World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) – Get World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Class A Report has struggled in its home market.
The company’s television ratings have fallen which can’t be making its major partner Comcast (CMCSA) – Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report and Fox (FOX) – Get Fox Corporation Class B Report all that happy. Both companies have billion-dollar deals with the self-described “sports entertainment” giant, and neither has fully gotten what they expected.
It’s not that ratings are terrible. Instead, the problem is that in its home market WWE has slowly become less popular. Its live shows don’t draw as well as they once used to and rival All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has given the company its first real competition in decades.
AEW isn’t going to supplant WWE anytime soon as the incumbent has many times the revenue of its rival, but AEW has taken a lot of the shine away from WWE. That changed a little bit at Wrestlemania, WWE’s biggest event of the year when Cody Rhodes, the son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, made the move back to WWE from AEW,
That was a big moment for pro wrestling or “sports entertainment,” if you wish but it hasn’t really made WWE a hot brand in the U.S. The company, however, does have a growing audience in its number two market and that could be very big for the company and its shareholders.
WWE Takes Over India
India has long been a big market for pro wrestling, but it has not been an easy one to make money in. That’s changing at the same time as WWE grows its audience in the country of 1.38 billion people.
“India.com reported that 56.1 million people watched WrestleMania on Sony Sports,” wrote Dave Meltzer, the top journalist covering pro wrestling in his Wrestling Observer newsletter. “The claim was that the Saturday show was up 34% from last year and the Sunday show was up 33% from last year in live viewing and in total viewing it was up 29% from last year.”
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That’s a big jump and it’s coming at a time when market conditions have changed in India. Wrestling, specifically WWE (but not only WWE) has generally been the second-highest-rated sport on television in India, according to Meltzer, who also writes for SI.com.
“The article also listed all the WWE stats of how WrestleMania was bigger than the Super Bowl (social media impressions, video views, engagements, and video watch time) which are the kind of stats where you learn to throw them out because key stats are those that relate and drive money and tell interest,” Meltzer wrote.
On a global level, he shared, “The Super Bowl had 19 times the interest as WrestleMania as far as worldwide goes, and the only country in the world where WrestleMania was bigger than the Super Bowl was in India, based on Google searches, which is the lone social media metric that has been able to correlate to money when it comes to PPVs and major events.”
The problem with wrestling’s popularity in India has been that wrestling companies have struggled to monetize fan interest. That’s changing rapidly, according to Meltzer.
“You couldn’t sell PPV or network subs there at all, and live shows were almost always disappointments because people aren’t used to paying for tickets for live events.,” he wrote. “That is no longer the case as the television rights fees for WWE in India are second only to the U.S., and India has been the market whose television rights fees at times kept Impact in business.”
WWE Takes on the World
WWE has tried a variety of different strategies for growth around the world. At one time it planned to open developmental territories in a number of countries where wrestling has been popular, but it only opened a single one in England. Now, it has focused its attention on growing its audience through its core product (which has included using Veer Mahan, a wrestler of Indian descent) in a semi-prominent role on its television programming.
The company also plans to bring a “major stadium event” to the United Kingdom. This marks the first time in over 30 years the company will have held this type of event in the UK. It will take place at Principality Stadium in Wales.
WWE’s Wrestlemania may not be bigger than the Super Bowl (even in India) but the company has been a leader in U.S. sports leagues when it comes to growing its brand (and its revenue) around the world.