MR. TITO: The Dishonesty of Comparing Current Pro Wrestling Revenues to the Past
So I was chilling at the “Retirement Home for Internet Columnists”, laughing at all of the latest CM Punk vs. AEW news (turns out, Young Bucks & Kenny Omega apparently brought a few friends with them to CM Punk’s locker room) when the following Tweet from Wrestling Observer‘s Dave Meltzer appeared. I’ve heard him say this many times before, but today became the day that I put his stupid argument to bed. He said, and I quote:
From 8:10pm on 9/10/2022 – @davemeltzerWON: “I just asked what you learned from the success of current wrestling. You’re arguing that $60 million in 1983 is greater than $1.4 billion in 2022 which is a silly argument.”
I’ve heard Dave say things like this often, trying to attribute that today’s wrestling product is much more popular than in any previous decade. Maybe on the International front, as more and more countries have access to more television options. However, International money is a small portion of pro wrestling’s revenue streams. WWE, for example, makes the bulk of their money from television deals located here in the United States.
Obviously, the comparison of 1983 versus 2022 falls flat due to inflation. However, I’m approximating that $60 Million in 1983 translates to about $172 Million in 2022’s dollars. That’s WAY off from $1.4 Billion. Congrats Dave, you got me on that point…
BUT… Answer me the following questions about 1983:
(a) How much access to Cable Television existed?
(b) Where was Pay Per View?
(c) How was wrestling merchandise sales back then?
(d) Where was the Internet?
(e) Could WWE hold an event in Saudi Arabia or other European/Asian countries if they tried?
(f) Could I buy copies of wrestling events easily back then as I can now?
The FACT is that during 1983, the infrastructure to make much more money in 2022 didn’t exist. Cable TV was still new and still in its early stages of growth during 1983. Furthermore, Vince McMahon just bought the WWE from his dad just a year earlier. Thus, his desire to take WWF national was just in its early stages. Wrestlemania did not exist yet until 1985… Wrestling was still reliant on the territory system in which promoters owned designated areas of the countries and had agreements not to invade. It wasn’t until someone like Vince McMahon wanted to take his company national that it broke the mold of that old territory system.
Here’s the REAL questions to ask Dave Meltzer about 1983 versus 2022:
(1) Which year had more TICKETS to live wrestling events sold? 2022 or 1983 (*hint* 1983 by a margin)
(2) Which year had more total television viewership of wrestling programming? (*hint* 1983 by a margin)
This is the same IDIOTIC argument that I get about today’s wrestling versus the Attitude Era. Someone will take 2000’s or 2001’s public financial statements and attempt to brag that today’s WWE makes way more money than the “great” Attitude Era that sported the likes of the Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, DX, etc. Even though I tell them, until I am blue in the face, that 1999-2000 had between 6-8 million viewers per episode of RAW (compared to barely 2 million now) and sold out most televised shows (barely draws 5,000 now), they point to the financial statements.
OK, let’s play the same game… I’ll ask questions about the peak years of the Attitude Era (1997-2001) versus 2022.
(a) Did Social Media exist during 1997-2001?
(b) Did YouTube exist during 1997-2001?
(c) Did streaming services, which are a major competitive threat to Network/Cable TV, exist?
(d) Has the Stock Market increased or decreased since 1997-2001 in total value?
(e) Did the WWE have the ability to create its own streaming network during the late 1990s?
Is anyone willing to bet me that TICKET SALES for live events from 1997-2001 were much higher than they are in 2022? Keep in mind, WCW still existed during this time and was quite profitable during 1997-1998.
The FACT is that the WWE became a dominant force after 2000 once WCW folded, like a monopoly in some ways or forced to appear like one because they were mostly the wrestling branded that TV executives trusted. Yeah, TNA/Impact has had some success, but SpikeTV lowballed them while Impact was placed on terrible timeslots by Sinclair. While AEW has a great television timeslot, TNT/TBS aren’t paying that much annually either. Meanwhile, WWE is making around $400 million annually from their USA Network/FOX deals.
WWE, since the Attitude Era, has seen nothing but attendance declines and viewership declines. Those are just facts… Going from 6-8 million in the United States weekly on RAW during 1999-2000 to barely hanging onto 2 million through 2022. HOWEVER, that 2 million viewership is deemed as “valuable” in the Television industry. WWE just so happens to be LUCKY in the era in which they are operating, as Cable TV subscriptions are tanking. Total Cable/Satellite subscribers peaked around 2012 at almost 100 million and since then, they are seriously pushing going below 80 million. Streaming services are KILLING the Cable/Satellite industry with great options like Netflix, Disney+, HBO MAX, Hulu, and other options to enjoy rather than the price gouging model of those old Cable/Satellite plans.
