By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Vince McMahon and members of senior management served as the hosts of a conference call pertaining to the 2018 first quarter financial report that was released on May 3, 2018. The following are the highlights of the call. Refresh the page for the latest updates.
-The call is hosted by WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon, Co-Presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson, and and WWE Investor Relations Michael Weitz. Weitz read through the legalities and turned the call over to Vince.
-Vince said the numbers speak for themselves and said it was a strong performance. He said Raw and Smackdown and the digital media continue to push the overall performance. He said Raw and Smackdown helped USA Network become the most watched ad-supported cable network for the 12th straight year. He said digital video views increased 56 percent with 6.7 billion views. He noted that WWE remains the top sports channel on Youtube. Vince also touted the success of WrestleMania and the ten-year partnership in Saudi Arabia. “Most everything else at the moment looks pretty good,” Vince concluded.
-Barrios walked through the financial report earnings presentation. In a shocking twist (not really), Wilson also checked in during this portion. She noted that Raw has been the highest rated show on its host network in 20 of 25 years. She also noted that the Mixed Match Challenge has tallied 35 million views thus far. Barrios noted that they have a new marketing deal with Carl’s Jr. for kid’s meals that will help push WWE to children.
-Weitz had the phone lines opened for questions.
-The first caller asked how undervalued they feel their television rights are under the current contract and how they are better positioned to achieve better value this time around. Barrios said they expect to announce a new deal for Raw and Smackdown sometime between now and September. He declined to address the issue any further.
-The next caller asked about incremental revenue for quarter two. Barrios spoke about the ten year partnership in Saudi Arabia, but he said they would not get into specifics. He was asked how many events they intend to run during that timespan. Barrios said that’s still being worked out. He plugged the Greatest Royal Rumble event and said it left chills on a lot of their spines and they are very excited about the deal.
-The caller asked if they will consider increasing the dividend now that they have more free cashflow. Barrios spoke about locking down television deals and determining things of that nature in the future.
-A caller asked about the corporate expenses in 2018 and will it stay similar to 2017. Barrios said there would be increases to go along with inflation. He also cited staffing.
-The next caller asked about the performance of the Mixed Match Challenge and how it performed compared to their initial expectations. He asked if they expect to do similar content deals. Barrios recalled the number of viewers mentioned earlier. He noted the partnership in Youtube and how Saudi Arabia is one of the largest Youtube viewership countries in the world. He said it’s not a one-off.
-A caller asked if anything has happened that would help them monetize on Youtube. Barrios pointed to the overall level of engagement and the sell through rate. He said the sell through rate varies by region. Barrios noted integrated elements in terms of how they think of sponsorship and advertising. “Our ability to sell the value has improved over time as we’ve gotten smarter about it,” Barrios said. The caller asked if there’s a way for them to sell on their own or if that’s controlled by Youtube. Wilson spoke about targeting their Youtube audience with sponsors buying directly through them.
-The caller asked about WWE’s involvement in the NBC upfront event. Wilson said they will absolutely be a part of it, but she doesn’t want to steal any thunder in terms of who will be on the stage, but she did not that Stephanie McMahon will lead the WWE portion. Barrios encouraged the caller to get a ticket and said he would enjoy the show.
-The next caller asked about data analysis and the possibility of date lockdowns. Barrios said they’ve been preparing for that for over a year. He said it gives viewers more control, which he is all for. He said they use their data to help them put more smiles on people’s faces. He admitted it sounds corny.
-The caller asked Wilson if she has a sense that they are getting more and more brands because of their multi-platform reach. Wilson said the brands coming to them have seen the benefit of the reach they have even globally. She spoke about how they create and own their content, and their talent are available to work with their sponsors, which is something that sports leagues can’t always deliver. She noted that USA Network has a roster of over 200 advertisers on Raw and Smackdown.
-The caller asked about mobile games and their longer term plans. Barrios said it’s an incredibly popular platform and therefore year after year they will grow their portfolio of games.
-The next caller noted that they have yet to break up the network subscriber count by domestic and international. Barrios said the mix between the two wasn’t fundamentally different than it has been in the past.
-The caller asked about the next television deal and the range between now and September and how mergers and acquisitions with potential partners is affecting them. Barrios once again declined to say more about when the deal will be announced. He said he doesn’t feel the M&A has affected their discussions one way or another.
-The caller asked about WWE Network paid subs increases while the average revenue per sub was down a little. Barrios said there were three things happening. He pointed to the different ways the network subs are sold and pay-per-view being included in that.
-The next caller asked about television ratings in international markets. Barrios said they don’t go public with their ratings information outside of the U.S. numbers.
-The caller asked about WWE Network tiering. Barrios said they have a long history of tiering content via TV and pay-per-view. He said the tiering for the network is just another subset of that and it’s a matter of determining which content fits where. He said they have the ability to create a lot of new content in a lot of genres. He noted access to tickets and products as well. He said they essentially have a free tier via the WWE app with the free content they provide and that feeds the subscription service.
-A caller asked for perspective post Saudi Arabia when it comes to leading the charge in the women’s revolution and running in a country that is not. Wilson spoke about rebranding their women as WWE Superstars and how they feel good about that. She said they are respectful of the cultures in the countries they perform in, but they hope for change. She brought up the Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks match in Abu Dhabi. She said they are happy and proud of how the event went, and they will continue to treat those cultures respectfully and they hope to be part of the change that takes place. They wrapped up the call a couple minutes later.
Powell’s POV: An uneventful call in that they simply are not willing to comment on the television rights negotiations and they didn’t offer any new details on WWE Network tiering plans. The approach is certainly understandable, but it makes for a lot of “no comment” style answers. Meanwhile, Wilson seemed very prepared when it came to answering the question about the company running in Saudi Arabia at the same time they are patting themselves on the back for featuring female talent more than they have in the past. By the way, check out my interview with Shawn Daivari below, as he spoke about his Greatest Royal Rumble experience and the death threats that followed.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Ring of Honor's PJ Black discussing the ROH Pure Title tournament beginning on ROH Wrestling TV this weekend, ROH's COVID-19 safety precautions, his run in WWE as Justin Gabriel with The Nexus, wrestling as The Bunny, and more...