Through all of this, if you’ve heard of crossover stars like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jesse Ventura (aka the former governor of Minnesota), Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, the biggest crossover of them all, and if you remember Jerry Lawler and Andy Kauffman grappling with David Letterman, then you were touched by the origins of WWE’s pop-culture mainstreaming of the prior two decades.
Having cornered the market, the next challenge for WWE was to build globally and further mainstream the brand. To do that, the company began pursuing — and eventually achieved — a more friendly TVPG rating (rather than its former TV14) for all of its shows. This was done by decreasing the blood and profanity and by increasing how much its Divas’ costumes cover, which allowed the company to market to a broader demographic, including younger viewers, as well as to major advertisers and sponsors.
“In the past, they’d run away,” Goldsmith says. “[They were] scared because of the content. As a result of the new rating, we’ve gotten closer to sponsors and to talent endorsement. That’s a relatively new initiative for us.”
New and successful, as WWE has since built relationships with Gillette, Wendy’s, Subway, 7-Eleven, and the Army National Guard, to name a few.
Over the past decade, the company began a drug-testing and wellness program, solidified its 27-year relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and cut ticket prices in some arena sections to an average live-event price of $32. This year, it will send its Superstars and Divas to Iraq for the seventh year in a row. In 2008, the company started the magazine WWE for Kids, further defying the economy by launching a print publication as the magazine industry struggles.
Ratings successes have borne out the marketing focus, as female viewership in the 25-to-34 age range is up 13.7 percent, and overall viewers ages 18 to 24 are up 34 percent. The viewers are as diverse as the wrestlers, with Latinos and African- Americans each making up 21 percent of the audience.
The company started another needle-moving idea in 2009 with celebrity guest hosts on Monday Night Raw. Shaquille O’Neal of the NBA, boxing champ Floyd Mayweather Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (appearing live in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), actor Freddie Prinze Jr., rapper Snoop Dogg, game show legend Bob Barker, and NASCAR drivers have all taken the stage to introduce bouts, interact and fight with the wrestlers, or carry on in backstage skits. Consequently, viewership for the show is up 15 percent, according to Goldsmith. This further mainstreaming has also been realized by booking Superstars and Divas on Deal or No Deal, Dinner Impossible, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, and on this spring’s Celebrity Apprentice.
Can world domination be far behind? “International is a huge initiative for us,” Goldsmith says. As it stands, she says, 25 percent of WWE’s business is international, and the company is currently targeting Brazil and Russia; has established a pay-per-view system in Mexico; and plans to expand its reach beyond the 10 current provinces now watching WWE in China.
Domestically, the company is considering its own cable network, which it can fill in part with 100,000 hours of archived footage. So, what was the question again? Oh, right. What company is poised for future growth?