Recap from the WWE Q1 2021 investors call

Apr 22, 2021 - by Marc Middleton

Photo Credit: WWE

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 hosted a First Quarter 2021 Earnings call today from WWE headquarters in Stamford, CT. You can check out coverage of today’s press release at this link. Below are highlights from the call.

Weitz opened the call and went over the introductions and the usual basics. Weitz turned the call over to Vince and he thanked everyone for joining. He talked about the COVID-19 pandemic and said WWE dealt with it like every other sports and entertainment brand, but they went into survival mode and once they found a way to get through it and once they felt secure, they saw the pandemic as an opportunity to re-think the way WWE does business, and open what he calls the WWE Treasure Chest. Vince said the only way to do that is to have the best management team in WWE history, and they have that now. Vince went on to praise the current management team for being innovative. He said he’s always excited about the business but he doesn’t think he’s ever been as excited as he is now. Vince turned the call over to Khan.

Khan touted WrestleMania 37 on Peacock, the first time the big event has been held on the streaming platform, and said they are thrilled with the outcome, while Peacock officials were even happier. He said WWE couldn’t be more pleased with the first event on Peacock, and with the promotion that they got from FOX and NBCU in the lead-up to WrestleMania. He talked about potential partnerships coming off the Peacock announcement. WWE is excited about possibly replicating the WWE Network licensing deal to potential streaming partners in key international territories.

Khan touted WrestleMania 37 on Peacock, the first time the big event has been held on the streaming platform, and said they are thrilled with the outcome, while Peacock officials were even happier. He said WWE couldn’t be more pleased with the first event on Peacock, and with the promotion that they got from FOX and NBCU in the lead-up to WrestleMania. He talked about potential partnerships coming off the Peacock announcement. WWE is excited about possibly replicating the WWE Network licensing deal to potential streaming partners in key international territories.

Khan talked about how partnering with Tencent in China has led to a major increase in views there. They’ve also had an increase in growth in India and the UK, and are focused on growth there. He touted WWE’s first ever NFTs, many of which sold out in just seconds during WrestleMania Weekend. WWE will continue dealing in NFTs. He also touted the new deal with DraftKings.

WWE has a new multi-episode anime series with CrunchyRoll coming in the near future. Khan touted the ratings success of Young Rock and the A&E Biography on WWE Hall of Famer Steve Austin. Austin’s episode was the highest rated Biography doc in 16 years. The premiere of WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures on A&E retained 79% of the viewership with the Austin doc as the lead-in. Nick turned the call over to Stephanie.

Stephanie said this year’s Wrestlemania was historic for many reasons. She said it felt amazing to stand on stage, look out and see and hear the cheers of the audience. There wasn’t a dry eye as everyone celebrated the power of belonging. Going from last year to this year was a full circle moment of hope. They changed their signature to THEN. NOW. FOREVER. TOGETHER. They had record breaking numbers. They launched their Peacock partnership in just 52 days.

Stephanie touted WrestleMania 37 as being historic for many reasons, with more than 50,000 fans across both nights, representing full capacity, she claimed. She said going from no fans at last year’s show to this year’s big event was a full circle moment of hope. She touted record breaking numbers and how they launched the Peacock partnership in just 52 days. One Peacock executive said this was a “best-in-class example of how partnerships should work.”

WrestleMania media coverage was up 25% this year. She touted WrestleMania celebrity involvement, Sasha Banks and SmackDown Women’s Champion Bianca Belair making history in the Night One main event, and more highlights from WrestleMania 37 Week. WrestleMania 37 had 1.1 billion video views for the week, and 33 million hours of content were consumed across the week. WrestleMania 37 was the most socially-engaged event each day of that weekend. WWE also had record merchandise sales per capita at Raymond James Stadium. She also touted how they worked with the Tampa community and had special vaccination messaging.

She said WWE TV viewership stayed steady for the transition to the WWE ThunderDome. Stephanie touted the success of rapper Bad Bunny and said RAW episodes where he was featured saw a 31% (or 37%) increase in the Hispanic 18-34 demographic. Bunny also had total social media impressions of nearly 700 million during his entire WWE storyline. Stephanie also touted how WWE is focused on working with brands to help create unique ways to promote their products. touting the Ford segments that featured Samoa Joe, who she did not name, and the Old Spice segments that featured WWE 24/7 Champion R-Truth and others. Stephanie turned the call over to Salen.

