Return of the Rock fuels 'Wrestlemania'

Dwayne Johnson’s presence paid off not only for Universal’s “Fast Five” at the box office, but for WWE and its biggest pay-per-view of the year, “WrestleMania.”

The company’s main event, which also featured “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki when it took place April 3, inside Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, reached its goal of 1 million buys for the first time in three years.

Final numbers are still being tallied, but cablers and satcasters are reporting the four-hour event is up 30% in sales in North America and another 15% overseas, WWE said.

Last year’s “WrestleMania 26″ generated 885,000 orders, down from 960,000 in 2009.

Event is WWE’s single biggest moneymaker each year. This year’s show grossed $6.6 million from 71,617 attendees, up from last year’s $5.8 million when it was held in Phoenix. The last time “Mania” topped 1 million buys, in 2008, event earned more than $30 million from tix and PPV buys.

Johnson helped hype this year’s show, returning to the ring as “the Rock” after a seven-year hiatus to pursue a film career. He guested not only during “Mania” but in the weeks leading up to the show during episodes of “Monday Night Raw” on USA. Johnson has already said “the Rock” will be back for “WrestleMania 28.”

Success of “WrestleMania” is well timed as WWE is in the midst of trying to reinvent itself again.

Shortly after “Mania,” company dropped its longer World Wrestling Entertainment moniker for WWE to push its image as an entertainment company — active across all platforms — rather than the sports biz some still believed it to be.

The KFC- and AOL-like rebranding comes as WWE is in talks with carriers to launch a TV network within the next 12-18 months.

Company has spent considerable resources lately digitizing its vast library of TV shows, including workhorse “Raw,” Syfy’s “Friday Night SmackDown,” the recently canceled “Superstars” on WGN and “NXT” (which now plays online) to repurpose for the new TV channel.

WWE’s return of reality competish “Tough Enough,” hosted by former WWE star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, has performed well for USA since launching April 4. Because of its success, WWE is now considering launching several new series with NBCUniversal’s channels that wouldn’t necessarily focus as much on live events.

With the “media world changing drastically,” chief financial officer George Barrios said WWE is also looking for opportunities to monetize that video on other platforms, including Netflix, Google’s YouTube, Amazon and other streaming or subscription-based services. WWE benefits from owning 100% of its content at a time when digital platforms are clamoring for programming.

That includes a new slate of films. WWE released its latest pic, the drama “That’s What I Am,” starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, on April 29. It is self-financing pics for around $5 million each, and they will also eventually play on the new net.

To further expand, WWE will soon start acquiring production companies and branding agencies active in its space. Company plans to free up more cash to go on its spending spree.

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