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WWE’s telling advertisers they’re better than live sports

For the first time since 2019, television networks will be making their annual upfront presentations to advertisers next week. WWE’s taken part in the Madison Avenue song-and-dance before, but they feel their recent financial success, and a strong streaming performance from WrestleMania 38, has them poised to really make some noise with sponsors in 2022.

A glowing piece from Deadline, “WWE Poised To Jump Off Top Rope At NBCUniversal & Fox Upfront Pitches To Advertisers”, includes Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon’s high-level pitch to potential partners:

“It’s like athletic theater. It’s the story, that’s why you care… You’re swept up in the storylines. We can script the buzzer-beater moments, we can script the Hail Marys. We have a leg up on sports. … You may object to what we do, but you’re never going to be bored.”

My initial reaction as someone who has to watch seven-plus hours of WWE content every week is, “why don’t you script more ‘buzzer-beater moments’ then?” and “I promise you I am sometimes bored.” But for someone who doesn’t have to watch almost everything the company produces — combined with streaming numbers that say ‘Mania was Peacock’s second-most-watched live event after the Super Bowl, and ratings that consistently have WWE at the top of the charts with live sports every week — it’s a persuasive argument.

Another way that McMahon says WWE has the upper-hand over leagues like the NFL & NBA? They can integrate marketing directly into their shows, such as with last year’s Army of the Dead zombie lumberjack match at WrestleMania Backlash, or Street Profits carrying boxes of Pizza Hut pizzas into Survivor Series. And they can just tell everyone involved what to do!

Unlike pro sports leagues, the WWE is structured in a way that favors streamlined dealmaking with sponsors, McMahon said. No players unions, team owners, stadium authorities or agents needing to sign off on activations — instead, a “one-stop shop” available for creative executions. “We own all of the IP,” she said. “When brands deal with us, they just deal with us. We create something together.”

The debate about whether wrestlers should be organized is an old one, and one of the arguments for why they should unionize is to get some say in and bigger cut of marketing plans they’re an essential part of. But again, given the current set-up of WWE, this is an effective selling point for Steph & company.

What do you think? Will WWE be able to convince advertisers they’re preferable to sports?

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