WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon, Chief Financial Officer Kristina Salen, and SVP Financial Planning & Investor Relations Michael Weitz are hosting a Third Quarter 2020 Earnings call today from WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT. You can check out coverage of this evening’s press release at this link. Below are highlights from the call:
Weitz opens the call and welcomes everyone, going over the usual intro. Vince took over and said he’s never felt as confident as he does right now with the upper management team WWE has. It’s extraordinary what the team has done for the business. He touted the new energy and vibrancy, and optimism. In regards to where they can go in the future, this is a fun and exciting place to be. He praised new WWE President & Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan for what he’s done to help the company, and revealed that Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon has taken on more responsibilities, praising her. Vince said he really feels great about the new WWE management team. Vince didn’t get into the numbers, but says he just wanted to share how he feels about the current management team. He hands it over to Khan.
Khan talks about his background since he’s fairly new to the company. He mentions being an usher at WrestleMania 9 in Las Vegas. Khan says they are working to develop new WWE Studios content, including Total Bellas season 6 to premiere in November, and A&E’s “Quest for Lost WWE Treasures” that will be hosted by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. This show will take viewers on the ultimate hunt to find some of WWE’s most iconic lost memorabilia. This furthers the relationship with A&E. He mentions A&E has also ordered more episodes of the “Biography” documentaries.
Khan then announces that they have reached a groundbreaking new deal with Netflix, selling them a multi-part documentary on the life of Vince McMahon. This is one of the highest-budgeted documentaries in Netflix history. Bill Simmons will executive produce. Chris Smith, who directed Netflix’s Fyre Fest documentary, will produce the Vince project, along with WWE Studios. Khan noted that they are still working on the alternate version of WWE Network but are unable to say when that will be ready. WWE Network subscriptions are up during the pandemic. Khan announces a 2021 event with Sony in India that will primarily feature Indian talent. It will air on Sony in India and will also be distributed here in the United States.
Khan then introduces Stephanie. She talks about her role with the company and how everything they do is under the WWE Universe. She touts how WrestleMania 36 went from being sold out at Raymond James Stadium, to the “new normal” on a closed-set at the WWE Performance Center. Along with RAW and SmackDown, they experimented with new ways on the closed set but that wasn’t good enough so they launched WWE ThunderDome, which made their shows feel alive again. They saw an increase in RAW and SmackDown ratings with the ThunderDome. She touts how they transformed the Performance Center arena into the Capitol Wrestling Center, the return to WWE NXT UK with BT Sports Studios in London. She mentioned how the production teams from Orlando, Stamford and London are working together, and praised the efforts. She also touted more than 50 billion video views on YouTube, and WWE changing their digital strategy, which led to more engagement. Stephanie also talked about how the company has been doing WWE Community virtual visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, partnering with UNICEF for their kids program and others. WWE’s advertising campaigns and sponsor partnerships are outpacing industry standards and recent trends. Stephanie also touted recent celebrity involvement and how top brands continue to partner with WWE during the pandemic. She said WWE remains bullish, for 2021 and beyond, when it comes to growth, expansion, partnerships and everything else.
New Chief Financial Officer Kristina Salen took over next and went over numbers from today’s press release. WWE is evaluating their strategies for 2021 but the pandemic leaves a lot of uncertainty. She said RAW and SmackDown viewership improved from July – September, despite major sports competition. She said WWE can’t say when ticketed live events will return at this point, but their intention is to return to live events as quickly and safety as possible. WWE anticipates Q4 2020 will have lower revenues than the same period in 2019. Part of the blame goes to the fact that they have no Saudi Arabia event in the quarter like they did in Q4 2019. WWE did not buy back any stock in Q3 under the buyback program, but they may in the future.
It’s now time for the Q&A portion of the call.
They were asked about ratings and if there are any firm plans to improve them, and if ratings staying where they are will hurt negotiations for rights fees when they come back around. Vince said they have more fans than they’ve ever had but total audience is much bigger than just the TV audience. You can’t just “hang your hat” on TV viewership being down. Vince mentioned how WWE is never off the air. You might say viewership is down but the overall viewership and engagement needs to be considered. WWE is doing everything they can to improve. The ThunderDome brought some fans back, but they want better execution of the creative, and better writing overall. Khan said TV in general has lost viewers but WWE viewership has not, overall. Consumption of WWE content is significantly up. WWE remains confident that TV rights fees will also go up. He touted how WWE topped the NHL Stanley Cup viewership in the key demographic, and they also did well against the Los Angeles Lakers playing at the end of the NBA season.
They were asked about the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) TV rights and Vince said they are still negotiating them, and are still in contact with the Saudis. Vince said it will happen, but he doesn’t know when. They were asked about potential WWE Network changes and they are open to anything except the sale of the Network, including licensing. WWE is in constant talks about possibly licensing the Network domestically and internationally. They are also constantly working on international ideas for content. The idea is to develop local content for international territories.
There are currently no plans to add advertising to the WWE Network free version but this could change. Stephanie noted that they are testing different technologies that can be applied to different strategies.
Salen noted that they are waiting for the return of live events and touring. They still have some employees who are furloughed, which makes for short-term financial cuts, but they are hoping to bring some of those employees back by the end of the year. In regards to if they will have no live events in 2021 or maybe for half of the year and if they will run the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia next year, Salen said they have not commented on the 2021 OIBDA (Operating Income Before Depreciation and Amortization) but they are diligently working on 2021 financial and operational plans with the executive team, noting that she and Khan are still getting settled into the job. She said they will have an update on the strategic focus for 2021 the next time they meet with investors.
Regarding the India event planned for 2021, they are seeking the right talents and the right structure so that the event makes sense for all parties involved. This will be with Sony in India. Khan noted that ratings in October have held up despite a “cluttered” fall TV season. When asked if there is anything that NXT does that could be used to improve RAW or SmackDown, Khan praised the blue and red brands for how they have held up. Vince was asked what he and the company needs to see before they are willing to bring fans back to events amid the pandemic. The call President Trump held earlier this year with sports league bosses was mentioned. Vince said he was on that call but that was the extent of his discussions with Trump on the matter. When the coronavirus eases up and it’s safe for fans and talents, that’s all he can say for now in regards to when fans will be allowed back like normal.
They were asked about WWE NXT and the length of the deal with the USA Network. Khan gave props to Triple H and his team, and touted the NXT Halloween Havoc ratings for last night. He said they are comfortable with the position they have with USA, and are enjoying the relationship with the network. The platform has led to many eyeballs on the talent. They don’t typically discuss the length of TV deals unless their partners are on board with them doing so, but they feel like this deal is certainly long enough for them to have a long runway for Triple H and his team to grow the product as they have been doing. Khan said they feel good about all three products and how they are headed in the right direction.
In what may be a first, Weitz cut the call off out of nowhere. The call ended at 6pm, after one hour, and Weitz told investors to get in touch if they have any further questions. Vince thanked everyone for participating and that was the end of the call.
Stay tuned for updates.