WWE achieved record profits of $131.8 million in 2020

World Wrestling Entertainment achieved record revenues of $974.2 million and net income of $131.8 million in 2020 [Source: WWE 2020 Consolidated Results].

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Ernest Vicente
September 8, 2021 3:35 pm

The WWE is a maverick company. If you stay abreast of the pro-wrestling scene, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking the WWE is a sinking ship. Pro-wrestling communities tend to be echo chambers of negativity. Yet here we are with the WWE making sales of almost $1 billion in 2020.

We love to hearken back to the Attitude Era, which ran from 1997-2002, and made household names of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Triple H. From 2002 onwards, the product started to suck. Pretty badly. This was reflected in a decline in revenues from 2002-2005. So what happened from 2012 onwards that saw the WWE reverse its revenue stagnation and achieve peak profitability? Controversially, I am going to say the WWE stopped looking internally for solutions and started looking to the outside world.

There is a reason why consultancy organisation exist. It’s because they can give independent advice to the company that hires them. The WWE had lost sight of the way forward and was looking at its own superstars for solutions. It was so frustrating listening to some of the ideas and solutions WWE wrestlers had. They assumed they knew best because they lived and breathed pro-wrestling, but they didn’t realise their own short-sightedness. I’ll list three examples.

Chris Jericho
I remember reading an interview of Chris Jericho that was published on WWE.com. In the interview he explained what fans wanted to see. In his words, fans wanted to see wrestlers “beat the hell out of each other”. This was a face-palm moment. No, Chris. That’s not what we wanted to see. If you really think fans just wanted violence, then it shows how out of touch you were with the product. We wanted something different. Energy. Innovation. That’s what made the Attitude Era so scintillating. It was never about the magnitude of violence.

Mick Foley
In Mick Foley’s book, Have A Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, he writes how it was important to put in the same amount of effort during a house show as in a televised show. A house show is a non-televised event. This sounds good in principle. In reality, it’s neither practical nor sensible. Pro-wrestling is a tough business – really tough. Not everyone makes it out alive. Some stunts have lasting effects and injuries are a dime a dozen. If you’re going to put yourself at risk, do it when there’s a worldwide audience and the possibility of internet virality. Don’t kill yourself for the sake of principle. Many wrestlers have families to think of and don’t need principle to cut their careers short. Instead practicality wins the day here. This doesn’t mean that you’d be giving the audience at house shows a second-rate product. Instead house shows should have been used to test out new moves, try out new promos. Mix things up a bit. That is where innovation should have been ignited. Treating house shows in the same manner as televised events demonstrated a short-sightedness that was not only detrimental to the product, but also prevented it from getting better.

Rob Van Dam (possibly)
At some point in the post-attitude era an anonymous article was written by a clearly bitter WWE wrestler who had had his match substituted in Wrestlemania XIX by a Miller Lite Pillow Fight involving 4 women with very little clothes on. I always assumed it was Rob Van Dam that had written this article because he wasn’t very good at hiding his anger at seeing the Miller Lite segment in Wrestlemania. In WWE’s online broadcast in the early 2000s called Byte This, he was a guest on the show and tore into the segment. I’ll assume it was RVD, but happy to be corrected. In the anonymous article, RVD talked about his idea to kick-start a new Attitude Era in the face of declining revenues. He said that the Attitude Era started from a confrontation between Mike Tyson and Steve Austin. This, he says, ignited a fire and ushered in a new era of swear words, middle fingers and telling your boss to shove it! A celebrity is what the WWE needed, he said, and Eminem was the person to take the WWE to new heights. This is also a face-palm moment. We cannot hinge one of the most successful eras in the wrestling industry on a specific person. Success on a grand scale depends on many smaller factors, not one large factor. Sure, the Mike Tyson segment was a memorable one. But the WWE could have easily flopped after it. The success of the Attitude Era came from the matches, promos, interactions and programming that followed. And it would have been successful regardless of whether Mike Tyson made an appearance or not. The same goes for Eminem. Yes, he could have fit into a good storyline at the time. But a celebrity isn’t what the WWE needed then. It needed an overhaul. The appearance of an individual in a storyline was not, and never will be, enough to save a sinking ship. WWE’s later success came from changing things up and not relying on an individual’s star power to turn the tide.

