WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon, interim Chief Financial Officer Frank Riddick, and SVP Financial Planning & Investor Relations Michael Weitz are hosting a Fourth Quarter & Full-Year 2019 Earnings call today from WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT. You can check out coverage of this morning’s press release at this link. Below are highlights from the call:
The call opens 5 minutes late as the operator goes over the rules. Weitz welcomes everyone and says the talk will be hosted by just Vince and Riddick today. Former WWE Co-Presidents George Barrios and Michelle Wilson usually handled this before last week’s departures. Vince takes over and thanks everyone. He touts record revenue and profit for the year, and the new RAW and SmackDown distribution deals. He mentions how USA Network and FOX provide powerful platforms for the company. He talks more about growth and some of the numbers from the press release. He brings up the “management transition” with Barrios and Wilson leaving. He says this decision does not reflect a change in their strategy, and was made after careful consideration, and that the company remains focused on growing content and expansion, engaging fans across all platforms. Vince says the decision was based on a different view of execution on their areas of focus. He says Barrios and Wilson made more than significant contributions to WWE over the years but with them gone, WWE won’t miss a beat as they have a strong team and plan. Vince says WWE is changing the culture of the company to be more collaborative, inclusive, with initiatives to re-imagine the company with content, new ideas, enhancing their executive team, and recruiting global talents. He says WWE remains extremely optimistic about the future and longterm growth potential. Vince also says WWE has more confidence than ever that they will take advantage of their various opportunities.
Frank takes over and goes over some of the numbers from the press release. Due to the launch of other streaming platforms and the importance of live content, WWE is looking at alternative possibilities for WWE Network strategies. Because of that, they are now exploring alternative strategic options for the Network, which could be outside content. Frank talks more about international TV partners, and touts Total Bellas and Miz & Mrs. He also talks about some of the mobile gaming success, mainly WWE Champions. More than 40,000 fans came to Chicago for the Survivor Series weekend. Frank reiterated how WWE is confident about the future, taking advantage of growth opportunities and exploring new revenue streams, including sponsorship deals and monetizing content. Frank turned it over to the Q&A portion with investors now.
Vince noted that they have lots of options when it comes to WWE Network monetization, including operating how they are now, plus with the free & paid tiers. Vince said there’s no better time to exercise of selling of their rights to “the majors” who he said are clamoring to get WWE content, presumably the major networks. Vince said this would be a significant increase of revenue. Another caller asked if WWE will ever partner or merge with the XFL. Vince said no because the football league is a completely separate entity. He briefly plugged this weekend’s launch and said it is completely separate from WWE. Vince said again that there is very strong interest from “the majors” when it comes to WWE’s OTT (Over The Top) streaming content. WWE will definitely pursue that option if they move forward with the Network as it is.
A caller asked what’s taking so long with the India and Middle East TV deals. Frank mentioned regulatory changes in India, and indicated that the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) deal is moving slow because of the way the Saudi Arabian government does business. Vince wanted to add more in regards to the “major players” being interested in WWE’s OTT content. He said if they move in that direction, they would be announcing the deal in the first quarter of 2021, that’s how far along they are, so they are talking with these “major players.” Another caller asked Vince what have they done over the past few quarters to improve content and engagement, and how much input do Paul Heyman and Bruce Prichard have on RAW & SmackDown, and does Vince believe he needs to spend much more on talent to help stimulate engagement. Vince responded and said they think what they’ve done so far, as far as TV ratings and higher production value, better storylines, the allocation of top talents while bringing on new talent, is paramount to what they do. He said the ratings show growth. He talked about how they once had a significant amount of talent out with injuries, but that’s not an issue right now, but it takes a while to be able to put everyone into place, with the right storylines and the right talent. Vince said going into WrestleMania 36 they feel like they have exactly what they want, and going forward as well.
Another investor mentioned concern over Vince’s personal investment with the XFL and the football league getting wrapped up in WWE equity, creating a potential issue. Vince reiterated that the XFL will have no investment from WWE as it is ran by itself, with around 400 employees keeping it up. Frank also spoke up and said there are no plans for the XFL to be put back into WWE as it is a completely independent entity. Another investor mentioned AEW trying to fill a niche with edgier content, and asked Vince how AEW has changed WWE content. Vince said AEW has not changed WWE’s content at all because it’s all about WWE’s characters, storylines and resolutions. He said AEW really hasn’t changed WWE’s point of view in terms of what they present and they don’t need more edgier content as they are one of the few programs that really is PG. As far as NXT, Vince said they are competing with AEW on Wednesday nights and the brand is doing extremely well. Vince said they are confident that NXT will continue with success.
Vince was asked again about filling in the roles of Barrios and Wilson on the corporate team. He says the team will be more inclusive as they attract world class individuals. He asked who wouldn’t want to work for WWE? It’s exciting. He says it won’t take long to implement all that when the time does come. He was also asked about specific disagreements with former team members, a reference to Barrios and Wilson, and if it was execution-related. Vince said a lot of it was execution-related, and focus as well, and reallocation of resources. He says WWE is looking at the way they do business and it will be different moving forward, and more successful. Another investor asked how they will fill those corporate roles. Vince said they are in search of exceptional talent to come in, but at the same time they have huge faith in their current management team. Weitz wrapped the call. Stay tuned for more updates coming out of today’s earnings report and investors call.