it was after me, so I don’t remember that ever being a thing when I was there because they up and fully active at that point, they were doing their own thing and they were pretty damn successful at that point. I guess it was always talk that like, wouldn’t that be great if we had, if we get in some deal with Ring of Honor, like anybody would want to do that because we had most of the guys on the roster, so yeah I would imagine so, but I don’t remember that being like, oh we’re getting close, oh we’re going to make a deal, like that was never a thing as far as I knew. 

Jesse: You’ve touched on this a lot throughout the podcast, talking about what it was like working for WWE. How would you describe the work environment of WWE as an employee there for a long period of time, if it changed over time, or if it was always kind of the same… The way you described it as kind of like inconsistent, out of control, there’s the goals, then the goals move, and then you change what are your operations are going to be, and what you’re supposed to be focusing on, there’s new directives, how would you describe just the overall nature of working at WWE? 

John: Look, every company has certain quirks and ups and downs and things of that nature, it’s just part of being a billion dollar organization, I would imagine. It’s hard to say, sure at times it was frustrating, sure at times it was difficult, but you went there and you did your job, and you did your job to the best of your ability and if directives change, directives change. If you put in a lot of work and it ended up going in a different direction, hey, listen, that’s kind of the way it is was, the way it is I guess. You just had to adapt and you had to roll with the punches, but at the end of the day you had to do your job to the best of your ability, and put the other nonsense aside, and just work hard. It was certainly a lot of ups and downs, and certainly a lot of all over the place kind of stuff. I mean anybody who tells you that’s not the case is not telling the truth, so yeah certainly I think that’s an accurate painting. 

Jesse: Did you work closely with Vince at all, I know that probably when you were more on the television and commentary side of things. Did you work with him? 

John: No, rarely. I mean, he certainly would, I guess, say hello from time to time, but I had very little interaction with Vince. 

Jesse: So who would you say was over your time, especially when you’re working with the Network and things like that you were overseeing, who was like your direct supervisor? 

John: Well, why is that relevant? 

Jesse: Oh no, I’m just curious. 

John: If you don’t mind, I’d rather not name names. 

Jesse: No, that’s totally up to you. 

John: I would love to, but I think it’s probably in my best interest to not do that. 

Jesse: Understood. What do you think about WWE’s content now that it seems like they have more of a cable presence, where some of this work that maybe you would have previously seen on the Network, and maybe projects that you worked on for the Network, are now getting deals like the A&E Biography series, and they’re doing like the post talk show kind of aspects of it, what do you make that, seeing their content is spreading beyond just the Network and beyond just this niche interest, into presumably lucrative cable deals. 

John: Look, I think it’s great for the product. It’s great for the company I guess, similar to what we talked about earlier, I think there’s a lot more deep Standard and Practice folks over there as well, because that’s what I’ve heard, I know the shows have been very difficult and a lot of times come back with, like I mentioned with the Fox folks, X amount of changes that you just didn’t see coming, and I know it’s been a long, long process, and I know it’s been a lot of hours from what I heard, and what I know. Look, it’s wonderful, I’m a wrestling guy like I told you, to see the product get spread about to other viable networks is cool, yeah it’s great. I love the Biography idea, even though it’s a weird off the track, not WWE thing, just like those Dark Side of the Rings, that’s interesting, cool stuff, that’s wrestling relevant, I guess, so it’s really nice. I mean I love to see them get out there and I think AEW is doing a bang-up job, so it’s all good, I’m just waiting for them to have some kind of a streaming situation and I’d love… I’ve already pitched myself out there to be involved in that if that ever happened, so yeah, it’s great. 

Jesse: They need someone to scrub ROH tapes, and I’m sure there’s a lot of ROH that needs work, the ROH library has a lot to… 

John: I would imagine there is, because especially from years past, obviously, so yeah I’m fascinated that they’re doing stuff now, especially now with like Warner Brothers and Discovery on board, that they’re not having them clean that stuff, as far as the Blood and Guts the other week, or whatever that was… that was not 2020 wrestling, anymore, but there are folks who think that’s what it’s supposed to be so, that’s okay too, I’m just surprised by it, that’s all. 

