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Vince McMahon: Talent absences to blame for declining WWE numbers

Vince McMahon

Correction: We earlier misidentified WWE Co-President George Barrios as SVP Michael Weitz.

On Thursday's Q1 call for investors, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon pointed to 15 top and mid-card talents being out as the reason for declining numbers.

"When you don't have talent, you don't have storylines. When you don't have storylines, you're not going to do that well in terms of live events and television ratings. It was like a cascade of things that happened," he said.

McMahon followed that up by saying that all those talents were back and that they "made new talent." He was optimistic for the future, citing new additions to the writing team and a new live events team that is now in place.

WWE Co-President George Barrios later said it wasn't just talent absences, but "the magnitude all at one time that felt unique." He said in his time at the company, he can only remember one similar time that happened: spring/summer 2010.

The company announced Q1 revenue was down 3% year-over-year to $182.4 million due to lower merchandise and lower ticket sales. Live event revenue was down 15% year-over-year to $26.2 million while consumer products were down 11% year-over-year to $20.8 million.

As of this writing (2:45 PM Eastern), Wall Street hadn't taken kindly to the call with the stock dropping by nearly 13% to $85.95 despite the stock market holding fairly steady by comparison.

WWE is still expecting record revenue of $1 billion this year due in large part to new five-year deals with Fox and NBC Universal that kick off this fall.

McMahon pointed out that WWE will experience a "whole new beginning" this September when the Fox era begins, saying that between that network and NBC Universal, they will see promotional exposure and opportunities "like never before". The term "rising tide" was used by McMahon and WWE Co-President George Barrios on separate occasions as the company is expecting to see success on Fox that will roll over to the product on USA.

WWE Network

WWE Network closed at 1.58 million paid subscribers for the quarter, hitting 2 million on April 8th, the day after WrestleMania. The Q2 projection is 1.7 million paid. They said they had 300 million hours of content viewed last quarter.

The company is very excited about a relaunch of the Network "later this year", powered by a new streaming deal with partners Endeavor and Massive and new features and functionality. There was not a mention of the long-rumored tier system.

Other Notes:

  • They declined to answer whether another Saudi Arabia event was scheduled for the next quarter, even when pushed by a caller on how they expect to hit some of their projections in upcoming quarters.
  • McMahon was asked about what metrics they use to guide change in characters and storylines. He deferred to Paul Levesque who was part of the call. Without giving any specifics, he said they brought up 15 talents last year and 10 already in 2019, and pushed that their top stars are coming through the developmental system. He also used a "rising tide" reference.
  • WWE will be a big part of Fox's TV upfronts and have been part of the pre-upfront preparations.
  • They were asked about Network churn and how they see the relaunch helping that. Barrios pointed to the talent and a cascade effect causing some of the churn.