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Tough economy body slams WWE

Company's net income down nearly 37%

The depressed economy continues to give World Wrestling Entertainment some stiff competition.

Film and traditional TV broadcasts provided sole bright spots for WWE as all of the company’s core businesses, including live events, pay-per-view broadcasts, merchandise sales and digital, took a hit during the fourth quarter.

Net income fell nearly 37% to $22 million on revenues of $125 million, which fell 5% over the same year-ago period. The numbers for all of last year were a little more resilient, pinning down $527 million in revenue, an uptick of 8%, although net income dropped 13% to $45 million.

Contributing largely to the losses for the quarter, WWE’s live events revenues declined 7%, impacted mostly by foreign exchange rates; company hosted 26 events overseas during the period.

However, attendance of matches in North America also fell 3% with the average price of tickets taking a dip, as well.

Of the four pay-per-views it aired, largest audience of 319,000 tuned into “Survivor Series,” which was 22,000 fewer than in 2007.

Elsewhere, sales of toys and apparel fell 11% while its online revenues were down 8% due to lower ad revenue and online merchandise sales.

WWE did enjoy a nearly $4 million boost in television rights fees from MyNetworkTV after it moved its consistent ratings generator “Friday Night SmackDown” from the CW to the Fox-owned station group last year. It earned nearly $28 million in such fees during the fourth quarter.

Another highlight was the company’s recently revamped film and TV arm, WWE Studios, which took in $5 million in revenue during the fourth quarter and $25 million throughout last year, from three pics it produced and released beginning in 2006, up from $3 million and $16 million for the comparable quarter and year in 2007.

Division should further provide a boost to WWE’s bottom line after it unspools the Renny Harlin-helmed actioner “12 Rounds” in March. It also co-produced the direct-to-DVD pics “Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia” and “The Marine 2” with Fox. It’s spent nearly $32 million to produce those pics.

The economy forced WWE to make moves to scale back, eliminating 10% of its workforce earlier this year in an effort to shave off $20 million in overhead.

WWE’s stock rose 41¢ to close at $9.73, an increase of 4%.

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