The WWE has a history of looking inwards to solve its problems. Following the Attitude Era, the WWE tried to bring back old superstars thinking this is what would ramp up fan interest. Credit to them for trying, however, it was a solution that looked to the past instead of adapting to the new environment. The WWE’s digitization over the past decade has propelled it to new heights. Instead of looking inwards, it has looked outwards and stands at the brink of $1 billion in annual revenues.

Josef Lind
September 10, 2021 10:33 am

, I totally agree with your assessment of WWE fan negativity. The WWE is the most profitable it has ever been yet WWE fans love to complain. I remember the old RajahWWF forums, a large online WWE fan community, where you had to like wrestlers such as Lance Storm, Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect – all the technical wrestlers and those who were good at telling a story during a match. Woe betide you if you liked Triple H, Hulk Hogan or the Rock. You would be attacked for your stupidity and being a dumb ‘mark’. A good comparison is the Stack Overflow forums, where if a non-techie asks a simple question, they get eaten alive by developers and programmers 😅

It is in the RajahWWF forums where the idea of being mark, quite literally a fan of wrestling, came to be associated as a negative thing. If you were a mark, you were a dumb fan who ate everything the WWE fed you. You didn’t understand the business. You weren’t an insider who knew how the industry really worked. It is like the word ‘casual’ in boxing. It is the ultimate insult if you are called a casual 😆

The whole ‘smark’ movement started in the RajahWWF forums too – a portmanteau of “smart” and “mark”. This was the concept of being a fan of wrestling but also understanding the inner workings of the business. It effectively divided the online community. Smarks would look down on marks and their primitive way of looking at professional wrestling. Marks felt smarks complained about everything the WWE did. It got so bad that Jim Ross addressed the smark movement’s dissatisfaction in his weekly columns on the WWE website.

20 years later this dissatisfaction has never really left the online fan community. I was watching a video of the Undertaker’s debut on YouTube and one commenter said he was always going to be a star because he had free reign to no-sell other wrestlers moves. For non-wrestling fans, no-selling a move is when someone attacks you but you don’t react to it. Over-selling is when you pretend you are overly hurt by a move and under-selling is when you show that you felt little pain from another wrestler’s move. The comment led to a heated discussion about how fans are ruining wrestling.

Everyone wants to be an insider now. Everyone wants to have some special knowledge about gossip and drama backstage. Soon there will be no outsiders left. This wish by everyone to be an insider means the online community is largely talking about the negatives. If I didn’t look at WWE’s figures and stats, I would genuinely think that the WWE was on its last legs going by how people talk about it. If you like the WWE, sometimes it is better to step away from the negativity of the online community. Start enjoying the WWE like you used to before you were exposed to the idea of insiders, smarks, no-selling and other terminology people use to sound like they are experts about the business.

Jason Ng
September 10, 2021 5:39 pm

On 14th March 2001, Bob Costas interviewed Vince McMahon on his On The Record show. It was a heated interview that is most memorable because McMahon lost his cool towards the end of the show after having been interrupted many times, and looked close to attacking Costas. In one segment Costas asked McMahon if he thought WWE’s programming “contributed to the incivility and coarseness that’s generally out there in the culture now“, to which McMahon conceded that WWE did play its part.

This is what turned me, a previous hardcore fan, off from the WWE. Record profits don’t necessarily mean a good product. Things have gotten stale. On 16th May 2002, Costas and McMahon did a follow-up interview. McMahon talked about how the WWE was down by about 10% in the ratings but they had the capability to reinvent themselves. Personally, I don’t think they have exercised this capability. After giving WWE many chances, I just don’t find interest in it anymore.

