WWE Rules the Ring
Round-the-clock content, a cache of superstars and a presence in many retail categories helped the WWE become a world-class brand.
The WWE is one of the world’s most recognizable brands. The giant of professional wrestling and sports entertainment has grown into a billion-dollar company that holds more than 300 live shows a year and broadcasts in more than 150 countries. It also has an active consumer products group that has more than 150 licensees in more than 85 countries worldwide, generating more than $1 billion in retail sales through global distribution.
Built on the strength of its stars and TV programming, the WWE currently has more than 100 Superstars and Divas under exclusive contract. In addition, it has an extensive vault of legendary stars that are part of the organization’s history and properties. The company can use its current star power to activate social media to promote products and remain flexible at the retail level.
“We have created style guides and artwork that allow us to tap into each star’s identity and personality,” says Casey Collins, executive vice president of consumer products. “We’ve also created a legend style guide that can help us bring fans of our legends back in the fold.”
Reaching the Market
On television, the WWE is simply a juggernaut. It produces more than six hours of original programming per week on a global basis, and has an American audience of approximately 15 million viewers each week. Its TV programs include Raw on USA Network on Monday nights, Smackdown on Syfy on Fridays and Total Divas on E! on Sundays. Approximately 90 percent of its programming is live plus same day.
“One of our biggest changes came in 2008 when WWE changed all of its prime time TV programming to TV-PG,” Collins says. “That allowed us to appeal to more families and mainstream sponsors.”
These programs are the main ways the WWE brings compelling characters and storylines into the homes of its fan base. It delivers more viewers in prime time than any cable network. In comparison to other athletic organizations, it has an average viewership in the United States that is surpassed by only the NFL.
Pay-per-view events are another key component of the WWE’s ability to reach out to its audience. It holds 12 pay-per-view events each year, including WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series.
All of this content has created a fan base that is extremely diverse, attracting an audience with large percentages of Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic and other ethnicities. It is also a multi-generational audience, as WWE content appeals to fans from two-years-old to 50-plus. Although the audience is primarily male, about one-third of the WWE’s fans are female. The fan base also includes different levels of fandom, from passionate to casual and lapsed.
“Very few brands have that kind of diversity,” Collins says. “Family viewing and attendance of live events is something that our sponsors and partners love. We sell family entertainment and can provide content that every type of fan can enjoy.”
Adding to the brand’s ability to deliver content to fans is its presence on digital media, which includes the recently launched WWE Network. Its WWE.com website attracts 4.9 million monthly unique U.S. visitors and 12.7 million monthly unique visitors globally. On social media, it has more than 330 million combined fans and followers. Its presence on YouTube has garnered more than 1 billion video views and more than 3 million subscribers. In addition, the WWE App has more than 11 million downloads.
The launch of the WWE Network is considered an important milestone for the company. A subscription-based, 24/7 streaming network, it features all 12 pay-per-view events, as well as scheduled and original programming, a large video-on-demand library and live content. It is available on multiple platforms and will soon include additional programming such as live studio shows and a new reality series.
“The network gives us a lot of options in terms of programming,” Collins says. “We can appeal to fans of our current stars while also delivering content that embraces our rich history.”
Another recent digital development for WWE is Slam City. Aimed at its youngest audience, Slam City consists of 26 two-minute webisodes that are produced in conjunction with Mattel’s Playground Productions and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios.
“Slam City is a series of original animated short-form episodes with new storylines around the brand,” Collins explains. “It takes the Superstars out of the ring and introduces them to kids through animation. It engages the kids and appeals to parents.”
Thanks to its rich content library, active digital presence and large slate of live events, WWE has been able to establish a strong presence in a wide array of consumer product categories. From apparel and home, toys and home entertainment to novelties and party goods, video games and publishing, WWE is one of the most successful licensed properties in the retail industry.
“Since I got here two years ago, I wanted to strengthen our four pillars, which are toys, video games, home entertainment and apparel,” Collins says. “In the consumer products world, you will succeed if you have solid products in those categories. We have shored up each of those areas, seeking out best-in-class partners and filling in the blanks.”
With toys, one of the signature aspects of its program is its global partnership with Mattel. It is the No. 2 action figure brand in the United States. Only the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are ahead of the WWE, which means it is selling more action figures than brands such as Star Wars, Spider-Man and Power Rangers.
In the home entertainment space, WWE produces a number of home DVD products. In 2013, WWE had a 77 percent share of the sports genre, with all 10 of the top titles for the year. In fact, it held the No. 1-selling sports DVD for 49 out of 52 weeks. For video games, the WWE partnership with 2K has been one of the most successful in the sector. Since 1999, WWE video games have sold more than 60 million units, producing more than $1.8 billion in revenue. WWE video games are the top fighting franchise of all-time, while the WWE is a top-20 overall video game franchise of all-time.
Combined with all of that success are products that extend from caps, t-shirts and Fatheads to keychains, books and beyond. WWE is also focusing on new categories it has not previously exploited fully, such as fitness DVDs, mobile gaming and quick service restaurants around the globe. It is hard to imagine a retail category where WWE would not be able to gain some traction.
“We look for partners with a global reach and a commitment to product innovation,” Collins says. “We have our own internal category experts that work with our partners to be sure we are giving fans what they want.”
Having developed into a world-class lifestyle brand, WWE will continue to look for ways to enhance its content and create consumer product programs that can strengthen its position in the market. It will look for international growth, as it has eight international offices that are looking to help the brand grow around the world. WWE has made recent investment into the consumer product group’s headcount and offices in international markets including Latin America, India, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia to optimize regional opportunities.
WWE understands that the retail world is only getting more competitive. Retail space is shrinking, and there are a lot of strong properties. But as a brand that is active 52 weeks per year, it doesn’t have to rely on the big movie tent pole to generate buzz. It doesn’t have the seasonal nature of professional sports. It has live events and a never-ending stream of content that can continue to put the brand in front of fans and spark interest in its consumer product offerings.
“This is a living, breathing brand,” Collins says. “That is a strength, and we spend a lot of time educating retailers on why we are special and why they can rely on us.”