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How quickly will WWE return to PPV? What does it mean for UFC?

By Zach Arnold | May 21, 2014

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The UFC rushed to launch Fight Pass before Vince McMahon could announce the launch of the WWE Network. And WWE proceeded to make that announcement in the UFC’s backyard.

At the time of the announcement, estimable writers like Jonathan Snowden of Bleacher Report (now the #2 sports site on the Internet) said that the launch of the WWE Network was the equivalent of shooting PPV in the head and leaving it for dead. My opinion was that the WWE Network would certainly be revolutionary and could perhaps help keep WWE’s business going in the future. At the same time, I never believed that PPV was a dying concept. As long as you have compelling stars, you can draw on PPV. And PPV still means something. Appointment-viewing content still means something. PPV still carries a level of unique interest. Both Dave Meltzer and Mauro Ranallo (on Fight Opinion Radio) also agreed with those sentiments.

Three months after the launch of the WWE Network, the only numbers released publicly so far indicate a little under 700,000 promised subscribers. How many of them being paid subscribers versus deadbeats is yet to be determined. At a Monday conference call, Vince McMahon & George Barrios said they would release new subscription numbers next quarter.

Since the launch of the WWE Network, three big outside developments have occurred that could directly impact business:

And then there’s WWE’s renewal of their television rights deal with NBC Universal, which resulted in a 25% increase in rights fees. Not exactly double. The result has been a stockholder revolt, featuring multiple parties issuing self-styled press releases claiming they would launch their own “independent investigations” against WWE for potential fraud given past claims made about how much money the company was going to get in the new round of television negotiations. You can read all the grizzly details here.

Our old friend James Caldwell at PW Torch autopsied the Monday WWE conference call with investors and it went about as badly as you could imagine. Vince McMahon lost hundreds of millions of dollars on paper and now he’s facing the prospect of having to potentially settle with angry investors/speculators.

The UFC has taken a different route with Fight Pass. They’ve included Ultimate Fighter series and B-level/C-level fight cards as fresh content. The company won’t give out specific subscription numbers but claim that subscriptions have exceeded internal expectations. The challenge that the UFC faces is that they have to convince fans that the content they’re pumping out is as important, if not more important, than what they’ve putting on cable & PPV. That’s a really hard sell. The WWE Network is the antithesis of UFC Fight Pass. WWE actually chose a fresh approach of telling fans that you will get A-level content on the platform rather than outtakes or scraps. I applaud them for trying to up the level of important content online. But the WWE has gone all-in here and abandoned PPV entirely.

As for the UFC, Dana White wants the media to do free publicity for Fight Pass while at the same time trashing them on social media while also claiming he doesn’t read the Internet any more. This Ben Fowlkes article on Renan Barao set him off.

The UFC is stretched thin everywhere at this point. They’ve now included Ultimate Fighter Latino as scheduled programming on the site, which will feature Cain Velasquez & Fabricio Werdum as coaches. What’s the ceiling at this point for the number of subscribers they can attract with Fight Pass if WWE is struggling to make it big time by giving away their A-level content for $10 a month?

Topics: MMA, Media, Pro-Wrestling, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

7 Responses to “How quickly will WWE return to PPV? What does it mean for UFC?”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    The problem with the stock market and investors is that they don’t care about 5 to 10 years from now. All they care about is how their investment can increase right now. That is why when the market was doing really good a few years ago and money was flowing that some companies were trying to go private again. It allows for them to have a more long term oriented plan.

    Personally, I still think the WWE made a smart play moving away from PPV. Where they going to take their lumps here and there? Absolutely. But long term this is the best move for them. They have a strong television contract. It might not have beat estimates but it is still strong. They are going to have a strong WWE Network.

    When they are fully operational internationally, the WWE Network is easily going to have over 1 Million subscribers. It will be a big money generator for the company and they will be fine.

    #2…. I will believe it when I see it. What is more likely to happen is that content providers will just tell them to go screw and put them in a pickle. The power is increasingly going in the direction of the content owners. That trend is not going to change.

    #3…. About Comcast…. They have completely walked back those comments since saying it. It is not going to happen.

  2. Tradition Rules says:

    I haven’t seen anything listing the SEC in regards to the ‘fraud” claims against WWE, but had read somewhere that someone found out Stephanie McMahon started dumping her own stock in chunks every few weeks and that was a red flag. Any truth/info to that??

  3. appa says:

    wwe fans are not necessarily in charge of their wallets.
    many fans are too young and are dependent on parents for discretionary spending. as they be become financially independent they are outgrowing wwe

    • Tradition Rules says:

      Well said. This is what I’ve been telling a friend of mine, that basically the problem with being so geared towards “kids” and not so much adults, is that they don’t have the disposable income, and it is SO childish (WWE) that it is NOT a cool thing to watch past 12 years of age for (not all) but many).

      • 45 Huddle says:

        They messed up when they brought back ECW and made it exactly like the rest of the WWE. They need a separate organization that caters to adults. A combo of the old ECW and current ROH. Not sure why they haven’t done that yet. Would be a new market to penetrate.

        • cutch says:

          There audience is grown up though (they usually win the adult 18-49 demographic), Raw’s audience is mostly adults, it’s just advertisers think wrestling fans are retards and are probably on a low income.

          When the attitude era was massive they scared away the sponsors and they only came back when they went PG.

  4. Tibbetts says:

    “…WWE is struggling to make it big time by giving away their A-level content for $10 a month?”

    WWE reported that WMXXX got 400,000 domestic PPV buys, so they didn’t actually give the show away for $10.

    Ed. — Right, and starting with Payback, they are off PPV now. They didn’t want to be but the distributors said no.

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