Jesse: I’ll say this about Discovery/Warner, their biggest annual thing outside of the NBA Playoffs is a block of programming that is all about sharks, and someone showed a listing of a show tonight where it’s like, I think it’s called Sharks versus Pigs, and the theme is that sharks will be essentially eating pigs that are trying to swim away from them, so I think it’s kind of funny when I hear “I don’t know if Warner is going to be on board with all this blood and guts,” I’m like have you seen some of the other stuff they show? 

John: It’s a good point, it’s a good point. 

Jesse: It’s kind of funny, but wrestling is unique in how its violence is portrayed. 

John: But I guess that’s what I heard, and I’m sure you guys heard this, that’s why they’re doing shark cage gimmick on the next AEW. 

Jesse: It’s a tie-in, yeah. 

Brandon: Sponsored by Shark Week. 

John: [laughing] Oh my God, can we move on? 

Jesse: I wanted to ask, just to kind of wrap things up here, for your general reflections on the Network, I mean it’s a really interesting legacy as far as one of the first kind of OTT services of its kind, and then kind of how it’s legacy shifted from the point where it’s no longer available in the United States at least, and it’s kind of been enveloped by this Peacock thing, but overall what are your kind of things and reflections of having worked on the Network for pretty much it’s entire existence, especially those years where it was rumored about and it was supposed to be a cable channel I believe was the original thought behind it, just kind of what are your general thoughts on the WWE Network as a concept, as an experiment, as a way to present the product and these video libraries, what are just your general thoughts on that? 

John: We were actually running promos on our Classics shows promoting the Network in 2012, and then having to pull them down and pull it off when they said, yeah, that’s not happening anymore, so we got bit by that as well, but in general I mean, I love it, that’s a big chunk of my life is there, and we worked very hard to get all of those shows up and to clean up all those shows and make them relevant and presentable and enjoyable, and look, the concept is great. I mean it changed from time to time, like I said the back and forth with the linear was kind of a tough bump, and then VOD is your star, and then not as your star, obviously again was not my favorite thing that happened, but I guess it just kind of evolved. It evolved into more original programming, then not, and I guess that’s kind of what people that are making the decisions are on board with these days, so that’s kind of where it’s at. I think it’s not available in the United States unless you have Peacock, I think that’s unfortunate for some folks, because some folks can’t get it or some folks aren’t willing to do it, I would have rather it just stayed, but I mean again, it’s a lucrative deal for the company, and they’re gonna do that every ten times out of ten, and they would be foolish not to, I suppose. I guess that they wanted them to think more about the everyday fan, I guess you could make that argument, but it is still corporate and it is going to be run by corporate folks and do best for the bottom line, I mean any company is going to do that, so I think overall it’s been successful, it’s certainly had ups and downs, no doubt, but I like certainly what we were able to accomplish, when we were kind of running that whole situation, and I’m proud of it and I hope that it certainly gave some people some joy and some memories and had some fun with it. Hopefully it continues to evolve down the road, and I sure as heck wish I still had a hand in it to be honest. 

Jesse: I mean definitely I think as a regular, from the fan perspective, I think it’s now taken for granted because all of our content is like this, but there’s just the absolutely in going from having to tape trade, having to download torrents if you could them, having to hope they had certain things at the video store or buying DVDs. I used to go to Newbury Comics and buy DVDs because they had the rented ones, the used ones. It’s just such a difference.

John: It’s amazing and wonderful to me, to have a part in that and to be, I would argue, a major part in that and I’m trying not to toot my own horn but I’m just trying to be honest, and I’m thrilled and I’m proud and just to have all of that at your fingertips is amazing in this day and age. If we only had when I was a kid, you would have to search and search and search, like I grew in Boston and we ended up actually getting World Class on the first syndicated deal that they ever made, and you had to figure out where it was on the old dial and whatever, we didn’t have VCRs back then, I’m old, so to have all of this stuff at your fingertips and for me to be able to go through all the World Class stuff that I remember as a kid and to be able to produce it and give it to other folks, and to become friends with Kevin Von Erich who I idolized when I was kid. It’s crazy good and you know Michael, I mean PS, I’ve known my whole life, not my whole life, my whole career, I’ve known him since I walked in the door at WWE, so that’ stuff is unique and it’s cool and to be able to present that out there, with thousands of hours and be responsible for a majority of it, and to give that to the audience, to the WWE Universe and others is super cool, so.

