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WWE pummels its competition by keeping things simple — and profitable.


In the midst of this recession, what publicly traded company reported a 2009 second-quarter revenue increase of $9 million (for total revenue of $138.8 million) over the same quarter in 2008? What company’s operating income was up $16.1 million and net income up $12.9 million? And lastly, what company’s stock price was up 4.2 percent while similar companies reported decreases of 7.2 percent (Viacom), 13.7 percent (Marvel), 20 percent (Walt Disney), and even worse (Time Warner and DreamWorks, to name two)?

That’s right. World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE ticker symbol WWE).

Professional wrestling. Isn’t that where large men (and Bowflex-ready women) pontificate and pound each other in the ring, clad in brief costumes and with names like the Undertaker, the Glamazon, CM Punk, Goldust, and the Big Show?

Yes, and they are among the faces of a company headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, with corporate offices in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney; and whose divisions are tightly structured and include TV, consumer products, digital media, and a fi lm studio. The WWE brand extends to a music group, book and magazine publishing, home video, and offerings for Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

“People think of just what they see in the ring,” says Donna Goldsmith, WWE’s chief operating officer. “We, like everyone, have been impacted by the economy. It affects everybody, but we’ve done some very smart things to move the needle in our business.”

It’s a needle that has been falling for most of the sports and entertainment industries. According to analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Major League Baseball’s attendance through August 10, 2009, fell 5.6 percent from what it was over the same period in 2008 . The 22-year-old Arena Football League folded last year, and even NASCAR, which boasts as loyal a fan base as any, struggled in 2009. International Speedway Corp. (ISC), a major operator of 13 NASCAR tracks (Daytona in Florida and Talladega in Alabama being two of its most storied), saw a 34 percent slide in food, beverage, and merchandise sales, as well as a 16 percent decrease in ticket sales, for the first six months of 2009 compared with the same time period in 2008 . All told, ISC’s 2009 second quarter resulted in a net loss of $31.7 million; in 2008, it had a net profit of $26 million, according to the Federal Reserve analysis and ISC’s Securities and Exchange Commission report.

During the same time period, in April 2009, WWE actually expanded its offerings, launching its fourth weekly TV show. The WWE lineup now includes Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, ECW on Tuesday nights on the Syfy channel, the new WWE Superstars on WGN on Thursday nights, and Friday Night Smackdown on MyNetworkTV to end the week. Two of the four shows are live, broadcast from a different sold-out arena in a different city (in North America and overseas) each time. Live and televised events account for the bulk of WWE’s success, generating $109.2 million in revenue alone in the second quarter of 2009.