WWE has been around since 1953 and has experienced nearly as many eras as America itself. In the '80s, WWE wrestler Hulk Hogan ushered in its Golden Era. Figureheads like Stone Cold Steve Austin led its late '90s Attitude Era. Ruthless Aggression followed in the early 2000s with tragic figure Chris Benoit at the helm. As WWE emerges from the pandemic with a revised strategy, the historic organization has reinvented itself once more. Emerging talent, new leadership, and potential new deals fill WWE’s New Era with both promise and uncertainty. Is there longevity? Let’s take a closer look at the factors at play:
As WWE begins its new chapter, the organization has filtered in exciting new talent and content shifts to match. After the harshness of its Attitude Era, WWE overcorrected in 2008 with a move towards family-friendly programming. CEO Vince Mcmahon told reporters that this 2008 shift would remove Attitude Era’s “excess” and create a platform for more “refined and compelling storytelling.” The end result was a miss for many fans who felt political correctness had no place in the WWE universe. In the summer of 2022, WWE was set to learn from this decision, announcing its intention to switch to TV-14 programming. A new rating change would satisfy older generations of fans who share nostalgic ties to the former WWE eras. Fast forward to present day, and talks of a new rating have screeched to a halt.
With Paul “Triple H” Levesque as WWE’s new head of creative, the lack of rating change may not matter. Triple H is a former wrestler himself with over thirty years of experience and 14 WWE titles under his belt. After just 5 months into his new role, Triple H saw double-digit increases in WWE’s social media engagement and a 15% larger audience for “Monday Night Raw.” His fresh perspective and content shifts have positively impacted the organization in a short amount of time. He’s placed a greater focus on the women’s division, highlighting stars like Shotzi Blackheart, Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler, and Racquel Rodriguez. He’s also incorporated longer matches, which allows storylines to stretch across entire episodes. In addition, Triple H enhanced WWE championships by restoring tough, unpredictable match-ups.
WWE’s interesting talent acquisitions have also helped WWE gain new audiences. YouTube star, Logan Paul, made his WWE television debut on Smackdown in 2021. While WWE is no stranger to adding celebrities to its roster, Logan Paul is a special case. His appeal to Gen X and Gen Z is unmatched, boasting a combined 47M followers on Instagram and YouTube. Even older fans gained respect for the social media star as he proved himself as both a competitor and entertainer in the ring. WWE confirmed his success by inking an extended, multi-event appearance deal with Paul just last year.
In addition to Paul, WWE launched a NIL program to groom future talent. The first of its kind, WWE’s “Next in Line” aims to develop college athletes by providing resources for brand building, media training, and live event promotion. At the end of the program, certain athletes are offered a WWE contract.
Potential New Media + Sponsorship Deals
Over the course of 2022, WWE’s viewership reached new heights with a 70% audience increase on Peacock. Greater audiences means greater media value, and WWE is looking to capitalize. As its exclusive broadcasting deals with Fox and NBCUniversal end next year, WWE announced new strategies to maximize content licensing opportunities. These new deals would open other media outlets to opportunities while still respecting the current agreements with Fox and NBC. Hulu, for example, has Day 2 rights to WWE’s “RAW” program. After “RAW” broadcasts live on USA Network, Hulu users can watch the program the next day. Through new alternative licensing options, new rights buyers could add this content to their library after Fox and NBC’s contracts expire.
In addition to media rights, WWE wants to expand their sponsorships using an approach similar to UFC. UFC currently rakes in around $100 million in sponsorships a year. WWE makes significantly less at $35 million. Where the organization lacks in dollars, it makes up for in influence: 67% of WWE viewers are more likely to consume brands partnered with WWE. This value is higher than any of the top sports organizations in the world– even the NFL. WWE plans to use this momentum going forward, forging more deals and utilizing the ring as a blank canvas for ad space.
Vince McMahon bought WWE from his father in 1982 and grew the organization into the global entity it is today. Despite all the success McMahon has brought to WWE, he still remains a controversial figure. Reports erupted last summer that McMahon paid $12M+ over the last two decades to shut down sexual misconduct allegations. As a result of the reports, McMahon stepped down from his role as WWE’s chairman and CEO. His retirement didn’t last long, however, as he returned to his position just 6 months later. The company’s stock soared over 22% upon McMahon’s return. While some members of the board believe McMahon should have remained in the shadows, his presence is undoubtedly valuable to the company. Fans and stockholders still find solace in a figure who built WWE’s expansion from the ground up.
With company valuations at record highs, Vince McMahon is now in talks to sell. Potential suitors include UFC owners, Endeavor Holdings, and Saudi Arabian investors. A drastic change in leadership is sure to shake up the organization’s future and pose questions about its long-term success.
All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is by no means eclipsing WWE, but it has become a fierce industry competitor. AEW was founded in 2019 with a sports-centric approach. WWE, in contrast, prioritizes entertainment above all. Where WWE matches comprise 20 minutes per hour of programming, AEW matches comprise 28. The small difference is palpable, as viewers find AEW programming more heightened and fast-paced. Even so, there is a predictability to AEW that WWE has managed to shake. Where AEW believes their biggest stars should maintain a winning record, WWE is more interested in close match-ups with less obvious endings.
AEW still has changes to make if it wants to compete head-to-head with WWE. To truly close the gap, AEW must surpass WWE’s women’s division efforts and fine-tune its “Rampage” programming. WWE programs like “Raw” and “Smackdown” have had decades to evolve, establish storylines, and create a proven formula for success. AEW’s “Rampage” and “Dynamite” still need more time. If CEO Tony Khan continues to push AEW forward, WWE should keep AEW on their radar as a competing sports property and threat to longevity.
As the WWE moves forward, older fans look to its past with nostalgia and to its future with hope. It’s unknown how long Vince McMahon will remain as a chairman, but with Triple H in creative control, the company is enjoying substantial boosts in viewership and engagement. New talent, content, and media rights structuring all bolster its longevity. The potential sale has not hurt returns, either.
Despite current success, WWE must continue to evolve. The organization is deeply ingrained in American culture, but it’s not too big to fail. Competing sports properties like AEW will continue to keep WWE on its toes, fighting for a share of WWE’s large viewership and fanbase. Key decisions made in the next year should help us better understand WWE’s future trajectory, but in the meantime, it’s “so far so good” for the WWE.