Jesse: I was gonna say, only in professional wrestling can you say “I’m getting on a plane to talk to the widow of a man named Dick the Bruiser.” 

John: Exactly, exactly. 

Jesse: “It’s a very important business deal we’re working on with the widow of the late Dick the Bruiser.” 

John: “The late Dick the Bruiser’s wife, who has some tapes she’s sitting on that are going to cost us a million bucks, but we’ll get back to you.” 

Jesse: Alright well thanks so much for participating in this, I think it’s a really interesting conversation and happy for Brandon to help put it together. 

John: Absolutely, absolutely, thank you guys for having me, I appreciate it very much and Brandon like I told you in the past, please do not hesitate, you know where I am. 

Brandon: Yeah, thanks a lot, thanks for being so generous with your time. I think people who are big fans of all varieties of regional wrestling from back in the day and who grew up as tape traders like I did, hopefully they’ll really appreciate this and appreciate the work that you’ve done as well to help us see all this stuff, so thanks again John. 

John: I hope so and I thank you, thank you guys very, very much and I’ll look forward to it, hopefully I’ll get a look at the finished product sometime. 

Brandon: Cool, alright, thanks again, John. 

John: Alright, very good guys, take it easy. 

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 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 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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The future of WWE NXT 2.0 on the USA Network

During “The Gullo Report” on the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston and Chris Gullo discussed WWE NXT 2.0 and what the future holds for the brand. The show is now more of a developmental show with young wrestlers like Bron Breakker leading the way, and many fans have wondered what this change into a more developmental brand means for WWE. Thurston gave his thoughts first by explaining where WWE is with NBC Universal and their deal for NXT.

“I’ve heard some discussion earlier this week about what the future of NXT is,” Thurston said. “NXT has a multi-year deal that was renewed in March that has just begun in fact, has just gone into effect. Term one just came to an end, which was a two-year deal, and whenever I go through all the data, when I’m looking back at when Dynamite started, and I have to be like, oh, yeah, NXT had these two weeks in September 2019 where they had one-hour episodes that were unopposed, yada yada.

“I wonder if the deal starts there and ends two years later in the middle of September, and for some reason, the timing of that is the reason why they did NXT 2.0 when they did, if that coincides with the beginning of the second term or second deal that we’re now under for WWE and NBC Universal for NXT. I don’t think WWE is getting that much revenue for NXT being on the USA Network.

“I think they were originally taken off the WWE Network to go on linear TV for the notion that Triple H had this overperforming developmental brand that was doing really well and maybe we could grow its popularity, and oh yeah, by the way, we don’t want to compete with AEW. That had nothing to do with it, god, no, but I think they wanted to compete with AEW.

“And that reason combined with the opportunity to maybe grow a third brand that would generate major media rights fees like Raw and SmackDown have, I think that was the play, and NXT did not win the Wednesday Night War. They got handily beaten most weeks in total viewership. I think every week except for one in the demo out of the 70 some odd weeks that they were running head to head, and it didn’t work out.”

Thurston continued as he talked about the new change in direction for NXT post Wednesday Night Wars. He then discussed if he sees NXT 2.0 on the WWE Network or remain on USA Network.

“There doesn’t appear to be a huge media rights value opportunity here related to the NXT brand,” Thurston stated. “The play, at least now, is to sort of hand wave Triple H’s vision of doing cool wrestling and to really make it a developmental brand that serves Vince McMahon’s wants for talent. As far as a media property, what is the goal for NXT?

“Let’s say this is a two-year deal. Who knows? But let’s say three years from now, when, if this is a two year deal, then the two year deal will be expired, is NXT still on the USA Network? What’s the viewership like? I don’t know. When you’re the USA Network, you could put what was in the slot before, Law and Order SVU reruns or something, which don’t cost you really anything because you probably own that intellectual property.

“I don’t know if there’s royalties that you have to pay out associated with that or all the costs are, but it’s not an original program they have to produce, and it’s probably quite profitable now. It’s probably got a pretty low demo rating. I don’t know if it’s got a better demo rating than this, which is a 0.14.

“I could see NXT being back on the WWE Network in a couple years, but I don’t have a strong feeling that NXT is going to be cancelled by NBC Universal / USA Network. I think it helps, even if this is sort of a breakeven for the USA Network in terms of what revenue they’re able to get out of NXT. Even if they’re not making money here, it’s still deepening their partnership with WWE, which is important to them, for Raw, which is by far their number-one program on the USA Network.

