WWE held its annual shareholders’ meeting this past Thursday, and unlike its most recent pay-per-view event, the financial results weren’t a complete “Horror Show”.
The meeting, held over a conference call so as to respect social distancing protocols and was led by the company’s General Counsel, Brian Nurse and Frank Riddick III the interim Chief Financial Officer, with Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon providing an overall strategic review. Other board members in attendance included Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon and Paul “HHH” Levesque, Executive Vice-President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative.
Naturally, the company’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic were front and centre. Vince kicked off the meeting noting that the company had taken considerable efforts to ensure the safety of the roster, crew, and employees, as well as extensive cost reduction and cash flow improvement actions. He noted his gratitude for the sacrifices and dedication of the superstars and the global fan base and noted that these actions are continuously evolving as developments arise.
Financially, for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019, the company had a solid year with $960MM (all figures USD) in revenue – a sixth consecutive annual record – and record operating income of $117MM. These high levels were attributed in particular to new distribution contracts for the company’s signature TV shows, RAW and Smackdown Live. They also noted that the company’s forays into other entertainment programming had been successful with 25MM viewers for the WWE-produced movie “The Main Event” and that “The Big Show Show” was among Netflix’s top 10 viewed shows in its debut week.
In the first quarter of fiscal 2020, revenues totaled $291MM and higher-than-projected increases in operating income ($77MM vs. $65MM), which was fueled by growth in domestic content rights fees, revenues earned related to events in Saudi Arabia and cost savings measures. The company believes its long-term growth prospects remain strong and can withstand the current COVID-19 situation while retaining shareholder value.
Notable items from the shareholder Q&A portion are as follows:
- Triple H ran down a list of the safety precautions that are in place at the Performance Centre where the company is taping its TV shows. These included: the use of anti-microbial sprays and coatings for regular sanitizing, COVID-19 testing in advance of any production, barring of entry of anyone who fails to provide a negative screening test result, the mandatory use of masks when not performing and self-quarantining protocols for at least 14 days of anyone who exhibits symptoms or has a positive screening test result. He noted the company works with local health officials and the CDC to monitor and implement any updates to their recommendations.
- In regards to the new free WWE network pricing plan, Riddick said that it was done as a means to attract new subscribers by converting them from free to paid plans. As the free plan only launched in June, it is too early to tell the results. He noted that there are currently no plans to offer any tiered premium pricing offers at this time.
- The company is making a concerted effort to expand its social media platform presence and are exploring the idea of virtual fan meetings and other online experiences.
- In response to a question about the declining TV ratings, McMahon noted that TV ratings in general have been affected by the current COVID-19 situation but that they are still number 1 in ratings on the USA network and on Friday nights in key demographics. They have also seen an increase in digital rating metrics. He summed up by noting that the company is evolving as viewer trends evolve, that the company has a solid 30-year track record of demonstrated success, and they remain confident that they can adapt as necessary.
- Speaking about NXT, Levesque noted that it has a dual-purpose: both as a strong third global brand for the company, and as a way to develop talent and create new stars. He noted that he was very happy with the ratings, which they look at in the long-term not the short-term, and that “the future is very bright in that regard.”
- Asked about whether there will ever be a physical Hall of Fame, Vince seemed to dismiss the idea, noting that other than for business offices, “bricks and mortar is not something we’re generally fond of.” He did note that if sufficient interest continues to build and the company believes there would be a strong return on equity, that “it’s a possibility somewhere down the line,” but the tone of his voice suggested that’s extremely unlikely.
- Though they didn’t go into details about any contingency plans should Florida take a more strict stance on social distancing and shut down production at the Performance Centre, Vince did note that “there is a B-plan.”
- Asked about All Elite Wrestling and how that company has been taking away market share from the NXT show, Levesque acknowledged the ratings but didn’t express any major concerns. “There’s a moment in time, when you begin something, and it’s very exciting and it’s fresh and there’s some interest in it. But it’s a big world. And we continue to be focused on our product. We continue to be focused on the development of our stars and our performers. As Vince said, we have a very long track record of doing this incredibly successfully for many, many, many years. And we will continue to do so,” he said.