Although WWE storylines get criticized in online chatrooms, typically the company’s bottom line gets celebrated in corporate boardrooms. That was the case yet again as the company presented its fourth quarter and annual results for its 2021 fiscal year during a quarterly investor call on Thursday afternoon.
Financially, the company hit unprecedented levels in 2021 with record total revenues reaching $1.095 Billion (all figures USD) thanks in part to its return to live events, but mainly because of its contents rights deals with Peacock, USA Network, and FOX.
Operating income for the year was $259MM, and the company’s Adjusted Operating Income Before Depreciation and Amortization (OIBDA) increased to a record $327.1MM.
Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon was bullish on the company’s ability to replicate their success in 2022, saying that they are looking to hit record revenues again and take advantage of “… opportunities that are there for us to grow exponentially.”
Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan credited the Peacock deal as a key success driver, citing double-digit increases in viewership of every Premium Live Event (PLE) from July through November as compared to the 2019 pre-Peacock numbers, including an over 30% increase in viewership for SummerSlam and a 75% increase in viewers for Crown Jewel. He also noted that the Day One event on January 1st had viewership that was two-thirds more than the typical mid-December PLE viewership, and one of the most-watched PLEs ever on Peacock.
He also touted recent partnership deals with Panini (trading cards), Mattel (action figures), and other merchandise deals that he said help monetize the brand’s intellectual property, both current and historic.
Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon made similar comments, highlighting recent appearances by WWE Superstars in mainstream ad campaigns – like Big E starring in the cold opening for the Fury vs. Wilder fight – as evidence of the brand’s value.
The upcoming WWE 2K22 video game was mentioned several times on the call, and based on advance indicators, expectations for its success are high.
“Gaming is a focus for WWE,” McMahon noted, “as roughly 85% of our audience self-identifies as a gamer.”
Not mentioned on the call was the decline in TV ratings for both RAW and Smackdown, despite these trends being included in the company’s Key Performance Indicators presentation that was posted online. Ratings for Smackdown declined 8% from the same quarter last year, which went against the trend for the rest of the FOX network which saw an overall increase of 10% and for network programming in general where the decline was only 1%.
In terms of TV, Khan spoke mainly about the overall macrotrends of the industry, noting that streaming services continue to clamour for more original live content. Though a combination of network and streaming platform distribution can certainly work, using the analogy that RAW and Smackdown are more like regular season football games while PLEs on the Peacock are more like the playoffs.
In the discussions of TV and in live events – the company provided financial forecasts for 2022 that assume a full year of live event touring, including at least two large international (i.e. Saudi Arabia) events – there was no mention of NXT. Instead, McMahon discussed the company’s new Next In Line (NIL) initiative targeting collegiate athletes.
“We are looking for elite athletes with big personalities, some of whom already have a significant social media following,” McMahon explained.
She noted that many collegiate athletes will not get signed to play professionally, so the NIL program offers them an opportunity for a career that lets them use their athletic ability and build their personal brand at the same time. She name-checked Olympic medalist Gable Steveson who has already been drafted to the RAW roster once he finishes his senior year of University.
“Never before has there been such a clear pipeline to being a WWE Superstar.”