Oh boy! Not only is the title more clever than that time I came up with Linky and the Brain for a Saturday Morning Dump back in the day, but I’m going to take a look at investing in World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE). If you’re anything like me, you’d be hilarious and handsome. You also would have spent altogether too much time in your youth smelling what The Rock was cooking.
That’s a wrestling reference. You should expect a lot more of those.
Here’s a one-year chart. As you can see, it’s more beaten up than The Undertaker at this year’s Westlemania.
Wrestling peaked in popularity in the late 1990s, right around the same time WWE’s shares went public. That’s some good timing by Vince McMahon, the CEO and majority owner. He also used to be a big part of the act, at least back in the day. I’m not sure how involved he gets these days.
Anyway, the company makes money in a few different ways. It sells pay per view events, which it hypes relentlessly during its weekly programs. It also sells a mountain of merchandise, both online and when fans go to the live events. Tickets are sold to those live events as well, obviously. And finally, it has an exclusive contract to show its weekly shows – Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown – on network TV in many countries around the world.
The company had a really interesting idea. It would sell, for $10 a month, an exclusive television network to its fans, like a Netflix of wresting. Fans would get access to all the company’s monthly pay per view events, lots of old footage, pre and post game shows for all its big events, and weekly shows like Raw and Smackdown.
For a hardcore fan, getting the network seemed like a no-brainer. Pay per view events cost $45 a pop, with Wrestlemania coming in at $60. Most fans either just splurge for Wrestlemania – by far the biggest event of the company’s calendar – or get a bunch of people together to split the cost of regular pay per views.
We all know a football or hockey fan that splurge to get access to every game, so why wouldn’t WWE fans do the same thing? The company announced it would launch the network at around the same time as Wrestlemania, and McMahon came out and figured the company could sell 2 million subscriptions. Anything over a million and the company would make money.
They sold 660,000.
That’s when the stock originally fell. And then, shortly after, more bad news. The company’s television contract came up for renewal in the U.S., its biggest market. WWE has interesting demographics. Women enjoy the product much more than they enjoy traditional sports. Its weekly shows regularly are more popular than the NHL and NASCAR, and regularly do comparable numbers to the NBA, America’s second favorite sport. You’d think the company could sign a nice sized contract.
It did end up resigning a new five-year deal with NBC Universal, continuing to show Raw on USA Network and Smackdown on Syfy, because if there’s a station I’d put wresting on, it’s the science fiction channel. Okay, I guess wrestling is a form of science fiction. Anyway, no financial terms were released, leading investors to assume the contract was a disappointment. Speculation is that NBC balked at signing a higher priced contract because it assumed viewers would watch Raw and Smackdown on WWE’s specialty network.
These two huge pieces of bad news sent the stock down further than an Owen Hart plunge from the rafters.
WWE made a paltry $0.04 in 2013, mostly thanks to higher operating costs. It paid out 48 cents per share in dividends. That probably makes wrestling actually safer than its dividend. It is sitting on almost $1.50 per share in cash on its balance sheet, but if it continues to lose money from its network that cash will go away quickly.
Okay, enough bad news. There are a couple of reasons why I think the company could recover.
First of all, when WWE announced network numbers, the network had been around for all of about two months. It hasn’t even tried to expand the concept internationally either. It is having problems with people who don’t have the proper technology needed to watch the network’s programming on their TVs, but this isn’t insurmountable. The company has admitted the network hasn’t grown as fast as it previously assumed, but it’s still way too early to give up on it.
Since WWE owns all its old content, the network has the opportunity to eventually become ridiculously profitable. Not only would it be a giant commercial for the company’s products, it would also smooth out revenue that traditionally spikes with Wrestlemania. Getting $10 a month is far better than just getting $60 for Wrestlemania.
As for the TV deal, I want to wait until the company releases actual numbers. It could be that the first couple years of the deal are weak, and then it gets better in 2016 or 2017. It still has to sign a deal in India as well, which could end up being decent.
I haven’t bought the stock yet, but it has earned a place on my watch list. The WWE brand is certainly worth something, and I think the network has potential. It’s a cheaper than it’s been for years. In conclusion, crappy wrestling joke.