Inside the Numbers: Is WWE fading?

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Credit: Destina

WWE reported today that it had registered a net loss of $8.4 million in the first quarter of 2019, with revenues down $5.3 million from the same period in 2018.

Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon said on a conference call that the decline is attributable to several top and mid-card talents being out of action, which is overstating things there by quite a bit.

Roman Reigns was on the sidelines for a stretch in the first quarter as he battled the recurrence of leukemia, but the former Universal champion was back in time to be a full participant in WrestleMania and the run-up to that biggest event on the company’s calendar.

Aside from Reigns, we’re talking, who? Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn?

John Cena is more interested in acting. Undertaker is five years past his us-by date, and 10 years past the faintest notion of his prime.

The issue for WWE isn’t a rash of injuries to top stars. It’s the product.

How you can tell that: first and foremost, TV ratings are down, significantly.

Smackdown, which is moving to Fridays in the fall with the new billion-dollar deal with Fox, was down 13 percent from the first quarter of 2018. Raw, a staple on Mondays for a quarter-century, was down a comparable 14 percent.

This is with Reigns being a part of storylines for the last five weeks of the quarter, with Ronda Rousey, on her way to main-eventing WrestleMania, being around for the entirety of the three-month period.

Daniel Bryan was on hand for the duration as the WWE champ. A.J. Styles, the former champ, and the cover on the WWE video game, was available, though used in a lesser role.

Brock Lesnar, the most recognizable name in combat sports today, was also underutilized, as a very part-time Universal champion.

Lesnar is almost not used at all on live events, which saw revenues decline 15 percent in the first quarter of 2019, compared to the period from a year prior.

Average attendance at WWE live events was also down 11 percent in the 2019 period, to 4,800 fans per event, from 5,400 in 2018’s first quarter.

McMahon said today that WWE is trying to work on new approaches to live events, but it’s not hard to figure that declining TV ratings play a role in declining live-event attendance.

Less people watching on TV should mean less people having knowledge of upcoming WWE live events in their areas, and thus less people attending said live events.

And less people buying merchandise, which was down 11 percent at live events and an alarming 21.4 percent online.

There was a slight uptick in WWE Network subscribers, up 2 percent to 1.58 million paid subscribers, but for sake of comparison, the Network had 2.12 million subscribers, paid and free, this time last year, so, yikes.

WWE is at the forefront of broadcast and online content and live-event presentation and production values, which isn’t to say it can’t do things better either with its TV and Network products or its house shows, but improving marginally in how it packages its offerings isn’t necessarily going to show up on the bottom line.

What they have to package is still the thing, and it’s clear that what they’re packaging is of less interest in the wider marketplace.

Analysis by Chris Graham

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