Tuesday, May 20, 2014

who watches pro wrestling?

In a presentation given shortly after the Network was announced in January, the company told investors that it would take 1 million U.S. subscribers for the Network to break even, but if it got to 2 million subscribers, the Network would produce additional income of $50 million, thereby nearly doubling the entirety of the company's 2012 operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA).

Naturally, a statement like that had investors licking their chops. Unfortunately, 2 million U.S. subscribers is a completely unreasonable number given the size of the WWE's American fan base, a fact that shouldn't come as much of a surprise to people familiar with how the WWE made its estimate.

In fact, the estimate is based on in-house research that found that 52 million broadband-enabled U.S. homes have someone in them who has "an affinity" for World Wrestling Entertainment. As a result, the WWE reasoned the Network could get 2 million subscribers by getting just 4% of these households to sign up.

This logic is extremely flawed. While it's nice that 52 million households have "affinity" for the WWE, the fact is that only about 5 million people watch the company's flagship cable show, "Monday Night Raw," each week. It stands to reason that people who aren't watching the company's free offerings would be unlikely to pay $9.99 monthly for premium content.

A better pool to look at would be the people who were already paying for two or three pay-per-views and would realize savings by getting all of the events on the Network. While the WWE's most popular pay-per-view, WrestleMania, can generate more than 1 million buys, its other events are significantly less popular. Only one other pay-per-view, the Royal Rumble, was purchased by more than 300,000 people in 2013.

It's no surprise then that WWE reported only 667,000 subscribers in April. While it's possible the service could get to 1 million over the coming year, it seems that its next big growth period would likely come around the Network's biggest selling point, WrestleMania, which won't come again until April 2015.

And while Monday Night Raw is largely responsible for USA Network being the most-watched network on basic cable, advertisers pay less to reach its viewers than any other show the station airs.

These low ad rates are partially attributable to the stigma that has followed pro wrestling since its carnival origins, but they're also grounded in reality.

According to a survey of sports fans produced by Scarborough in 2013 and reported on by wrestling business reporter Chris Harrington, half of WWE viewers earn an income under $50,000, compared to 30% of sports fans in general. On top of that, 66% of adult WWE viewers never attended college, well above the 44% national average.

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