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Vince McMahon & Triple H talk ratings, AEW, and building new stars

Vince McMahon honored with Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic

The pandemic meant WWE held their July shareholders meeting online instead of face-to-face. It also meant the company uploaded the entire thing to their corporate website.

Wrestlenomics’ Brandon Thurston (who did the work of organizing & transcribing the meeting, and who you should be reading, listening to & following if you’re at all interested in the business of pro wrestling) believes this is the first time WWE’s made everything available to the public. It gives us a little more insight into the company’s approach to business during an unprecedented time.

The comments from Vince McMahon, Paul “Triple H” Levesque and others aren’t unfiltered; they’re trying to satisfy investors. But it’s interesting to hear what they have to say, and how their answers here differ from what they might say to the wrestling media. Or from what we get from the rumor mill.

Thurston’s rundown of the entire meeting is a worthwhile read, but here are some highlights that jumped out to me.

Interim CFO Frank Riddick on WWE Network strategy:

“Payment tiers at this time, we do not believe the development of a premium tiered content strategy is the optimum approach for maximizing Network subscription value. In the near term, we’re focused on leveraging the free version that we just spoke about to enable subscribers to sample our content more easily, develop local currency pricing in select international markets in global currency, as we said, and further develop our advertising capability.”

Vince McMahon on plans to improve ratings in the long-term:

“We have a 30-plus year track record of creating compelling characters and engaging a variety of audiences, and we obviously remain confident we can continue that with our collective ability, even in the most challenging environments with no live audience.

The media echo system obviously has changed. We change with it. Our engagement metrics across platforms are understandably and obviously — however, the importance of linear programming is paramount in all of our businesses — we consistently have seen year-over-year increases in a variety of digital metrics and engagement. And positive trends have continued, even during COVID.

Conversely, TV viewership trends have been negatively impacted by COVID, obviously, and the lack of a live audience. We are still nonetheless the number-one television show on USA [Network] and consistently the number-one broadcast show on Fridays among key demos.

We expect a combination of valuable promotional inventory from our TV partners with the return of sports events programming. And a deep roster of charismatic talent will have a positive impact on viewership over the long-term.”

Triple H on NXT’s role in the company, and its performance against AEW Dynamite on Wednesday nights:

“So I think if you were to look at the NXT brand, it would be both. While it is, as Frank mentioned earlier, a third global brand, along with Raw and Smackdown, and our partners at USA, it is also the place where we make new stars and increase our talent and stars for the future, of both Raw and Smackdown. So that is the pipeline, and that is the — if you wanted to say, ‘the feeder system’, it is that, but it also has become its own third brand.

As far as the ratings go, I’m very happy with them, especially in the current circumstances. Everything is going well. We look at the long-term of that, not the short-term of that. And the long term is very exciting. We have a lot of stars. There are a lot of hungry young athletes, and the pipeline to bring in more as they continue to train and get better is very exciting. The future is very bright in that regard.”

McMahon on if he plans to build new stars during the pandemic era:

“Sure, I mean you want to continue to build stars no matter what time. It is so, as Paul just mentioned about NXT talent. He has done an extraordinary job of creating new stars, and as they continue to evolve, they’ll continue to come up to Raw and Smackdown. So there’s this influence of new superstars coming into both Raw and Smackdown, and in addition to that, the ways that we now promote talent in a more effective way, [with] digital and social media, as opposed to the normal way.

We do not have a live audience and of course that to us is paramount. They’re like the third performer in the ring, in terms of our interaction with our audience. So nonetheless it is a good time to continue with the digital and social imprint and this land grab that we have, which is substantial. We continue that. And again new stars coming up.”

Haitch on AEW taking market share from WWE:

“To me, there’s a moment in time when you begin something and it’s very exciting and it’s fresh and there’s some interest in it, certainly. But it’s a big world. We continue to be focused on our product, continue to be focused on the development of our stars and our performers. And as Vince said earlier, we have a very long track record of doing this incredibly successfully for many, many, many years, and we will continue to do so.”

There are also a lot of non-answers about COVID planning (basically everything is in flux and Vince has a “Plan B” in mind for everything from what if Florida locks everything down to the next Saudi show to WrestleMania 37), but these are the answers I’m most intrigued by. Mostly to see if we see WWE stick to them.

Are we really not getting the long-rumored premium Network tier with other promotions product? Will Vince’s track record lead to ratings bouncing back, if that’s even possible? Can they stick to a plan to build new stars? Is NXT going to continue to take the “slow and steady wins the race” approach if the ratings gap with AEW widens?

Bookmark these answers, scripted fight fans.

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