Thus, Cable and Network TV channels are throwing ABSURD dollar amounts at LIVE Sporting Events because that is what primarily draws on television now that everybody is watching their shows (sitcoms, dramas, etc) on streaming services. Take National Hockey League (NHL), for example. The WWE CRUSHES them in television viewership, as hockey consistently draws LESS than WWE on a weekly basis and also often loses to the WWE for viewership of its Playoff games. Yet, Turner Sports just paid around $250 million per year to obtain HALF of the coverage while ESPN will be paying $400 million! Think about that… NHL does mostly LESS than 1 million in viewership and usually has less viewership than WWE products for its playoffs, yet it makes over $600 million per year to appear on TNT and ESPN/ABC!!!! That is more than WWE’s close to $400 million per year combined with USA Networks/FOX and even slightly more when you add in the WWE Network deal (another $200 million annually).
And I have yet to factor in how easy WWE can market itself with Social Media (saves BIGTIME on advertising costs) or how they can make revenues off of YouTube. That didn’t exist during the Attitude Era and in fact, the Attitude Era struggled to make money from the Internet after 2000 thanks to the Dot Com bust that crushed Ad Revenue through 2001. Getting back to the Social Media and YouTube argument… While the 1990s WWE toured International Markets extensively to build its brand overseas, easy access to WWE content through Social Media and YouTube is what is building the International demand. In fact, I remember hearing Dave Meltzer once say that “International Viewers account for 70% of WWE’s YouTube view counts” a few years ago. That’s a MAJOR infrastructure advantage for 2022 that didn’t exist during 1997-2001, the Attitude Era.
Speaking of the Attitude Era, here is how you can EASILY own anybody insisting that 2022’s Pro Wrestling product draws more than 1983 or the Attitude Era.
Could you just imagine marketing STARS like the Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, DX and that LOADED 1999-2000 roster (adding Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle, among many others, in their primes) with today’s Social Media, YouTube, and the growing interest from the International community? Those stars drew well when they toured internationally, anyway… Meanwhile, isn’t it funny how Saudi Arabia specifically asks for the older stars to appear on their shows? After all, that is a BIG REASON why WWE signed a 50+ Bill Goldberg in the first place and convinced Shawn Michaels to briefly come out of retirement.
Could you imagine the 1980s WWF superstars with today’s marketing? Putting HULKAMANIA on Social Media? WWF had to “work hard for their money” during the 1980s to fight to get into syndicated markets and struggled to get any national recognition. Vince had to work a younger Mtv, of all places, to obtain publicity to help generate interest for his Wrestlemania event in NEW YORK CITY. Furthermore, Vince didn’t have the financial backing of the Stock Market to bankroll Wrestlemania in 1985. He was seriously in “make or break” mode and had to hire celebrities like Mr. T or Cindy Lauper to gain national attention and most if it was via the Mtv channel that many markets DID NOT HAVE back in 1984-1985!!!
Could you imagine marketing Wrestlemania 5 on today’s infrastructure? Wrestlemania 5 had the LARGEST Pay Per View buyrate for OVER 8 years with the Mega Powers colliding. Could you imagine the debates we’d be having online about who Miss Elizabeth should support? Forget that, the Internet would have LOVED Miss Elizabeth who could have been a bigger star with her beauty than as a manager. Just observe how the early internet exploded on Sunny (Tammy Sytch) during the mid-to-late 1990s when it was a FACT that she was the internet’s most downloaded personality. And she didn’t appear nude!
Could you imagine people debating Ric Flair on today’s infrastructure? The heat that he’d generate from his heel antics would cause everyone’s heads to explode and want to appear in an arena to attack him. Oh, that already happened with the 1980’s infrastructure. They drew packed houses with TV spots, Radio Ads, or word of mouth…
What many of today’s wrestling marks don’t comprehend is that 2022 has (a) LARGER Population than 1983 or just 20 years ago and (b) Income Growth.
Right now, the United States alone has 333 million people. During 2001, the United States had 284 million people… During 1983, we had amost 234 million people. So how about them apples? Pro Wrestling, in the United States alone, has MORE potential people to pull into its products YET viewership and attendance have DECLINED. Merchandise has declined significantly since John Cena ceased being a full-time wrestler, too.
If you look at Real Disposable Income (the word “real” adjusts for inflation), Incomes from 2022 have increased in value since March 2001 (before the recession hit) by 56% and has increased 175% since the end of 1983. Again, I have taken INFLATION out of the picture by analyzing incomes on an inflation-adjusted basis.
Thus, 2022 has the benefit of MORE consumers with HIGHER incomes… Yet, the WWE is drawing FEWER consumers in the United States to their products than ever before. Thanks to the higher incomes, however, WWE is pulling more out of their loyal fans than ever. For you 2 million still sticking around, congrats, the WWE is exploiting you and hopes that you’ll buy the latest line of Title Belts that you’ll struggle to resell elsewhere. WWE has your money and that’s why they price gouge for ringside at their big events and don’t care who fills the top parts of the arena.