“It’s important for them with Peacock, which they need to grow for the future, and WWE is a significant part of what’s keeping people using Peacock, probably at least a million people who were used to watching WWE stuff on the WWE Network and now have got to go to Peacock to do that.”

WWE President Nick Khan has revealed in interviews that PPVs like Money in the Bank and SummerSlam have done better viewership on Peacock than on the WWE Network compared to 2019 numbers. Thurston then explained further why he sees NXT staying on USA Network.

“It may be just linear TV’s need for live content as we’ve seen the explosion of the number of wrestling programs that are on television,” Thurston noted. “Maybe the the bar has been lowered for how high you have to jump to get over to get on to linear TV, because linear TV needs live programming.

“It needs programming that people want to watch live now more than ever. So I remain somewhat optimistic.

“Although, I wouldn’t be shocked if NXT is no longer on the USA Network a couple years from now, but I remain optimistic that that’s going to continue to be the case, even though NXT is not this more ambitious brand in itself in terms of getting itself. Its priorities seemingly have changed to serve the main roster proclivities.”

Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for 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 Q1 2021 Earnings Report Estimate and Preview

WWE releases its first quarter 2021 earnings today. Financial details will be disclosed covering the period of January 1 to March 31.

An earnings report and other documents are expected to be released soon after the market closes at 4pm ET. A conference call will be streamed live at 5pm ET on WWE’s corporate website with comments from CEO Vince McMahon, president and chief revenue officer Nick Khan, chief financial officer Kristina Salen, and chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon.

At 8pm ET tonight I’ll do a livestream review of the WWE earnings report exclusively for patrons at Video and audio will also be available for patrons on-demand afterward.

Keep in mind Wrestlemania happened in April, so details related to those events may be limited. The two-day event generated $6.2 million in ticket revenue, according to records we obtained through the Tampa Sports Authority. Information related to ticket or merchandise sales for Wrestlemania would be included in reporting for Q2 (April 1 to June 30). Earnings for that period will come out in the next quarterly report, in July or August.

The average stock analyst covering WWE estimates the company will report an earnings per share ratio of $0.22 for Q1, according to Seeking Alpha. That implies an expectation of about $18 million in net income. The consensus revenue estimate is $257.5 million. The market will be closed for trading for the day, but WWE’s stock price might move accordingly if WWE reports figures lower or higher than those estimates.

For the quarter, my estimates are $231.5 million in revenue, an EPS of $0.20, operating income of $31.2 million, and net income of $16.9 million.

Cells shaded in green for Q4 assume there is a major event held in Saudi Arabia during that period. Categories shaded in pink are profit metrics.

Here are a few subjects and questions that might be addressed in the earnings report or that stock analysts might ask about in the Q&A session on the conference call.

Revenue structure of the Peacock deal

On the last earnings call, in February, CFO Kristina Salen indicated 2021 would be the biggest revenue year in the five-year lifetime of the new Peacock deal. Salen said:

2021 will be the biggest year in the deal from an incremental revenue and adjusted OIBDA perspective, because upon delivery of the deal, so to speak, upon the onset, we have to value the subscribers that we’re transferring over and we have to value any IP that we’re transferring over. And that will be all recognized in 2021. And then in 2022, you’ll have the regular revenue recognition of the ongoing deal.

Details reported or other new guidance related to the WWE Network segment might shed some light on how the company was compensated by NBCUniversal for the Network content in Q1. It’s important to remember Peacock launched WWE Network content on March 18, with just under two weeks remaining in the reporting period, so Peacock payments might be prorated into only a small fraction of the quarter. The Network segment might also be affected by cancellations of U.S. subscriptions for the final days of domestic version of the Network.

Measuring WWE Network success going forward

How do investors measure success for WWE on Peacock? Nick Khan said in a recent interview (before Wrestlemania) that the Fastlane pay-per-view, the first monthly peak event on Peacock was a success, but that NBCUniversal had asked WWE not to disclose numbers. I would be mildly surprised if WWE is able to quantify any information related to the performance of WWE content on Peacock going forward. That said, WWE might still continue to disclose subscriber counts for its international markets, as it has in the past. If so, that will be a way to track engagement in Network content

In that case, how did international subs perform in Q1? Do we get any news on what the international sub count was immediately after Wrestlemania?

