Syfy puts marketing muscle into ‘Smackdown’

NBC U pins growth hopes on switch from MyNetworkTV

When you’re moving, it helps to have a roster of wrestlers do the heavy lifting.

After two years on MyNetworkTV, World Wrestling Entertainment’s weekly series “Friday Night SmackDown” will begin airing on cabler Syfy starting tonight. The network switch had been expected since April, but the move is one that WWE hopes will help expose its brand to a new audience and boost ratings.

Syfy is certainly spending the money to make sure that happens, with the cabler launching a major promotional push that puts “SmackDown” in front of millions of non-wrestling fans.

The campaign essentially treats WWE’s stars as superheroes, and in a dramatic series of TV spots and print ads, has them flipping through the air like caped crusaders in slow motion.

“These are superheroes come to life,” said Blake Callaway, senior VP of brand and strategic marketing at Syfy.

In addition to spots that have been airing across NBC U’s broadcast and cable channels, a prominent print ad will appear on the front page of USA Today’s Life section today, while spots will air on Virgin America’s in-flight entertainment system, and ads are running on Taxi TV and gas station pumps through NBC Everywhere’s distribution network. A massive banner has also filled the windows of NBC’s store at Rockefeller Center this week, while billboards and promos, produced with sister networks Telemundo and mun2, target Hispanic and African-American audiences.

Separately, Syfy had WWE stars attend its high-profile party at San Diego Comic-Con, and cast wrestler Cody Rhodes in a guest role in “Warehouse 13” in August.

Digital is also playing a key role in luring viewers, with to showcase a clip of the week featuring “SmackDown” match highlights, Twitter feeds, photo galleries and other content. YouTube, Facebook, IGN and Yahoo! Sports will also be supplied with videos.

The various platforms are an unusual presence for WWE, which typically turns to male-skewing outlets like 7-Eleven stores or its own TV shows, magazines, homevid releases and websites to promote itself.

In return, WWE has plugged Syfy across its various properties, including live events, by integrating the cable’s logo on displays at its “SummerSlam” pay-per-view and accompanying “SummerSlam Axxess” event for fans in Los Angeles, while plugging the new network home on WWE’s DVD releases. Of course, it’s received shout outs during “Monday Night Raw” and “SmackDown,” as well.

Syfy’s overall marketing effort launched July 6, with some of the paid media appearing through the end of next week. “Raw” will plug “SmackDown” through the end of the year.

“SmackDown” starts on Syfy as another one of its shows, “NXT,” is ending its run on Tuesday nights on the network and moving to the Internet, after struggling with ratings and formats. “SmackDown” originally bowed in 1999 on UPN before moving to the CW in 2006 and then MyNetworkTV in 2008.Deal with Syfy not only strengthens WWE’s already strong relationship with NBC U, but puts more money into WWE’s pockets, with Syfy said to be ponying up close to $30 million a year for the licensing rights to air “SmackDown,” $10 million more than MyNetworkTV paid.

Still, WWE needs audiences to tune into “SmackDown” in order to keep the show on the air.

“‘SmackDown’ has been PG since it launched in 1999, but a lot of viewers still don’t know that,” said Michelle Wilson, exec VP of marketing for WWE, which has been pushing the switch to more family-friendly programming for some time. “Our loyal viewers will find ‘SmackDown’ on Syfy but there’s still a great opportunity to grow our audience base with families.”

Wilson added that Syfy’s promos “target consumers we normally don’t reach,” and “that’s another reason why we made the switch” to the network.

Yet while WWE would be thrilled to have an entirely new audience tune into one of its shows, at the very least, it hopes to attract one group it already reaches each week — the audience that watches “Monday Night Raw” on Syfy’s sibling USA Network. WWE said 70% of “Raw’s” audience doesn’t watch “SmackDown.”

“There’s a huge opportunity to grow our ratings overall and that will be a lot easier to do with a fully distributed cable network that’s easy to find in every market,” Wilson said.

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