SBJ/June 20-26, 2011/In Depth

WWE boosts international growth efforts

World Wrestling Entertainment is stepping up its international expansion initiatives, aiming to increase TV broadcasts, live shows, DVDs, merchandise sales and other revenue streams in nations that have some of the world’s largest economies.

And why not? International business generates about 25 percent of WWE’s revenue annually, and reached 28.3 percent in 2010, with $135.3 million.

“WWE has been in some markets for many, many years that are starting to mature,” said Andrew Whitaker, executive vice president of international for WWE. “In some markets, WWE is delivering only one line of business — say, TV distribution — but none of the other businesses, such as merchandising.

“The international expansion of WWE has been under way for over a decade. … Every division of WWE — live pay-per-view, TV distribution, live events — is delivered in markets across Europe, the Middle East, many markets in Asia and some markets in Latin America. But there are some parts of the world where countries are not fully developed across all lines of business.”

WWE
The high flying Sin Cara has a huge following in Mexico.
In 2010, WWE held 74 shows internationally, with an average attendance of 7,800 and an average ticket price of $66.47. WWE’s revenue from international live events in 2010 totaled $39.9 million. WWE plans to run about 79 live international events this year.

WWE, Vince McMahon’s professional wrestling behemoth based in Stamford, Conn., has taken such steps as:

Opening an office in Mumbai, India, on June 1. The exploits of Indian 7-footer The Great Khali, a star in WWE, has increased awareness of WWE in that country in the past couple of years, and has helped create demand for more product. The company named Rukn Kizilbash as general manager of the Mumbai office, charged with expanding all lines of WWE’s business.

Began a two-year television programming deal in February in Russia, reaching 24 million homes in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Held its first live event in China, on Aug. 22, 2010, at the World Expo, selling out an arena that holds 8,000 spectators. China has run WWE television programming since 2007. WWE even has a Mandarin-language website there.

Mexico is WWE’s third-largest international market — behind the United Kingdom and France — and WWE plans to televise “Monday Night Raw” and “Smackdown” Oct. 15-16 from the Palacio de Los Deportes in Mexico City. Rey Mysterio Jr. and the newly arrived Sin Cara are two WWE performers with wide popularity in Mexico.

Placing “WWE Raw,” starting March 2, on Esporte Interativo, which is Brazil’s biggest sports channel, reaching more than 33 million TV households.

“It is very much an expansion across all of the businesses,” Whitaker said.

“For example, until fairly recently in Brazil, we did not have national TV coverage. Now we do. We have a very good partner there. The next step is to roll out the other lines of businesses.”

Same for India, where WWE has broadcast programming for about 20 years. WWE is negotiating a licensing deal with an Indian company, part of the company’s longer-term goal to roll out its ancillary lines of business, such as more live events, pay-per-views broadcasts, DVDs and merchandise.

Bruce Goldberg writes for the Denver Business Journal, an affiliated publication.
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