Costas summed it up perfectly in the follow-up interview. The over-the-top crass behaviour that WWE superstars exhibit when on screen, the Kiss My Ass club, the Diva matches that are a few steps shy of pornography… it’s just no longer as distinctive as it once was. The WWE could transcend barriers at one time. Everyone knew who Hulk Hogan was. Stone Cold Steve Austin was a worldwide name. Now? I couldn’t tell you who the main stars are. The WWE doesn’t have the pull it used to.

The WWE has achieved its highest profits to date. While it is great news for the financial side, I fear that it gives off the wrong signal. That signal is that everything is ok. Keep doing what you are doing. These high profits don’t take into account the fans that are switching off and turning to competitors. It doesn’t take into account the complaints long-term WWE fans have. Vince McMahon said the WWE could reinvent itself. Now more than ever, at its highest profitability, it needs to reinvent itself.

Parag Khanna
September 11, 2021 11:40 pm

When I see that WWE is banking its highest profit in its long history, I get a strange sensation. I feel sorry for the WWE fans of today. Why do I say this, you may ask. Well, it comes down to one main reason. The WWE has rabid fans. Fans who LOVE the characters, storylines and matches. But despite their love for the WWE, they will never know what it was like to be a fan before the blanket of kayfabe was unveiled. Once unveiled, the blanket of kayfabe could never be put back on.

It was a magical time that fans of today will never get to experience. Now, let me be clear. When I watched Wrestlemania 8, enjoying classics such as Ric Flair vs Macho Man, Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts vs The Undetaker, and Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice, I was enthralled. Yet deep down I knew something wasn’t quite right. They were fighting each other, but in a strange way. Sure, I was a kid but I was old enough to know that Hogan shaking his head like a maniac didn’t make him invincible as he portrayed.

However, there was doubt. It was always there in the back of my mind. This is what the fans of today are missing. Wrestling is scripted, people would assert. Then they would watch a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, doubting if wrestling was as fake as everyone said it was.

One time my brother and I were watching Monday Night Raw. Triple H was doing an interview in which he dropped a line about the Rock pretending he isn’t afraid of him. My brother and I looked at each other, wide eyes open. We didn’t say anything but we understood each other clearly. We kinda knew wrestling was fake or scripted, but like everyone else, we had some niggling doubts. Triple H delivered this line so convincingly that we were thrown into doubt again. We just didn’t know what to think. This was the magic of kayfabe.

The wrestling industry would change forever once kayfabe was no longer protected. The Rock Says was published, explaining how matches were arranged and winners decided, and programs like Tough Enough revealed how moves were performed. I really believe this was the worst decision in the history of the wrestling business. The magic was gone. Fine, WWE still makes money. Lots of it. But that magic we had is something new fans will never get. The excitement has never been the same. It is still a great experience to watch WWE. I love the theatrics and the energy. The magic of kayfabe isn’t there, though, and that is sad 😕

Rayan Tanwar
September 12, 2021 7:23 pm

Examining WWE’s financials is fascinating. Although profits are at an all-time high, World Wrestling Entertainment Inc’s share price took a nosedive in 2020. Nothing untoward here. Almost every public company suffered at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. As a short term investor who bought shares in 2018 or 2019, you would be disappointed in this slump. WWE stock is showing signs of recovery as packed arenas become the norm again.

As a long-term investor, you would have seen a monumental return on investment if you held shares prior to 2018. Let’s do the calculation. If you had bought $5,000 worth of WWE stock on 18 Oct 2002, they would be worth $68,120 by 28 Sept 2018. For the average investor, WWE’s share price of $51.91 per share sits too high to make a substantial profit now. Even if it does reach its former peak price of $96.73 per share, this is less than double your investment. If the price goes back down to where it was any time before 2013, I will be all over it 😁

The WWE was very smart during 2020 in ensuring it got the best deals for its content licensing, even offsetting the loss of revenue from in-person events. It was a digital year by any standards as people were locked inside with little to do. The WWE pounced on this opportunity to achieve record-breaking digital engagement. Now with a partnership with streaming platform Peacock established and developing localized content for international markets, the WWE is bullish about its long-term profitability.

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