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Pinning Down The Sports Entertainment Market
For every dollar that a family earmarks for entertainment purposes, there are hundreds of different outlets looking to be the recipient of these funds. When families want to enjoy their downtime, they can turn on the television, go to a theater to catch a movie or a play, go to a sports activity area, such as a bowling alley or a miniature golf course, or grab a seat among thousands of fans to watch a group of professional athletes perform in a show that blends many of the aforementioned genres.
Under the umbrella referred to as “Sports Entertainment”, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), is widely considered the market leader. At a typical live event, the performers, or “WWE Superstars”, do battle in a modern version of the gladiator battles of ancient Greece, sprinkled with drama and storylines similar to daytime soap operas, bits of comedy, and a number of other elements adopted from other entertainment genres.
The WWE produces a number of shows for cable TV, including its flagship offering Monday Night RAW on the USA network, Smackdown, which currently airs on MyNetwork TV (it will be moving to the SyFy Network in October), WWE Superstars on WGN America, and its newest program NXT, which is broadcast on the SyFy channel. These shows are repackaged for viewing in a number of other countries, and typically are packaged with monthly pay-per-view events.
The WWE tours at home and abroad, holding live events in local sports stadiums where fans can pick up WWE-themed merchandise. The company also promotes and sells its products through its website, WWE.com, and has a number of distribution agreements with big name retailers such as Wal-Mart.
However, the WWE is not alone in this segment. Just as various brands of soda appeal to different tastes, there are a number of outlets with which the WWE competes. Some direct, but smaller, competitors include TNA Wrestling and Ring of Honor, both of which have television deals to promote their products. Historically, though, this augurs well for the WWE, as the company achieved its highest ratings and strongest business during the period of 1995-2001, when its head-to-head rivalry with another top wrestling show, World Championship Wrestling, formerly under the ownership of Time Warner (TWX), pushed both companies to ratings and profit peaks. WWE programming also faces competition from other areas, such as the National Football League’s (NFL) Monday Night Football, and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pay-per-view events.
Looking for other avenues of growth, the WWE has expanded its product lines into a number of different markets. Under a partnership with Mattel (MAT), the likenesses of WWE Superstars are used for a toy line, as well as other wrestling-related accessories. Also, a series of video games, produced in conjuncture with THQ Inc. (THQI) titled Raw Vs. Smackdown has been successful on several major gaming platforms. The company also has created its own movie development division, producing films for both movie theaters and straight-to-DVD releases prominently featuring its WWE Superstars.
However, there is a stigma that follows the WWE. Some sponsors have been leery of being too closely linked with the brand, due to the conception that “wrestling is too violent and scripted”. In order to combat this, the company has made its programming more child-friendly to appease sponsors and appeal to families. Its Superstars also have been presented as the “face” of the WWE, and make numerous appearances on a variety of television shows and charity events.
As a constantly evolving and expanding business, the WWE will likely continue to explore new opportunities, while still providing its core audience with the product that started it all.