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WWE looks to boost sponsorship revenue as live events return, media deal expires


Stephanie McMahon is the Chief Brand Officer, TV Personality and Television Person of WWE. She delivers her keynote address on the opening of Sports Matters with All That Matters 2016, in Singapore on September 14, 2016.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

WWE and industry analysts agree: The pro wrestling and media company can squeeze more revenue out of sponsorship deals.

The intellectual property surrounding stars such as John Cena and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a key asset. The company’s live events are seeing a return as Covid restrictions are eased. In addition, sponsorship dollars fuel the media offerings. 

WWE plans to expand its programming and fill soccer stadiums this year, according to Frank RiddickThe chief financial officer at WWE. Riddick, who took over the job in November, said after last week’s earnings release that the company is making sponsorship a priority this year.

In 2021, WWE reported roughly $72 millionCombine for advertising and sponsorships in its media or live events businesses.

WWE made more than $10 million in sponsorship fees alone for last month’s marquee Wrestlemania 38, executive Stephanie McMahon said last week. That was a record for the two-day event held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. These are the sponsorship partners of WWE Toyota, DoorDash, Rocket Mortgage and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics line, said McMahon, who is also the daughter of longtime CEO Vince McMahon.

Analysts believe that the WWE is not worth its sponsorship revenues. They estimate the company attracts $35 million annually just through sponsorships. This is lower than the UFC combat-sports organization, which receives over $100 million per year, according to Guggenheim Partners’ note to clients.

According to IEG, sponsorship consultancy firm, WWE is less popular than UFC, but its followers are more likely to see sponsors. According to IEG’s research using data from YouGov, 67 percent of WWE’s fans will consume brands associated to the company. This is higher than the average 55% for 11 of the largest sports leagues in America, including the NFL.

Peter Laatz is the global managing director of IEG. He stated, “All it does was spell potential and chance.” According to him, WWE could generate over $100 million annually in sponsorship revenues.

However, he noted that WWE could not be the best fit for some of the wealthiest or highest-tiered categories.

CNBC reached out to WWE but the WWE declined to answer questions about sponsorships.

WWE is the most prominent streaming company

WWE receives most of their revenue through its media business. This account accounted for $278.1million of its overall $333.4million revenue in the quarter that ended March 31. The media sector saw an increase of 27% in advertising and sponsorship revenues to $19.8million compared with the prior year.

According to WWE President Nick Khan, the company has been preparing for key media deals as the streaming industry becomes more crowded. Hulu has expired its deal with Hulu for the day 2 rights to WWE’s “Raw”, a weekly program.

Subscribers can watch Day 2 rights, which allow them to view “Raw,” and “Smackdown,” a second weekly program 24 hours after their first broadcast. Raw is broadcast live by USA Network and Smackdown on Fox. Subscribers to NBCUniversal’s Peacock Service can view the shows after 30 days. In 2021, WWE became a five-year deal with NBCUniversal for a reported $1 billion to license its library and show live main events on Peacock.)

Khan also suggested a new player could enter the sports streaming game.

“It’s just a matter of time before Netflix goes with live,” said Khan. He added the live events generate the highest consumer impressions for networks and streaming companies.

Netflix is indeed looking to bounce back as its results suffer while viewers shake off pandemic restrictions and head back out into the world. In April, Netflix reported a decline in subscribers and warned of millions of more losses in the months ahead. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos said at the time he doesn’t see a profitable way for the streamer to get into sports, although its “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” series has been a smash hit.

Netflix probably wouldn’t be interested in WWE, anyway, according to longtime media rights advisor Lee Berke, since the wrestling company is already tied up with Peacock. He said it would make more sense for the NBCUniversal service to add more WWE rights.

“That’s a major relationship for them, and there’s a lot they can do to build on that,” said Berke, CEO of LHB Sports, which advises the sports entertainment industry. “But if [Netflix] is going to make a move for WWE, I see them making an aggressiveFor more information, please visit:ll of their content or major live events.”

WWE looks at international expansion as well, in particular India. India has a quarter of a million people. growing middle class. According to WWE, its content can be seen in over 180 countries. According to the company, it attracted 25 million viewers for an event that featured U.S. WWE wrestlers against Indian-born competitors. Wrestlemania was viewed by more than 50million viewers in India during the last month.

Khan, who is the president of WWE called India “hugely crucial market”. But, he added, WWE is waiting for networks to finish bidding on rights to cricket – the most popular sport in the country – before the company determines its future media marketplace there.

Disclosure: CNBC’s parent company, NBCUniversal, is the owner of Peacock.