Growth opportunities in licensing

The Other media segment (when it doesn’t contain Saudi event revenue), which contains WWE Studios, is increasingly driven by licensed content, including from A&E programs, E! reality series. There’s a Netflix document on Vince McMahon announced. What other licensing opportunities does WWE think are possible there?

What other areas of growth is WWE going to focus on? With perhaps a return to live events and normal life in the foreseeable future, is there an opportunity to license WWE content to a major theme park? Universal Studios seems like an obvious candidate, since NBCUniversal is by far WWE’s biggest customer. Perhaps the lesson learned early in the pandemic about how much money can be saved by producing Raw and Smackdown at a fixed location could be adopted in short-terms as part of a theme park agreement.

What did WWE learn from its release of its first NFTs (featuring The Undertaker) earlier this month? Does the company feel this is a product its fan base will continue to have interest in? Are there more NFT sales on the horizon? Is this yet another licensing opportunity?

International strategy

Nick Khan made clear he sees Latin America and specifically Mexico as a region where WWE could grow revenues. Does WWE see that region as a destination for a performance center and an NXT brand. Given how different the wrestling culture is in Mexico compared to the U.S. and western environment where WWE dominates, what’s the company doing to ensure it’s ready to execute effectively in that market? 

Is EVP Paul Levesque “global localization” strategy still a vision the company intends on executing in the way Levesque presented it at the WWE Business Partner Summit in 2018? What other regions, possibly including India and Japan, does WWE see opportunities for expansion?

The Thunderdome is expensive

Media operating expenses should reveal another round of hints about expenses related to the Thunderdome and Capital Wrestling Center, although it’s been made pretty clear at this point by executives’ comments and company filings that the current production setting, with fans watching remotely on screens, is more expensive than a live touring model would be.

Stock buyback program

Is WWE resuming its stock repurchase program that it put on hold at the beginning of the pandemic? The company ended 2020 with more cash on hand than at any time in at least the last 15 years by a 2x multiple, so can likely afford to buyback shares again as a way to return value to investors. If WWE is not resuming the program, what’s the argument to shareholders for doing so given the cash-rich state of WWE’s finances and guaranteed nature of much of the company’s revenues?

Reporting methods

This is the first quarter for the new year and with a new CFO in place. Will WWE’s reporting methods change? Is the current segment detail structure (seen in the table above) the way Salen and WWE want to report going forward?

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

Final evaluation of the WWE Network

For anyone in the U.S., Peacock Premium becomes the exclusive home for WWE Network content, beginning April 4. It will be the end of an era of business for Vince McMahon’s company, which seven years ago boldly launched its own streaming service.

So let’s reflect. Did it work out? Is WWE more or less profitable today because of the Network? Is the sale of the domestic rights a sign of failure? Could it have turned out differently? I’ll try to answer those questions here.

There are a few signs the WWE Network was a disappointment, including:

  • The WWE Network, as implemented, has not produced an obvious positive return on the investment, in my estimation. I will explain further in this article.
  • Subscriptions plateaued around 1.6 million by 2019, well short of WWE’s public goal of 3 million.
  • Former co-presidents, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, the architects of the Network strategy were abruptly terminated in January 2020, at the same time WWE made clear it was interested in selling the rights to the Network content and discarding the direct-to-consumer model.

What we need to know about WWE Network profitability

Figuring out whether WWE is more or less profitable today because of the Network is ultimately hypothetical. To do so, we have to conceive of at least one alternate scenario and compare it to WWE’s actual financial performance during the years in which the Network existed.

