WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon, Chief Revenue Officer & President Nick Khan, Chief Branding Officer Stephanie McMahon, Chief Financial Officer Kristina Salen, and SVP Financial Planning & Investor Relations Michael Weitz are hosting a Fourth Quarter and Full Year 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 welcomed everyone and said good morning but Vince reminded him it’s evening time. Vince touted how the company generated strong results in a challenging environment amid the pandemic. He also mentioned how WWE hasn’t missed a single week of creating content. Vince said they have showed how flexible the product is to the WWE audience across various venues. He also touted the ThunderDome name as being great. Vince also brought up the Peacock deal and said he doesn’t really see any other big deals such as this being announced by other companies in the COVID-19 pandemic, and called it a great deal, and a great value for the fans. Vince said WWE expects a gradual return to ticketed live events but no one can say what the entire live event world will be when it returns and how many fans will be allowed. He praised WWE as the most flexible and versatile entertainment company going today.
Khan touted the Peacock deal with NBCUniversal and noted that there would be no upcharge for WWE pay-per-view shows. WWE began negotiating with potential partners last summer and decided NBCU was the right partner. Khan also talked about the success of the Superstar Spectacle event filmed for India. He praises Triple H for making the event happen, noting that the show had record engagement and was viewed by more than 20 million people on the Sony networks in India, which is 5x what RAW and SmackDown do in the same market. He also talks about their next big focus being in Latin America, touting Bad Bunny’s work with the company and his WWE Shop merchandise being the top seller of 2021 so far.
Khan also mentioned how besides the expansion in Latin America, they’ve closed new deals in Australia and South Korea, and expanded their broadcast footprint in Australia. Khan talked about licensing scripted and unscripted content, noting that they have sold a multi-episode series that John Cena will narrate. He also mentioned WWE Studios securing a deal for WWE content to be featured in NBC’s new “Young Rock” series. He mentioned how LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Dodgers and other sports teams and stars have been seen holding up custom WWE Title belts during their championship victories. This led to WWE closing a new deal for sports teams and brands to soon release custom title belts with their logos. Khan said this is a testament to the power of the WWE brand.
Stephanie took over and mentioned how Vince always taught her to be ahead of the curve, which they have done with WrestleMania, their social media efforts, and engagement on YouTube. They are ahead of the curve again with the new Peacock – WWE Network deal. She gave major praise to the Peacock deal and the 30+ year relationship between NBC and WWE, noting that they believe in the power of the brand. Se said the WWE TV audience has held steady through everything that has gone on in the last year with RAW viewership essentially unchanged and SmackDown viewership up 8%. She also touted online viewership and video views. Stephanie also touted celebrities working with WWE, noting that Matthew McConaughey’s appearance in the ThunderDome drew more than 5 million views and was used by Jimmy Fallon. She also mentioned SmackDown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks appearing on The Mandlalorian, and Bad Bunny appearing on the Royal Rumble and RAW. Stephanie touted some of the advertising and brand deals success, and said 2021 is already off to a strong start with brand deals and partnerships. She said WWE is the perfect partner as other brands look to engage people with authentic influence.
Stephanie turned the call over to Salen now. She went over the financials in the press release linked above, and also touted how WWE has never went off the air during the pandemic. Work on the new WWE HQ in Stamford will continue in the second half of 2021, as will spending on their technological infrastructure. Work on the new HQ was stopped due to the pandemic. It was also said that they don’t expect ticketed events to return until the second half of this year at the earliest.
It’s time for the Q&A with investors now. Stephanie wouldn’t comment on specific Peacock deal terms and how they might offer WWE Network ad buys on programming, but she said they are working with industry leaders and are looking to amplify their current partnerships, which they are doing working with NBCU and Peacock. Khan took a question about helping ratings growth for the TV shows in relationship to the WWE Network content on Peacock. Khan said they are always looking for ratings growth, no matter how high the ratings are, and they are focused on helping Peacock grow their subscriber base, and are confident they can grow that.
One caller noted that the number one thing he gets asked by investors is how will WWE reverse ratings trends, and enhance the product to drive viewers back to RAW and SmackDown. Khan said they don’t believe they have lost eyeballs on the product, they believe eyeballs shift from linear to digital platforms. He mentioned how Facebook numbers are significantly up over the last 6 months or so. They are always looking to grow ratings, but with people now being less focused on things like the election and the pandemic, they believe the eyeballs will continue to grow on the in-ring product.
They were asked about potential for new sponsorships and sponsor growth in the future. Stephanie took over that part of the business around 6 months ago and there has been an uptick in the numbers. WWE remains confident in future opportunities. They reiterated that there will be no upcharge for special WWE programming or pay-per-view events on the WWE Network once the Peacock deal begins on March 18. Khan touted the success of the WWE Backstage special episode on FS1 the night before the Royal Rumble, saying it drew more than 1 million viewers. Showbuzz Daily via Nielsen reported 156,000 viewers for the 8pm airing last Saturday night.
They were asked how the NBC Sports Network shutting down might impact WWE NXT and RAW on the USA Network, but they do not believe it will. They did not answer a question about NXT possibly moving from USA to Peacock. In regards to live streaming platforms possibly being related to RAW and SmackDown TV licensing in the future, they remain on top of what buyers are interested in and they are always open for business just as long as FOX and NBCUniversal are happy and taken care of as NBCU and FOX are their main partners.
Stay tuned for more from the WWE earnings report and investors call.