WWE WrestleMania 30 Buys Has Shocking Implications For Network

On Tuesday afternoon, WWE updated their Key Performances Indicators presentation with the latest dashboard metrics updated through April 30, 2014. WWE reported that there was 716,000 PPV buys in the month of April 2014. That's split into 690,000 buys for Wrestlemania 30 and 26,000 prior period buys for Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber events. And how does 690,000 traditional PPV buys for Wrestlemania XXX compare to the last three years? April 3, 2011: Wrestlemania 27: 1,124,000 worldwide PPV buys (679,000 buys in US/Canada) April 1, 2012: Wrestlemania 28: 1,219,000 worldwide PPV buys (715,000 buys in US/Canada) April 7, 2013: Wrestlemania 29: 1,104,000 worldwide PPV buys (662,000 buys in US/Canada) April 6, 2014: Wrestlemania 30: 690,000 worldwide PPV buys along with 667,287 subscribers to the domestic WWE Network A few weeks after Wrestlemania, the WWE surprised many analysts (myself included) when they announced that "nearly 400,000 domestic pay-per-view buying homes for WrestleMania 30" in the United States. Neither the press release nor this latest KPI report exactly explains how many U.S. households bought Wrestlemania, but it's believed to between 350,000 and 390,000. That leaves the number of non-US PPV buys for WM30 between 300,000 and 340,000 buys. What's remarkable is that the past three years there was between 440,000 and 500,000 Wrestlemania PPV buys from outside North America. Thus, we're down by at least a quarter (if not a third!). We're missing at least 125,000 international PPV buys! (And that's not even accounting for Canadian buys.) We knew that launching the WWE Network would mean that traditional PPV buys for Wrestlemania would be significantly down this year. However, the two surprises have been that the domestic PPV buys were so strong and that international PPV buys were so weak. It's a very curious situation. Some possible explanations for the decrease in international PPV buys: Lack of Interest (i.e. Rock was not wrestling this year) Rampant Piracy (i.e. Fans chose to watch illegal streams and/or not to order replays) WWE Network (i.e. Large numbers of non-US fans chose to watch the event via their subscription to the domestic WWE Network service) For me, the most compelling scenario is the third option - large numbers of international WWE fans found a way to get a WWE Network subscription and watched the PPV using the over-the-top service. Yet, this implies that a significant portion (125,000 or more!) of the WWE Network current subscribers are non-domestic households. (That's a lot more than the "handful" of people CFO George Barrios dismissively characterized at last month's JPMorgan conference.) In fact, if there was 125,000 international subscribers in the announced post-Wrestlemania 667,287 number that would represent nearly 19% of the subscription base is from outside the United States. That's bad news for WWE. They were counting on a million domestic subscribers for the US version plus another quarter-million for the international English-language version of the WWE Network. The implications are stark: Demand in the US is weaker than expected (though it does partially explain why so many domestic US Households ended up purchasing Wrestlemania via traditional PPV means) and initial growth in global markets is likely to be quite sluggish since so many international subscribers (especially the hardcore base) have already seen, used and bought the WWE Network! Interestingly, when the WWE Network originally launched, we took a survey of subscribers and found that a nearly 17% of the respondents came from overseas (GMT timezone). Some dismissed this as a skewed sample that implied a ludicrously high number of Europeans (as many as 50,000) ordering the WWE Network. Now it would seem that it may have been a sign of a much larger trend. Now, this suggests an even larger number of non-US subscribers to the WWE Network. Also, what's happening with all of those US households (nearly 400,000) that paid full price to purchase Wrestlemania? Some of them were already WWE Network subscribers that didn't trust the over-the-top stream to be reliable. However, the bulk were likely customers that were unable or unwilling to yet adopt to the OTT solution. With DirecTV and Dish Network no longer carrying WWE PPVs, how have they adapted? WWE has remained quite tight-lipped about the current WWE Network subscription base. The fact they didn't release any information following the dramatic stock plummet last month suggests that the latest datapoint isn't encouraging. The weakness in international PPV business suggests that the composition of the WWE Network subscription base is certainly more complex than originally thought.
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I'm a professional wrestling analyst, an improviser and an avid NES gamer. I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and I'm working on my first book (#wrestlenomics). You can contact me at chris.harrington@gmail.com or on twitter (@mookieghana)