It’s important to understand a few points when thinking about the WWE Network, which makes concluding the company made a positive return on this investment more difficult:

  1. The WWE Network cannibalized the pay-per-view business, as many people are aware.
  2. It also cannibalized DVD/Bluray, digital VOD sales, and internet pay-per-view sales.
  3. An issue often overlooked: The timing of the WWE Network launch negatively affected WWE’s TV rights negotiations that were ongoing in early 2014. Vince McMahon confirmed this publicly.
  4. The WWE Network required around $66 million in start-up expenses. These expenses were incurred beginning as early as 2011, according to company public filings, which raises the financial benchmark for a positive return on investment.
  5. But there were benefits too. The Network allowed the company to sell more ad inventory and increased the number of viewers who saw sponsors on monthly peak events.
  6. A vast amount of data was collected since millions of user accounts were created, which allowed for targeted marketing. However WWE’s attempts at selling wrestling fans’ data to third parties was disappointing, I’ve been told.
  7. And you could write a whole other article on the potential opportunity WWE may have had in growing a video streaming business (much like its shuttered WWE 24/7 and Classics On-Demand business) that attempted to monetize the company’s video library but didn’t include live broadcasts of monthly PPV events.

Later on in this article I’ll show the results of my estimates about what WWE’s profitability could’ve been, in an alternate timeline, if the WWE Network was never launched, compared to my estimates of the company’s profitability in our actual timeline. Profitability is here measured as OIBDA (operating income before depreciation and amortization).

This estimate is somewhat further complicated by the fact WWE changed its financial reporting method after 2017, requiring me to do estimates on the actual timeline as well as the hypothetical “alternate” timelines.

To come up with a likely scenario where the WWE Network is a financial winner, I have to imagine a “bear case” alternate timeline in which pay-per-view demand from 2014 to 2020 severely declines.

Alright, let’s try to do the math

Following these graphs are the key assumptions behind them.

For the “actual” timeline, we have actual OIBDA details in the segments shown in the above column graph reported by WWE for the years 2011 to 2017. Because WWE changed its reporting method thereafter, estimates had to be made for the years 2018 to 2020. The key assumptions for those later years were:

  • WWE Network OIBDA margin of ~33%
  • Digital Media OIBDA margin of ~30%
  • Digital Media revenue equivalent to ~67% of media ads & sponsors revenue.
  • Home Entertainment OIBDA margin of ~13%. Revenues less than $2 million, beginning 2019.

For “Base case” alternate timeline, the key assumptions were:

  • Traditional PPV generates ~$44 million in incremental annual OIBDA, 2013 to 2020
  • Internet PPV generates ~$4 million in incremental annual OIBDA, 2014 to 2020.
  • Home Entertainment OIBDA at a rate of ~1.5x of actual timeline, beginning 2015.

For “Bear case” alternate timeline, the key assumptions were:

  • PPV and internet PPV sales and profitability decline over time, consistent with worldwide Google search trends, resulting in $63 million less (-14%) lower OIBDA from pay-per-view.
  • Same Home Entertainment assumption as “Base case”.

Below are revenue and OIBDA estimates tables for the three relevant scenarios: “actual”, “base alternate”, and “bear alternate”.

You’ll notice I didn’t deal with the benefits of ad revenue or the value of user data, mentioned earlier, in these models. WWE’s filings don’t give us much clue on how to calculate those values. I tend to believe those factors’ accretive OIBDA is relatively low on the scale of the calculations made here, but maybe it makes the difference of a few million in OIBDA.

If we accept the “bear case” conclusion that the WWE Network added about $42 million in OIBDA for the company, that would mean the WWE Network meant, at best, a 5% increase in OIBDA over the entire Network era. WWE generated about $915 million in total company OIBDA in the years from 2011 to 2020.

In this generous “bear case”, the Network provides a small incremental increase in profitability, but not the kind of “transformational” change that was hyped at the product’s launch.

So why didn’t things turn out better?

The $9.99 price point was too low, possibly because WWE executives misunderstood the product’s place in media In pricing the Network, WWE placed itself nearer to scripted entertainment pricing than sports. In hindsight, $15 or $20 monthly would’ve been more appropriate.

At the time of the Network’s launch as well as today, sports leagues charge their fans higher prices for access to out-of-market games. That’s especially evident if you average the annual cost only over the months in which the league operates its regular season, as shown in the “Standard price point” chart above. 

Per month of its regular season, MLB charged $18 in 2014. The NFL went as high as $60, and higher today. Yet in its domestic market WWE in 2014 and until it transfers rights to NBCU in 2021, charged subscribers just $10 monthly — more along the lines of the monthly fee for services like Netflix or Hulu.

So why did WWE price its service at $10, more like a scripted entertainment service and less like a sports streaming service?

