WWE had their annual shareholders meeting yesterday. The resounding message was Hallelujah for The Rock who gave something for the McMahons to crow about after a disappointing business close to 2010 at a time when they have to sell their expansionary rebranding plans to a sceptical stockholder base. Noteworthy news included:
- As Variety reported, thanks to The Rock's appearance at WrestleMania (and no same weekend competition from a major UFC PPV unlike last year), WWE are projecting that the show did 30% more buys in North America and 15% more elsewhere. If the projections hold up, then the show did roughly 1,087,000 buys worldwide making it the most successful WWE PPV show since the Donald Trump WrestleMania four years ago and one of their most successful shows of all time.
- Vince McMahon is (still) vainly hoping that this will mark the turnaround in WWE's PPV business, despite the obvious flaw in this theory being that The Rock isn't scheduled to appear on any of their non-WrestleMania PPVs. Changes in their ailing PPV formula look unlikely as Vince defended their themed PPVs idea and PG no blood policy, even going so far as to say: "People aren't going to tune in to see people bleed. That's archaic thinking." Occasional blood doesn't seem to have hurt UFC's popularity. Speaking of UFC, a pesky smark questioner finally forced Vince to admit that WWE now intentionally tries to avoid running their PPVs on the same weekend as a major UFC event and that UFC's increased competition on PPV has indeed hurt WWE's buyrates, not to mention the economy and piracy. Which is part of, but not the whole, of their current PPV business predicament.
- In order to help pay for their ambitious growth and rebranding initiatives, WWE shortly before the meeting announced a revised dividend policy, which slashed their dividend from $0.36 per share to $0.12 per share, more in line with the market average. The news only caused the price of WWE stock to drop 8%, probably because the move had been expected for weeks and business analysts had long tabbed that their prior dividend level was unsustainable in the long term because their profits never came close enough to covering the cost of such a high dividend.
- Stockholder scepticism at WWE's planned growth initiatives raised its ugly head again when Vince was put on the spot about his past non-wrestling business ventures like their football league, the XFL, their bodybuilding federation, the WBF, and their Times Square restaurant, WWE New York. Learning from his LA Times interview where he was bullishly arrogant about sticking to what he knows best, the entertainment business, and bragging about his company being the absolute best at television production and live event touring in the U.S., Vince emphasised that he didn't plan to stray away too far from the core wrestling product with any outside business acquisitions. I doubt this is a change of heart, but more a change in sales pitch, after his quotes to the LA Times didn't go down too well with one of their largest investors, Royce & Associates.
- Speaking of these growth initiatives, Vince McMahon talked vaguely about potentially launching new television programming with their NBC Universal partners, somehow monetizing their in-ring live event content through Amazon, Google and Netflix, and of course launching their long planned WWE TV network. More concrete details about the ideas for their network were given in the subscribers only May 2nd Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Apparently the rebranding of the company from World Wrestling Entertainment to WWE is partly to do with not wanting their network to be perceived as the pro wrestling network, but instead as a general entertainment network. They want to air and develop non-wrestling programming with characters they can market, merchandise and tour with, similar to Dora the Explorer and High School Musical. Of course, the backbone of the network will still be their wrestling tape library and any shows like NXT and Superstars that they produce for international markets, but haven't got a TV outlet for in their home market. The hope is that the television network will eventually be worth more than their wrestling franchise, similar to the New York Yankees and their YES network.
- There were some moments of hilarity in the Q&A session. Like the stockholder pitching the stunningly original idea of a wrestler going on a six month winning streak before having a big match on PPV. Even better was the person who implored Vince to "please save the business from Dixie Carter" by purchasing his TNA competitor, while adding the backhanded compliment about his daughter that "Stephanie McMahon has more brains than Dixie Carter". Vince blew off the question with a non-commital "maybe", being uncertain whether they're for sale or not. Hopefully the Carters don't take this answer too seriously and think they can get Vince to pony up a similar $40 million plus price tag to the one Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment got the Fertittas to pay for Strikeforce.