Salen talked about being amazed by how the WWE team pulled WrestleMania 37 Week off. She went over some of the numbers from the earnings report, which is linked above.

It was noted that they do not expect to return to regular ticketed live events with fans until the second half of this year. It’s time for the Q&A portion of the call now.

They were asked about sponsorship inventory and how that’s tied to Peacock, and potential opportunities they see in the coming years. Stephanie said there’s potential in mirroring what sports leagues do by capitalizing on talents, and WWE has the benefit of owning their IP. Khan said WWE will be involved in selling the inventory with Peacock. The focus had been launching the Peacock/WWE Network platform and now that it’s up and everyone is happy, they can move forward.

They were asked about WWE NXT moving to Tuesdays, how they weighed the pluses and minuses. The caller also said it appears AEW is reaching record viewership, probably because of the NXT move, and does WWE think about AEW or care about them. Khan said honestly they view everything as competition for everything. Movies are competition, people sitting around all night and texting is competition. They are all focused on attracting eyeballs to their content. They believed then and now that NBCU and the NHL are done with each other, and that played no part in the move to Tuesdays. He talked about how the move made sense because of the two consecutive nights of TV with RAW and NXT, which becomes three consecutive nights when they have a pay-per-view on Sunday. Those efficiencies are what really drove the move to Tuesdays. Khan added that they are pleased with the increase in NXT ratings, and they are focused on no one but themselves.

They were asked about WrestleMania viewership for this year compared to last year. Khan said Peacock has asked them not to share viewership numbers. Khan commented that when you don’t hear from partners then that’s a problem, but when you’re hearing from them that’s a good sign, and Peacock officials were in contact through WrestleMania Weekend, and are happy.

They were asked if they are able to license/monetize WWE content with these new deals. Khan said RAW and SmackDown content are locked in through October 2025, and that’s for existing content, not new content, and not international rights.

They were asked if they will continue to hold a residency at a venue when they return to touring, or if they will go into full 100% touring. Salen said they haven’t decided what touring plans will be for the summer, but they are very hopeful to return to touring in the second half of 2021. The hope is to go into full touring and not have a semi-permanent residency at the same time. Guidance calls for full touring in the second half of this year. She said half residency and half touring would not be ideal, financially or logistically. They are looking forward to getting out on the road again.

Salen also talked about WWE Shop success. She touted how the title belts have been a big hit, so has the Legends Shop. They are not just sitting on their heels and letting the merchandise wave come to them, they’ve been doing a lot to get people to come to WWE Shop and stay. Khan added to that and said the brick & mortar business has changed forever with the pandemic, or at least for the foreseeable future, and e-commerce will continue to grow. One part about brick & mortar that WWE is bullish about is the live event business, where they sell a lot of merchandise. They haven’t had that in over a year. They believe e-commerce will remain robust and they are bullish on the return to live events where fans also buy products.

They were congratulated on WrestleMania 37 Weekend. Khan joked that WWE remains undefeated vs. weather at outdoor stadiums, with the exception of the brief delay on Night One this year. They were asked about NFTs. Khan talked about how Vince set it up years ago to where WWE owns the majority of character rights. He said NFTs is something WWE will be involved with for the longterm. They were excited to launch the first NFTs during WrestleMania Weekend with The Undertaker, noting that the 100 cards sold out in 35 seconds. WWE wants to make sure they are there for the fans, and they will continue to be there. They have a plan in place for NFTs that they are really excited about.

They still have plans to develop localized content and local talent, and have Performance Centers in other locations but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed those plans. They touted the success of the Superstar Spectacular event for India. It’s hard to do international events right now but they were happy to do that show in Florida. International plans will resume once we are out of the pandemic, and they believe that is coming soon. Salen added that the WWE brand is so strong that they can be global without having to travel.

Salen mentioned that they are open to investments moving forward but more interested in optimizing or harvesting what’s already there instead of building something new. They still plan to spend on the new WWE HQ in Stamford, which has been delayed for almost two years now. WWE remains excited for the future. Salen also mentioned how they are very pleased with the NXT – USA Network contract extension.

That’s it for the call. Stay tuned for more updates

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