Since Vince McMahon took control of the company in the 1980s, he’s worked hard to move his wrestling product toward being seen as “show business”, entertainment rather than sport. I think one of the core impediments for WWE growing its consumer revenues is McMahon’s unwillingness to embrace his product for the simulated sport that it is. Usually, that flaw only manifests in onscreen creative. McMahon is normally an effective corporate leader, eager to bet on new media like cable TV, pay-per-view, social media, or streaming. But in this case, his philosophy of imagining WWE “not as sport but as family-oriented sports entertainment” may have been a detriment to corporate strategy, too.

Pay-per-views were sold at a variety of price points for many years and it didn’t seem to have a strong effect on sales. The PPV price of the biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania, nearly doubled in price from 2005 to 2013, gradually increasing from $35 to $60. It’s not clear price increases affected demand.

It’s much more likely, in my view, whatever affected the change in Wrestlemania PPV sales from year-to-year had much more to do with the hype around the matches on the event. It was a good business decision to raise the PPV price on Wrestlemania (and on PPVs generally).

To illustrate a point, if the worldwide monthly WWE Network price was about $20, paid subscribers could have been half of the actual achieved number (about 1.5 million) and generated similar revenue.

1.3 million subscribers at $15 monthly would generate $234 million annual revenue, almost 30% more than the actual performance of the Network in 2020, and edging out the average annual value of the new Peacock deal ($200 million). This hypothetical $234 million, though, is far short of WWE’s original goal of 3 million worldwide subscribers at $10, generating about $360 million in revenue.

In retrospect, as we explored earlier, it’s likely value was lost by essentially underpricing $60 PPVs at $10 for seven years. That lost value can hardly be regained. The Peacock deal (worth an average of about $200 million per year) salvaged the value remaining in PPV events by guaranteeing incremental revenue over a direct-to-consumer subscriber business (generating around $132 million domestically per year) that fell stagnant. Trying to put the genie back in the bottle and revert to a la carte sales of monthly events at a high price point would likely be met with resistance. I think it would present a massive friction point for a significant number of regular customers. WWE and NBCUniversal apparently recognize the old model can’t be reverted to at this point, given the decision to keep monthly PPVs as part of a low monthly fee.

Disenfranchised wrestling fans who would like to see WWE face economic consequences for perceived bad creative, is a sentence this media economy, with its need for live sports, never serves. Better developed stars and creative would’ve helped Network subscriptions, for sure, but the Network disappointed more due to strategy than creative.

The fault of the WWE Network was that executives didn’t recognize that wrestling is maybe the only medium on Earth that so overlaps sports and scripted entertainment. And if you understand that peculiarity, you’ll better understand wrestling price points, DVR viewing, linear viewership, broadcast rights, and probably more.

Final answers

Is WWE more profitable today because of the Network?

It’s a hypothetical question, but the answer isn’t an obvious ‘yes’. The Network as a business was more profitable than the previous pay-per-view business in isolated years, but the Network’s startup costs and cannibalization of other businesses offset much of the financial benefits for the duration of of the service’s run as a mainly direct-to-consumer product.

Is the sale of domestic rights a sign that the Network failed?

It’s a sign that it didn’t work out the way it was expected to. Executives had lofty subscriber goals that the Network fell well short of. By 2020, subscribers didn’t look like they were poised to grow much further. Raising the monthly fee would be risky. Selling rights to the content to a larger media company looking to invest in streaming at a higher scale is likely the better way to grow revenues related to the content.

Could it have turned out differently?

Certainly. In hindsight, I think the Network was obviously underpriced. I think a lower but not-that-much-lower number of subscribers could’ve been captured at $15 or even $20 monthly. Or access to the full library could’ve been part of a higher-priced premium tier. Or the most popular pay-per-views could’ve been left off the service and continued to be sold for $60 while still monetizing the library and other new content via streaming, which might’ve generated greater profitability.

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

How the WWE Network’s launch affected Raw and Smackdown rights negotiations in 2014

Next week I’ll post a longer blog looking back on the WWE Network’s effect on the company’s finances. Here is a tangent that didn’t fit in that article, about an often overlooked way in which the Network launch impacted WWE’s business.

NBCUniversal (which owns television networks) and its parent company Comcast (which owns cable TV systems) were apparently uneasy about WWE’s entry into the streaming business with the launch of the WWE Network on February 24, 2014.

