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WWE television deal shows that, for networks and advertisers, wrestling fans are B+ players

As Wall Street continues to react negatively to WWE's new television contract (even, or maybe especially, without details), the issues with the deal again point to one key factor - networks and advertisers don't really value the pro wrestling audience.

As the markets process yesterday's news of WWE re-upping with NBC-Universal as their television broadcast partner (and they're not taking the news well, with the stock opening at a little more than $11 per share, down from the lofty $20+ heights of a couple months ago), fans are left with few details.

We're still waiting for word on the length and value of the deal, if there are any plans to go live with Smackdown or move it from Friday nights, and when content aired on NBCU properties will be available digitally, either on Hulu or WWE Network.

What we can take from the length of negotiations, the low-key tone of the announcement and the reaction of industry pundits is that WWE probably didn't achieve their dreams of tripling (or more) their rights fees based on the value of their audience size or the "DVR-proof" nature of live events.  And that once again falls down to two things:

  1. Despite the company's efforts to make their product more family-friendly and steer away from controversy, advertisers are still not that interested in partnering with pro wrestling, regardless of the quantitative size of its audience.
  2. The major factor driving that is that WWE/pro wrestling's audience doesn't have terribly desirable demographics.
  • 44% of WWE viewers have attended some college; as opposed to a 66% national average
  • Half the WWE audience earned less than $50,000 per year in income; compared to only 30% falling below that number among sports fans in general
  • 12 million Americans self-identified as "WWE fans" (versus 16 million for UFC/boxing).  This compared to WWE's claim that "62 million US homes have an affinity for WWE")
That last bullet is especially telling, as the stereotype reinforced by the first two statistics would make fans less likely to want to publicly proclaim their viewership of wrestling - and making Raw and Smackdown much harder for WWE to sell to networks and advertisers.

Looking at the MLS deal again (and all credit again to Harrington, whose 'Wrestlenomics' work you should be following if this stuff interests you in the slightest), in 2013, MLS averaged averaged 166,000 viewers per game over 61 games broadcast.  The $75 million they stand to earn from their new contract in 2014 means they are being paid $6.64 per viewer by the networks (ESPN and Fox, in this case).

Now, assuming that WWE's rights fees roughly doubled to about $180 million per year under the NBCU deal announced yesterday.  Working with an average audience of 4 million on Monday nights and 2.75 million on Fridays, and twice weekly episodes for a total of 104 shows per year, NBCU just paid 51¢ for each of us.

Face it, wrestling fans, they're just not that into us.

More news and analysis as information about the deal becomes available and more learned minds react.

But, in the meantime, does this make you feel any differently about WWE's future business potential?  Or as a wrestling fan?  What if anything can wrestling companies or the pro wrestling community do to change the business world's perception?

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