Fact Checking Road Dogg’s Tweets On WWE Profits, Ratings

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As noted earlier, WWE producer Brian James, best known as Road Dogg Jesse James, took to Twitter last night to defend the company’s creative direction stemming from Raw and Survivor Series. In addition to the tweets he mentioned earlier, he also made some comments about WWE business that deserve further scrutiny.

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Unless some of WWE‘s ancillary revenue streams completely exploded, this is not true.

2012, the last year not affected by WWE Network or its start-up costs, saw the company take in $31.4 million in profits. The company record is $68.9 million for fiscal year 1999-2000 (they switched to the calendar year in 2006). As “wrestling profits” go, the record is just under $85 million in fiscal year 2000-2001. However, the company as a whole also lost just under $70 million on the XFL and the official company profit that year was a little under $16 million.

According to Dave Meltzer in the February 2, 2015 Wrestling Observer Newsletter  (subscriber only link), WWE needs to average at least 1.35 million WWE Network subscribers over the course of the year to reach pre-network levels of profitability. They probably won’t even reach 1.15 million average.

However, WWE‘s revenue is reaching record highs, with the second quarter of 2015 (this year’s WrestleMania quarter) setting the company record for quarterly revenue. Of course, that’s not profit, though.

James also chimed in with his thoughts on Nielsen ratings when fans cited Raw’s declining viewership as of late:

This one is a bit more complicated.

He’s not entirely wrong: We’re in a changing content consumption landscape where it’s not always easy to get a complete picture. WWE‘s YouTube channel is, in terms of viewership (not subscriptions) one of the biggest on the platform. Edited Raw segments go up within half an hour or so of airing and can pull in well over a million views within a week. The 90 minute (without commercials; it would fit into a two hour commercial TV slot) version of Raw goes up on Hulu Plus the next day and we have no clue how many people watch that.

He’s also right that Raw is the highest rated show on USA Network and that Fox is, to a point, eschewing Nielsen ratings (they will still subscribe and Nielsen will still have the numbers, but Fox won’t release the overnight/live plus save day viewing ratings themselves). But it doesn’t tell the whole story at all.

For better or worse, Nielsen ratings are still the measurement advertisers use. Being that the ads aren’t seen by viewers watching on DVRs or online services, they effectively don’t count anyway. In addition, pro wrestling shows historically yield much lower (the number I’ve heard is 50%) ad rates than non-wrestling programming with comparable viewership. So you throw in that WWE‘s TV viewership has bottomed out to 1997 levels, it’s still  a problem. It may not be reflective of WWE‘s total audience, but it’s a problem.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3Z53V6x0KU

Of course, there’s also the issue that going into last year’s negotiations for WWE‘s domestic television rights, they were pushing their shows as “DVR-proof” programming akin to live sports. This kind of mindset is why NBC has started to run live musicals (“The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan,” and now “The Wiz”) as event programming. So now you have a WWE producer who’s seemingly giving the company line…and it’s a 180 from what they were pushing last year.

In 2013-2014, Monday Night Raw was a bargain in DVR-proof programming that everyone watches live. In 2015, its viewership is down significantly because Nielsen ratings are antiquated since to WWE fans watching Raw delayed on their DVRs and via online services.

Sure, whatever you say.