Also in 2014, WWE and NBCU were negotiating terms of a new deal for Raw and Smackdown. The then-current agreement was set to expire in September 2015. Other sports properties like Major League Soccer were attracting big upgrades in rights fees. WWE had just gotten a strong increase in fees from its United Kingdom partner, Sky. Optimism about what WWE might garner for rights in the U.S. swelled.

CEO Vince McMahon famously told an analyst, in August 2013, “I’ll allow you to put a hammerlock on me if we don’t” at least double U.S. rights fees from WWE’s current deal, which was worth somewhere in the ballpark of $77 million on an average annual basis. Doubling or even tripling that value, as some speculated was possible, would result in a new multi-year deal worth $150 million or even $230 million per year.

Enjoy the audio of the memorable “hammerlock” exchange below:

Audio: Vince McMahon’s “hammerlock” comment, responding to a question from PAA Research analyst Brad Safalow, from WWE’s second-quarter 2013 earnings conference call on August 1, 2013.

NBCUniversal’s exclusive negotiating window deadline of February 15, 2014 passed without a new deal for Raw and Smackdown, leaving WWE to negotiate with other potential media partners.

Hopes of a big raise in rights fees caused WWE’s stock price to surge to as much as $30 per share in March 2014, three times higher than the $9 shares were valued at the year prior.

On May 15, 2014, news broke that WWE and NBCUniversal made a deal after all. Analysts estimated the new agreement was worth just 1.7x over the value of the current deal. Some estimated as low as 1.5x. In any case, it was well short of the market’s expectations. Wall Street was already not blown away by early subscriber counts for the Network. The announcement of a disappointing TV deal caused the remaining bubble on WWE shares to burst. The stock price fell back to its value before the run up.

WWE’s stock price during the relevant time period

What exactly were NBCU’s (or any alternative U.S. media partner’s) reasons for not rewarding WWE with a bigger contract, we can only guess. But it seems plausible a TV distributor for Raw and Smackdown would be unsure how the WWE Network, which would contain episodes of those programs on a 30-day delay, would effect the linear viewership of WWE’s flagship programs. Plus, the Network served to undercut pay-per-view sales from carriers, including cable systems like those owned by NBCU’s parent, Comcast.

“We were a little disappointed with our NBCU deal, quite frankly,” McMahon said on an emergency public conference call for investors on May 19, 2014.

By the CEO’s own admission, the timing of the WWE Network launch “definitely had a negative impact” on negotiating a deal favorable to WWE.

Daniel Moore (CJS Securities analyst): You’ve maintained, obviously, that the launch of the network would not cannibalize viewership, and would not impact negatively your negotiating position for the TV rights in North America with NBCU. With hindsight, was the launch of the network a sticking point for your current and potential cable partners, and would you have considered delaying it, if you had to do it over again?

Vince McMahon: That’s a very fair question. I’ll answer that one. I think it definitely had a negative impact. How much of it, I don’t know, by coming out with the Network before we finished negotiating all of our rights. The other aspect of that is that if we didn’t come out with the Network when we did, it would take us another year, because the idea there was to come out with the Network at the strongest point, which would be Wrestlemania, so it’s a chicken-and-egg kind of situation. I do think, though, that was part of, I don’t know if it was a significant aspect, but part of a lighter number, in terms of television rights. So I think that’s a fair thing to say.

WWE Business Outlook Conference Call (5/19/2014)

Despite the disappointing deal in 2014 (going into effect in October 2015), with just a 1.7x increase, WWE did manage to get a huge increase in fees four years later in the following round of negotiations. By splitting rights to Raw off to NBCUniversal and selling Smackdown to Fox, the company got a 3.6x raise, worth in total about $470 million per year, going into effect in October 2019 through September 2024.

This makes the issue of the Network’s impact on WWE’s finances even more fuzzy, to me at least. Did the 2018 3.6x increase make up for the disappointing deal in 2014? Or would WWE have been able to get a similar deal regardless. In other words, did WWE miss out on two consecutive 3x increases? Or would the 2018 increase have been lower if the 2014 was larger? I have no idea.

If WWE did indeed miss out on two huge increases in rights fees for Raw and Smackdown, that would leave little doubt that the Network strategy, as implemented, was not financially beneficial — largely due to timing.

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