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WWE 2016 financials: Network subs up; 205 and UK tour updates

WWE announced its year-end business numbers at a conference call on Thursday morning, as the company finished 2016 with $729.2 million in total revenue at $33.8 million in profits. The numbers were up from the $658.8 million in revenue and $24.1 million in annual profits from last year.

Revenue numbers are the highest in company history. Profits are still well below the pre-Network levels, although most projections are they will be at or ahead of those levels in 2017 due to an increase in TV rights fees and lower tax rates.

Most of the year was actually somewhat even in profits except that last year in the fourth quarter the company lost $1.2 million and this year's fourth quarter profits were $8.0 million. Total revenue in quarter four was $194.9 million, up from $166.2 million in quarter four of 2015.

Wall Street gave a thumbs up to the numbers as the WWE stock at this writing is trading at $20.94 per share, up from $19.28 at its close yesterday.

The key takes are that there were 1,403,000 Network subscribers at the end of December, although that has grown to 1.5 million in January due to the season growth for the Royal Rumble. They did not predict a WrestleMania number but will give a number after the show. Last year they increased 237,000 in subscribers over WrestleMania season. If they do that this year they'll be at 1,640,000 subscriptions the day after WrestleMania.

U.S. subscriber numbers at year-end were 1,033,000, up from 940,000. However, the Network division overall decreased in profitability for the year from $48.4 million to $36.9 million, due to increases in costs of the Network programming and a major decline in PPV.

Virtually all significant profit growth comes from television rights fees. Profits were up on television from $88.0 million in 2015 to $114.8 million in 2016, even though revenue increased by $10.6 million. Some of that is misleading, in the sense that they expense some things to the Network that were formerly expensed to television.

In the main take, Vince McMahon spoke of touring the 205 Live wrestlers with their own house shows, similar to NXT, as well as a European outpost with regular touring, stemming from the U.K. special. He didn't give any timetable as to when this would happen.

The idea of a U.K. or Europe based satellite group is something that has been talked about a lot, but the idea of doing house show tours with the cruiserweights is something that is new. If all groups are running and there are two NXT shows, that would leave the company with as many as six events every Saturday night.

If there was a hidden negative, it's that live event attendance, while up overall due to running more shows, decreased in profitability as well as average attendance.

For the main brand shows, the average paid attendance in quarter four was 5,300, down from 6,300 in the same quarter last year. That doesn't factor in NXT events. The total profits for all fourth quarter shows, including NXT events, fell from $7.3 million to $6.2 million in the fourth quarter.