SBJ/Oct. 14-20, 2013/In Depth

WWE says PG format pays off with sponsors

World Wrestling Entertainment says its sponsorship revenue has nearly tripled since the company decided in 2008 to exit the raunchier Attitude Era and replace it with more family-friendly, PG-rated television programming.

Companies such as Mattel (action figures), Nestlé (Hot Pockets), General Mills (Totino’s), Frito-Lay (Doritos) and Kraft (John Cena’s face will appear on 72 million cartons of the Capri Sun drink) are among the approximately 20
that have become sponsors since the professional wrestling organization toned down the language, simulated violence and sexual themes and switched its programming — particularly its flagship “Monday Night Raw” show — to PG (Friday night’s “Smackdown” has been PG ever since its 1999 debut).

WWE reports that sponsorship revenue was $7.4 million in 2008 and now is more than $20 million annually. WWE would not disclose the cost of the sponsorships it has sold.

“When you look at the roots of WWE, it has always been a multigenerational property,” said Michelle Wilson, WWE’s chief marketing officer, who joined the company in February 2009. “I still hear it today when I go on sales calls: ‘I went with my dad. I went with my granddad.’

“Think back to early 2002, the Attitude Era: Shock TV was the norm and it became more TV-14 content. At that time, that’s what sold and did well.

“As we evolved, we realized it was important to get back to our roots and get back to the multigenerational aspect of the brand. And to make sure we can bring on corporate partners, and charities, we knew PG would really help those conversations to happen. … We wanted to attract blue-chip partners.”

When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson told Cena, “You look like a big fat bowl of Fruity Pebbles” during an on-air
The animated image of wrestler John Cena has appeared on 8 million cereal boxes.
Photo by: WWE
promo meant to mock Cena’s colorful shirts, that created the opportunity that has since placed Cena’s face on 8 million cereal boxes and drew 400,000 entries in a contest to win tickets to WWE’s SummerSlam.

“He knocked Fred Flintstone off the box,” said Sharon Pupel, marketing director for Post Foods, maker of Fruity Pebbles. “Obviously we’re very happy with the relationship. We’ve had great success in reaching our target with the great properties WWE has.”

Said Wilson, “I think WWE is perfectly positioned to grow. We’re very turnkey; we control the intellectual property, the athletes, the production of TV, and the social media and digital media assets. So when sponsors come to us, it’s one-stop shopping.”

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