On today’s episode of The Wrestling Inc. Daily, Forbes’ Alfred Konuwa made his return to the podcast to reflect on the recent WWE Q4 and Full Year earnings call. Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman asked Konuwa what he took away from the most recent WWE financial update.
“We are in the golden age of WWE’s business, and this is going to continue into 2024,” Konuwa stated. “It’s a weird dynamic because I’ve been watching wrestling my whole life. I can’t remember a stretch of time where it was worse creatively, and just an elongated period of being frustrated and not having a star. I remember the lean years in the ’90s, but that’s when we got Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.
“So to me, that wasn’t a struggling period at all, but from this standpoint, I think creatively, it’s not very fulfilling. But they’re making so much money, and they’re set up to make even more. One thing that did stand out to me in the call is they really put over that partnership with Bad Bunny, which really seems to be something that they are taken by surprise with how well it’s going. WWE merchandise with Bad Bunny is selling very well. I think this is part of a blueprint to get younger viewers in, and they even mentioned Damian Priest.
“You don’t see that when it comes to earnings calls, them putting over somebody who’s such a young, up-and-coming guy who’s really only had one match. WWE, the tea leaves say that Damian Priest is something that they are significantly invested in, and I know it’s easy because Vince McMahon tends to have that new toy, but I really do think that this is something that the entire office is behind; Bad Bunny being a vehicle to introduce Damian Priest.”
Hausman then asked Konuwa how WWE has been able to continue to make money while remaining inconsistent creatively. Konuwa explained that WWE is an “arms dealer” in the business world because of the content it can provide to a company like NBC Universal.
“It’s because WWE is in the right place at the right time,” Konuwa explained. “WWE is essentially, in the business world, they’re called an ‘arms dealer’ because the content creators need content. Content is king right now. We’re in a period where HBO Max wants to explode on the scene. NBC Peacock. ESPN+, that ESPN deal with UFC really helped put ESPN+ on the map, and WWE is now benefiting from that because now, NBC Universal wants to use WWE as their UFC to put Peacock on the map.
“And so WWE’s making a lot of money from licensing its library, which is very valuable. Licensing its television deals, which is very valuable to content creators who want to bring more attention to their streaming platforms and very valuable for a network like FOX wants to fight against content creators because they’re a traditional television network. So WWE is just in this great catbird seat where they can make all this money off their content without necessarily having to have very good television ratings, and the thing that people aren’t concerned about is that WWE will not have any incentive to put on an appealing product.
“And that’s correct. WWE is making so much money, and it’s all guaranteed. They don’t have an incentive, but that’s not going to last very long because I really do think that, maybe as soon as 2024, NBCU will eventually make an offer to buy WWE. If NBCU buys WWE, that’s going to be a completely different dynamic than what we’re seeing right now.”
WWE’s deal with Peacock is reportedly worth $1 billion. However, Konuwa pointed out that the deal doesn’t make a lot of sense financially for NBC unless they are buying WWE, which he believes NBC will at least make an offer for when WWE’s deal with FOX ends.
“100%. At the very least, I think NBCU’s going to put in an offer,” Konuwa said. “It’s the only thing that makes economic sense for what they’re paying for WWE. They’re essentially paying a renters price for something that they really should own given how much investment they have in it.
“I think the only reason that they haven’t so much as made an offer is because, like you said, SmackDown is over on FOX right now, but when SmackDown is up for sale, if FOX wants SmackDown and NBC Universal is definitely going to bid for them, that’s going to raise the price even more. That’s why I say this ‘golden age’ stuff.
“When it comes to NBCU bidding on SmackDown, so to speak, they might just find a better offer to just buy the whole company so that they can get bang for their buck, and they can look for return on their investment down the line because it will be cheaper long term for NBCU to buy WWE, given all the money they’re paying on an annual basis for all these shows.”
Konuwa also noted that NBC Universal wanted to buy the rights for RAW and SmackDown but could only afford RAW at the time. He also recalled WWE Chief Financial Officer Nick Khan saying that WWE is done making television rights deals until their TV rights negotiation fees expire in 2023.
“I kind of go back to 2018 when they were originally negotiating. I know NBC Universal wanted both RAW and SmackDown, but they could only afford RAW,” Konuwa recalled. “But in another universe, where maybe FOX doesn’t become as much of a player, maybe NBC Universal does get SmackDown, and if they had that, I think instead of that Peacock deal just being a WWE Network – Peacock deal, I think now we would get NBC Universal buying WWE, but we’re just going to have to hold off for a couple of years for that to happen.
“It’s not going to happen while they’re on FOX. There’s just too many moving parts with a rival network. In fact, Nick Khan, the Chief Revenue Officer recently came out and said WWE is done with major deals until the television rights negotiation fees start negotiating in 2023, which I think is a smart move. The landscape, I don’t see it changing that much in terms of these streaming services trying to accumulate all this content, and WWE’s going to be only more valuable when that time comes for them to negotiate their contract in 2023.”
The WWE Network currently has around one million subscribers. Konuwa notes that those subscribers potentially subscribing to Peacock doesn’t make financial sense for NBCU considering how much they’re paying for WWE’s content library. He explained that this move is an investment to help bolster their current streaming service.
“A little over a million, and that’s the thing. 1 million, 1.5 million, the economics don’t make sense in terms of NBC Peacock making money off this deal,” Konuwa pointed out. “They’re not doing this deal to make money. They’re investing in WWE to be a vehicle to get people to subscribe to NBC Peacock, but if you look at, let’s say 2 million people subscribe for WWE, a lot of those subscriptions are gonna be $4.99.
“Some of them are gonna be $9.99 and they’re gonna make $70 – 100 million for something they’re paying $200 million for, so this is a long play. That’s why I’m even more convinced that they’re at least gonna make an offer because this is all just an investment. If this is a short-term play for them to make money, then they would look at it as like a five-year deal and see how much money they’ve made. This is not about NBCU making money. It’s about them making an investment to hopefully bring more people to their service.”
You can follow Alfred on Twitter @ThisIsNasty. Konuwa’s full interview aired as part of today’s episode of our podcast, The Wrestling Inc. Daily. Subscribe to get the latest episodes as soon as it’s released Monday – Friday afternoon by clicking here. You can find the full audio from today’s show, as well as the video from Nick’s interview with Konuwa, below.