World Wrestling Entertainment has grown from a small regional organization to a global entertainment empire generating $526.5 million in 2008, an 8% jump over 2007. But unlike its seemingly indestructible Divas and Superstars, even the WWE isn’t immune to the ravages of the economy.
Right now, the WWE is planning its two biggest annual events, SummerSlam on Aug. 23 in Los Angeles, and next year’s Wrestlemania — the 2009 edition in April grossed a record setting $52 million and gets 40% of the company’s marketing dollars. Even so, the pressure is on Michelle Wilson, the WWE’s new executive vice president of marketing, to halt a falloff in ticket and pay-per-view sales.
CHIEF MARKETER: What impact has the recession had on the WWE?
WILSON: It’s been similar to other businesses, but not as dramatic. We’ve been able to hold our own. We did take a hard look at the economy in the fourth quarter, and lowered prices for the first time on select seats in the upper tier.
CM: Did you see attendance improve?
WILSON: We have marketed aggressively, and we believe that has helped maintain our live event attendance in the U.S., which is down only 3%. We called the promotion out in local TV spots, in e-mail blasts to our database of 3 million fans in those markets, and through venue assets.
CM: What about WWE’s pay-per-view audience?
WILSON: Pay-per-view ($39.95 per event) is a major part of WWE’s revenue stream. To make sure people are encouraged to buy, we just ran a promotion where those who purchased both [last month's] “Night of Champions” and [August's] “SummerSlam” got a replica championship belt watch. While we won’t discount the shows, we’re doing a promotion that gives value. It did very well for us.
CM: What are you doing to leverage all the WWE content?
WILSON: We have hours of programming online and in the movie theaters, and we’re on TV every week. I’m lucky I have that marketing machine behind me 52 weeks of the year delivering the WWE message, so we don’t have to spend as much on traditional media.
CM: How do you determine ROI?
WILSON: In the days when marketing budgets were much larger, we did more general consumer brand marketing, but now we’re being asked what the return on every marketing dollar spent is. We spend our dollars on transaction-based marketing, so every dollar spent moves the needle toward driving ticket sales, getting eyeballs, getting a customer to buy a pay-per-view program, or getting a fan to buy a DVD or branded merchandise.
CM: What’s the most challenging task you have taken on?
WILSON: Other than needing 10 more hours in a day, it is re-educating the marketplace about who the WWE is. People remember us as Hulk Hogan and something their father or grandfather watched. We as an organization have grown so much since that time. We need to re-educate key influencers like the media, blue-chip companies and advertisers and dispel the conceptions of who we are. The success of this company was based on marketing to the fans directly, but it’s time to grow up and move into mainstream popularity and get people to understand the WWE of 2009.
CM: How much pressure is on marketers to perform?
WILSON: It’s dramatic. You’ve got to do a lot more with every marketing dollar. The pressure is not only on being efficient, but being effective about driving people to certain behavior. It’s going to be out-of-the-box ideas, nontraditional marketing that’s going to win the battle.
CM: What is your favorite wrestling move?
WILSON: John Cena has a move called an “attitude adjustment” where he has an opponent, or multiple opponents, over his shoulder and then drops them into the ring. That’s a fun one.