Again, in 1983, more wrestling fans existed via Viewership and Attendance numbers. Ditto for the Attitude Era of 1997-2001, as it crushed today’s viewership and attendance numbers.
HOWEVER, today’s WWE and other wrestling companies are benefitting from DESPERATE Cable/Network TV channels who are overpaying for LIVE sports content along with a digital media infrastructure that is cheap to advertise on, makes money on streaming, and gives easy access to international fans. Had the WWE or other wrestling promotions had these financial or media infrastructure advantages during 1983 or the Attitude Era, the money made would have DWARFED what you’re seeing in 2022.
In fact, the REAL CRITICISM is how today’s pro wrestling companies cannot make MORE money. With this infrastructure in place, how are you not making MORE profit?!?
Seriously, neither WWE or AEW has a top drawing star that is even remotely in comparison to the 1980s or Attitude Era stars. It’s not even close… Roman Reigns is getting barely 5,000 people to barely show up for WWE shows while CM Punk packs houses only in Chicago but other 5,000 seat arenas have to tarp things off. Back in the day, WWE split their tours up into one show headlined by Hogan and the other headlined by Honky Tonk Man/Ultimate Warrior as the IC Champion. NWA could headline with Ric Flair or they could headline with their red hot tag team division and pack houses. Could you imagine the idea of WWE headlining and drawing big shows with midcarders?
Let’s just stop with the BS and propaganda, Dave. The narrative that you are trying to push is that Pro Wrestling, besides the WWE, is doing really well and that everybody loves the products that you worship, AEW, New Japan, and California Indies. Yet, by your own admission of “$1.4 billion” for 2022, you have failed to realize that WWE owns about $1.1 billion of that (quoting their 2021 10-K report). And again, WWE is making more through 2022 because they have SIGNIFICANT financial advantages in 2022 that they lacked in 1983 or the Attitude Era. WWE is exploiting Cable/Network TV desperation, have Social Media to save on marketing costs and to net more International viewers, better online market to sell merchandise easily, and the WWE Network to stream their entire library at a lower costs.
I want to keep pushing these 2 significant points…
(1) 1983 or Attitude Era WWE would benefit significantly if they had 2022’s infrastructure and draw MUCH MORE than 2022.
(2) Given 2022’s infrastructure, why isn’t today’s Pro Wrestling model drawing more?
Let me give you a hint on (2): Because today’s product is of LOWER QUALITY than that of the past, while also LACKING STAR POWER in comparison as well.
Get your facts straight, Dave. Today’s wrestling is NOT better than it was 40 years ago or even 20 years ago. What you see today is a SMARTER wrestling product who exploits the market to reach more international fans and takes advantage of desperate Cable/Network TV channels looking for LIVE sports content.
This is the ONLY column that holds today’s Pro Wrestling accountable. Given the amazing infrastructure in place that the WWE has, they should be MUCH BIGGER. Case in point, as seen by my NHL argument but this also applies to other leagues who actually draw less than WWE at times (MLB, NBA, etc.) yet earn higher TV Deals. TV Executives see a LACK of star power, a product relying on schtick rather than logic, and a complete inability to grow new fans. While NHL, NBA, and MLB have their own attendance and viewership struggles, there are certain markets that draw strongly and consistently and their merchandise sells well. Furthermore, their fans tend to respond to advertisers more than loyal WWE fans. Loyal WWE fans just keep spending money blindly on WWE stuff. Just wait and see if Triple H truly brings back the Gold Eagle World Title and you’ll see the loyal faithful put down the cash for that!
Let’s STOP this “silly argument” that today’s wrestling is “greater” because it is taking advantages of the advancements in technology, a more integrated society, and leeches off of dying Cable/Network TV Channels. Just look at basic metrics like Attendance and Viewership, both of which are WAY DOWN in 2022 in comparison to 1983 or the Attitude Era.
Hell, I can win an easy argument of comparing 2022 to 2014… How about those apples? Attendance, Viewership, and Merchandise sales have been WAY down since 2014. Looking at WWE’s 2021 Financials, “Media” accounts for 85% of WWE Corporation’s Total Revenues. 85%! Then, when you do actual math and look up total revenues by region, North America accounts for almost 80%! The deals with a desperate Comcast corporation (USA Network, Peacock) and FOX matter to the WWE significantly which makes 2024 become a very interesting year for the WWE. Can they replicate those deals with a Cable TV partner who is losing subscribers? WWE better hope that Peacock becomes a profitable venture and a standard as a replacement for a declining Cable/Satellite and Network TV world.
If you’re going to throw numbers around, Observer Boyz, you better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self. Because marks like you are bad for our health!
So just chill… Till the next episode!