Wrestling on the world stage
As a kid, my neighbour and I watched professional wrestling on one of those old TVs on the weekends. Even then, I could tell the shows weren’t real, with choreographed fights that followed a scripted storyline to increase fan attendance at live events. Even The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), who is now a mega-movie actor, first rose to prominence in the WWE. He was recognized for consistently putting on a show and may have been the most talented performer to ever pick up a microphone on stage, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats as he approached the ring.
WWE is a fictional plot that mimics every aspect of a genuine sports league; some people refer to it as “the world’s biggest alternate reality game” because it effectively transforms our actual world into the setting for a fictional narrative. The distinction between fact and fantasy is frequently blurred by wrestlers who compete under their real names or who use a variety of elements from their real lives.
The emergence of the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc (NYSE: WWE) is a remarkable story; from pay-per-view to founding their own network and dominating social media, they disrupted an already established industry to become the entertainment behemoths they are today.
The Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) in the 1950s is where WWE’s beginnings can be found. The CWC was a boxing and wrestling promoter that eventually developed into the WWE brand we know today. But it was in the 1980s that wrestling experienced a boom and unprecedented mainstream popularity. The general public became interested in wrestling after cable TV and Pay-Per-View were introduced, and they loved it.
Everyone remembers Hulk Hogan after he made his WWE debut in 1984, forever changing the wrestling industry and bringing professional wrestling to the world stage with his on-stage act and personality. The decade of the 2000s saw the emergence of more stars, a shift back toward a more family-friendly product, and cross-promotion of pop culture and professional wrestling with celebrities like Mr. T and Muhammad Ali being invited as special guests.
For decades, the WWE sold pay-per-view (PPV) subscriptions to its high-profile live events, which was the standard in the industry. Most of their broadcast content at the time was available on cable TV, but several storylines required viewers to purchase a $55 pay-per-view to finish them. They quickly realized they had to pivot the business model since it was limited to only a small fraction of their fan base.
The World Wrestling Entertainment Inc (NYSE: WWE) noticed that consumer behaviour was shifting and decided to create its own network, eliminating the need for cable companies, and provide a product that would attract fans to pay a monthly subscription rather than simply for one or two pay-per-view events each year.
They became aware that they could create a bridge between “sports” and “entertainment” that might benefit both categories in a way that no other storytelling organization could. One of the first tasks was to build a platform for aggregating consumer data from all of WWE’s sources so that the firm could make better business decisions and provide fans with a better experience.
WWE has always been ahead of the tech curve since the 1980s, pioneering in the cable distribution of content; later, they were a significant force behind pay-per-view. Now, the WWE Network has over a billion followers in more than 180 countries, making them one of the most popular sports services online.
The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NASCAR sports channels are all outranked by the WWE’s YouTube channel with over 50 billion cumulative views. This is no surprise as they are unrivalled as the ultimate masters of “transmedia storytelling.” Live events are the most important and enduring component of their pro wrestling business model, which means that tales about these wrestlers need to be told through social media accounts in real-time to engage with the fans.
Today, WWE has been quite successful with their gaming software, offering console gaming on the Xbox and PlayStation, which dominates over their streaming service revenue. As a result, they’ve begun to examine the NFT market and further explore the gaming industry, where they have a sizable following of supporters, with plans to expand on Web3 and metaverse projects to continue evolving their franchise.
The WWE achieved the holy trinity of money, reach, and market dominance thanks to its innovative thinking and willingness to use technology to disrupt an industry that otherwise would have remained in control of traditional broadcast networks.