The only thing more solid than the muscles, smackdowns and pile drivers laid down by the stars of the WWE is the company’s television ratings.
WWE events have been so strong for extended periods of time on TV that networks can rely on the programs to not only perform well on a weekly basis, but to provide a foundation upon which an entire net can build.
WWE airs its flagship show, “WWE Raw,” on USA Network, with its slightly geekier sister station Sci Fi Channel airing “Extreme Championship Wrestling” (aka “ECW”). Fox’s fledgling MyNetworkTV has “WWE Friday Night SmackDown,” and “WWE Superstars” is coming soon to WGN America. Each show is produced inhouse by the WWE. The series form a reliable, large stable of fans that tune in every week.
That adds up to impressive numbers — about 15 million viewers a week.
“Nielsen will tell you that only 30% of people who watch ‘Raw,’ our flagship show, will also watch ‘SmackDown’ on MyNetworkTV and vice versa. Those are our two biggest brands,” says Kevin Dunn, exec VP of television production for WWE.
For the networks that partner with WWE, getting that many eyeballs is too good an opportunity for marketing and branding to pass up.
Many of those fans are men 18-34 years old and often even younger. Says Brad Adgate of Horizon Media, “WWE attracts an aud that doesn’t watch a lot of TV. They’re playing games and watching broadband and not really would you call glued to the TV set.”
“When you have over 6 million passionate fans coming to your network, it obviously creates a halo effect,” says Chris McCumber, exec VP marketing for USA Network. “It creates a great platform week by week to be able to promote your other programs.”
USA took the opportunity presented by its reunion with the WWE in 2005 — the network had aired WWE programs 1993-2000 — to integrate its popularity directly into its “characters welcome” rebranding effort.
“Nobody does characters better than the WWE,” says McCumber. “It fit perfectly into the brand we were creating around ‘Monk’ and the guys from ‘Psych.’ To have the WWE characters at USA was very important for us in launching this brand.”
That included having WWE characters appear on scripted shows, such as “Burn Notice.” The stars of USA’s shows also have returned the favor by appearing at WWE events.
“The more you intersperse and intermingle WWE people with the other characters of our original series, you really start to see a dividend,” McCumber says.
Dunn says WWE has always taken a long-term view when it comes to TV production and working with network as partners. The Connecticut-based org started its own studio facility in the 1980s and has continually upgraded its capabilities to give its programs high production values.
While WWE handles all the creative aspects of its programs, Dunn says the company works very closely with its partner networks on marketing and branding to get the most out of each channel’s demographics.
For example, Dunn says WWE is working closely with marketing, development and creative execs at Sci Fi to develop a rebranding plan for “ECW.”
“The marketing and the branding is definitely a 50-50 effort,” he says.
That’s at least part of what drove MyNetworkTV to pick up “SmackDown” from the CW when the rights became available. The deal has allowed the network, which is undergoing a dramatic lineup change next season that will feature less original programming, to completely redefine its image.
“It’s been a game changer for us,” says Paul Franklin, the net’s exec VP, sales/marketing and program development.
Since “SmackDown” debuted in October, MyNetwork’s ratings on Friday night have been up 200% with adults 18-49.
“It’s put us on the map. We’re looking for more programs that would marry up with it.”
While the MyNetwork lineup will get a complete makeover, “SmackDown” will remain in the Friday night slot.
BY THE NUMBERS
$530M Annual revenue
300 Live events per year
77 International events
74,000 No. of fans attending WrestleMania 24
4.6M No. of readers of WWE magazine each month
$1.3B Revenue from videogame units
44.7M No. of videogame units sold since 1999
$15M Homevideo net revenue for 4Q 2008
$15.9M Pay-per-view revenue for 4Q 2008