Last night on Monday Night Raw, heels Triple H and Stephanie McMahon went overboard with the WWE Network hype, going over the top with the push that subscribing to the channel was just $9.99 a month. Apparently, the obnoxious sales pitch was driven by real-life anger at all their WWE fans who are either too cheap to sign up for such a bargain or cancelled their subscription long before their six-month commitment was over.
Today, it was time for them to put their cuddly corporate hats on, as Hunter and Steph joined WWE's Chief Strategy & Financial Officer George Barrios for a "fireside chat" with senior business analyst Laura Martin at the Needham Interconnect Conference for investors in New York City.
For those that aren't familiar with Laura Martin's name, she's one of Needham's business gurus who pushed that WWE's stock price was significantly undervalued in mid April, when it was valued at $20 a share, and at WWE's Q1 2014 Earnings Call was clearly of the belief that the WWE Network had the potential to get six million subscribers.
Frankly, the fireside chat was quite a bizarre event, as Martin predominantly asked naive wrestling questions and avoided much business talk, so it was left to the audience to ask the more probing financial questions. One of these was how the UFC had impacted the wrestling business, which allowed Triple H to enter into a very long-winded rant about how WWE was completely different from any real combat sports and wasn't in competition with them for viewers:
"They aren't really a competitor to us and I explain this to our talent this way in the Performance Center and every time I say it people will say to me oh, that made it very clear for me: people like UFC, they like boxing, but it's completely different from what we are. We are like the movie Rocky. We're a story. We're a great story that just happens to take place sometimes in the wrestling ring, so if you think about us less of Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match which you'll watch one time and on pay-per-view and then once that fight's over it's kind of done, you know, and you're really not going to go back and watch it a bunch of times unless you're a connoisseur of boxing science, you're gonna watch it one time. But Rocky the movie you will watch over and over and over again. It's the story, it's the characters. Boxing is irrelevant to the movie really. It's a triumph story, it's a love story, it's all those things and that's what we do. We create characters that you gravitate towards, that you connect with, that you passionately engage with, you believe in on a visceral level, whether you hate them or love them. We put them in unique storylines with creative passions and good guys and bad guys and the drama and sometimes love throws. We were married and divorced once on TV long before we did it for real, you know? It was a dry run, that's why it works so well, we got it out of our system. You know, you have all those components, but that's what makes us so successful and at the end of the day that's what makes the Network successful because while a sport, who is gonna go back to watch the Superbowl from '84? Yeah, right, unless you're a massive technical football fan! Or who's gonna go back and watch boxing from five years ago, you're not, or UFC, it's the same thing, it's the same component. But our product is evergreen, because its the characters and the stories that you engage in, that's what makes a passionate fan of the WWE and it's lifelong, because even if you move away from it, even if you become a lapsed fan, you get out of college, you don't have a lot of free time anymore, you get a job, you have kids, you do all those things, and now all of a sudden your kids start to watch, and you get on the Network and you start to watch the Attitude Era or the '80s, that Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior that you watched when you were a kid and all that emotion comes flooding back to you and it's something that you don't put down, that you don't walk away from, it's always there and it's very easy to get hooked back into it to watch it again."
One gets the feeling that WWE, especially now, does not want their business compared to UFC's. Although the WWE Network is believed to have significantly more subscribers than UFC's Fight Pass, it's believed that UFC's online channel is already profitable due to lower overheads. Moreover, UFC didn't cannibalize their lucrative pay-per-view revenue stream in the process of establishing their own station like WWE did. Thus, UFC has the very best of both worlds and when the day comes when they can make more money from airing their PPVs on Fight Pass they can follow suit without all the teething problems WWE is having at the moment. This is one play where Dana White has completely outmaneuvered Vince McMahon and scored a resounding touchdown.
Although there's some truth in Hunter's statement about wrestling programming having more rewatchability than repeats of sports events, it's still a very niche audience that wants to watch hours on end of old rasslin' shows. That's borne out by the most viewed shows on the WWE Network being their live WWE specials, NXT, Main Event and Legends House. Clearly, they must serve the audience that is subscribing for a regular supply of old-school action, but they will need more than just that if they are going to entice more casual fans to pick up the Network, which is imperative for them to hit their 2-4 million steady state subscriber goals they're still touting. Unfortunately, there seems to be a sense of complacency within WWE that all we need to do is upload enough old footage and keep offering the monthly pay-per-view specials on the Network and that the people will subscribe if we can just get it through their thick heads that it's only $9.99 a month.
Stephanie too also got her ill-timed shots in at UFC:
"In addition to that with UFC you can pay money to watch a pay-per-view and it can be a terrible fight. Right? The guy you were really rooting for that UFC has been building as a star gets knocked right off and suddenly that person doesn't really matter anymore and all that investment is lost. You never have that with WWE. We strategically build all of our Superstars and characters and we know when they are going to win and we know when they are going to lose. Uh, we do! [audience laughs] And we build characters and make them these megastars, it's all very intentional and you're guaranteed to get your money's worth. It might not necessarily be the outcome you want, but you're guaranteed to have a great match, to have a great pay-per-view and you're guaranteed to be entertained."
The problem is WWE often sours on wrestlers on a whim (like Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler) or books themselves into a corner with an unbeaten character (like with Ryback) and kills their momentum worse than if they got KO'd in a real fight. Stephanie's schtick about how WWE always delivers great value and guaranteed entertainment also comes off a tad hypocritical when WWE just delivered a universally panned Battleground pay-per-view where they cancelled one of the most anticipated matches on the card (Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins) for storyline purposes. That would never happen on a UFC PPV and it shouldn't on a WWE event either.
Regarding the WWE Network, the only revelations were that episodes of WCW Nitro will start airing in the next 45 days in conjunction with the Monday Night War documentary series and that the global version of the channel will be the same as the U.S. (except in Canada) with the same price point of just $9.99 a month with a six-month commitment.
For a more detailed write-up of the Needham fireside chat, please check out Chris Harrington's excellent coverage on Bleacher Report.