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WWE, NBCU Team Up To Grapple With Madison Avenue

NBCUniversal and WWE are tag-teaming, in a sense, to get a tighter hold on advertising dollars.

WWE programs  like “Raw” and  “SmackDown” have run on NBCU’s USA for about a decade and on Syfy for a little under five years. Yet during that time, NBCU supervised the sales of TV advertising around the two properties while WWE handled a lot of digital and social marketing, as well as the task of linking marketers to events and its popular wrestlers like John Cena or Brock Lesnar. More often than not, executives said, those efforts took place separately. In 2015, the two promise to take on all comers with a broader marketing plan.

“It really is a significant strategic shift in how we are going to market,” said Michelle Wilson, WWE’s chief marketing and revenue officer, during an interview held in WWE’s headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The two companies renewed a TV deal in 2014 that keeps “Raw,” “SmackDown” and the reality series “Total Divas” on NBCU outlets in exchange for about $200 million in annual licensing fees for the next several years.

In the first marketing pact made under the new arrangement, Viacom’s Paramount has signed up with NBCU and WWE to promote its new “Terminator: Genisys” film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, starting in the WWE’s annual “WrestleMania” event in March and on NBCU and in WWE properties through the movie’s July release. In “WrestleMania,” wrestler Triple H (actually Paul Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of talent), will make a grand entrance using imagery from the movie, and video outtakes from “WrestleMania” will be released digitally and socially in service of promoting the release, said Wilson.

“They get ad units, and they get integration in ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown,’ pulsing it from now until the film release,” she said. “I don’t think we would have gotten a deal like this done without this new collaboration, this new strategy.”

NBCU and WWE move closer together just as Madison Avenue is starting to focus more intently on the annual upfront market, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming year. NBCUniversal has in the last few years placed more of an emphasis on getting advertisers to buy a greater amount of commercial inventory across the company’s portfolio, not just at a single broadcast of cable network. Getting better access to ad packages around WWE properties could lend the media company an edge as negotiations begin to heat up.

Other media and entertainment outlets are making similar maneuvers. 21st Century Fox has placed all its general-entertainment cable outlets under a single ad-sales executive, and Viacom is now selling all its properties save BET under one ad-sales proposition.

WWE will continue to supervise sales on WWE.com and on the company’s over-the-top network and NBC will run TV ad sales, said Dan Lovinger, an executive vice president at NBCU who oversees ad sales for NBC, USA, Syfy and WWE content,  but advertisers don’t want to feel as if they have to cobble together a package by doing multiple negotiations, say, for TV commercials and a tie-in with a particular personality.

“They want to talk about the brand and hear about the depth of what we have to offer,” Lovinger explained. “In order to do that, we need a cohesive voice.”

The WWE properties may take on greater luster as TV networks find new power in live events and sports-themed content. The three-hour live “Raw” and the two-hour live-to-tape “SmackDown” are largely watched live, WWE executives said. “Raw” brings in an average weekly audience of around 4.5 million, while “SmackDown” draws an average of just under 3 million, according to the company.

NBCU and WWE will burnish four “tentpole” efforts that aim to provide advertisers something they can align their pitches with each quarter: a monthlong build-up to the WWE’s annual “WrestleMania” event; the “Slammys” award program, which will move from the fourth quarter to the first quarter to be more a part of awards season; a focus on fathers; and a theme centered on young fans.

The two sides said WWE events traditionally bring in advertising from movie studios, makers of videogames, fast-food chains and some marketers of consumer-packaged goods. WWE’s Wilson wants to do more with auto marketers, as well as makers of consumer electronics and mobile devices.

The companies also want to lure more advertisers seeking a broad family audience. NBCU has produced a WWE promo that is slated to debut Monday and will air on two broadcast networks, 17 cable networks and more than 50 digital outlets as well as on WWE-owned properties. The vignette will not only show WWE stars in action but highlight many of their charitable works. “It’s a big part of what we do,” said Wilson. “We need to tell the world that we are not just ‘rasslin.'”

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