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It’s a business plan that’s as calculated as the moves in the ring. “We go into a market with our TV shows, and we follow that with live events and the merchandising,” Goldsmith says, making it sound quite simple. So far, it has simply worked in 145 countries, adding up to 300 live events per year, and you can be sure that plans for more are under way.

“It’s an easily understood premise,” Goldsmith says of the company’s content. “It’s a soap opera that’s on all the time. There’s no summer hiatus, so you don’t lose interest. Not too many properties appear 52 times a year.” Also part of the premise is to build momentum for WWE’s 12 pay-per-view events each year, in which the revenue from a seated audience is supported by thousands of others watching from home. The company’s Super Bowl is its annual WrestleMania, a mainstay for 25 years. In 2009, WrestleMania XXV alone brought in $32.2 million in revenue and $15 million in profit as more than 1 million people signed up to watch the televised culmination of a fan-interactive weekend that filled the 70,000 plus-seat Reliant Stadium in Houston. WrestleMania XXVI is set for March 28 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

HOW WWE GOT where it is today is the story of a family business built up through external competition toward a genre domination that’s been fine-tuned throughout this decade.

In the 1920s, Jess McMahon, the grandfather of current WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon Jr., was a boxing promoter who began promoting wrestling events in the 1930s and eventually founded the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC), which, in the 1950s, merged with the National Wrestling Alliance and included McMahon Jr.’s father within its management. A faction of that merger split off in the 1960s to form the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). Meanwhile, there was also competition from the separate American Wrestling Association. During this era, the still-fledgling business was largely regionalized; part barnstorm, part backyard brawl, in roughneck tents and small halls.

In the 1980s, McMahon Jr. bought CWC from his father, consolidated the properties under the name World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and began syndicating TV shows, selling videos, touring nationally, and founding WrestleMania. New competition arose in the 1990s when Ted Turner founded World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and the two businesses began competing on Monday-night TV shows, raiding each other’s talent pool and slugging it out for dominance. In doing so, WWF took on a harsher edge in its language and level of violence, promoted the “bad guys” as the stars, and exuded a streak of sexism in the costumes and portrayals of its female talent.