WWE’s WrestleMania, the Super Bowl for the sports entertainment company, arrives this weekend to a massive audience and vastly larger sponsorship revenue as it seeks to establish itself as a serious contender for major dollars from such partnerships.
Craig Stimmel, WWE’s senior vice president and head of global sales and partnerships, told The Associated Press in an interview that sponsorship revenue for this year’s event has doubled to more than $20 million, a record for any WWE event.
Those numbers are critical in light of the return in January of Vince McMahon, the founder and majority shareholder of WWE, who said the sports entertainment company could be up for sale.
There are numerous rumors circulating about who might be willing to buy WWE and for how much, and it’s unknown if anyone has stepped forward with a bid yet. But the company’s broadening presence everywhere from TikTok to streaming channels could lift its asking price.
Marketing experts see WWE as a prime venue for brands due to the makeup of its core audience. That audience ranges from minors to seniors, has a wide range of incomes, it’s global, and it’s fervently devoted to the craft, said T. Maxwell, a partner at Max Sports Marketing.
“WWE fans are fiercely loyal and dedicated, they are hooked, they crave storytelling and will be WWE fans for life,” Maxwell said. “This creates an amazing opportunity for savvy brands to connect with a unique audience for life.”
The company, based in Stamford, Connecticut, is increasingly leaning into its marketing potential and finding new ways to resonate with fans and sponsors.
For the first time at a premium live event in January, WWE incorporated a single company’s branding (Mountain Dew) on the ring canvas, in post-show press conferences and elsewhere. WWE also played off the product the company was introducing to consumers, a drink called “Pitch Black.” The match was held in the dark, in a ring with fluorescent ring ropes and gear.
During last year’s WrestleMania, wrestlers Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs incorporated the colors used by Mike’s Hard Lemonade to launch a new drink into the gear they wore in the ring.
Stimmel said WWE will incorporate corporate brands into this year’s WrestleMania in a multitude of ways, including a match sponsorship, a “blurring of the fourth wall” between what home viewers see vs. what live audience members observe and an augmented reality experience.
“We try to find the perfect marriage of brand and story,” Stimmel said.
WrestleMania 39, a two-day event that begins Saturday at SoFi Stadium outside of Los Angeles, has 12 sponsors, half of them returning from last year’s event.
While there has been pushback by fans in some sports leagues that have tried to introduce more advertising, it does not appear to be an issue for WWE.
“I think WWE fans are much more accepting of (sponsors) than the traditional sports,” Maxwell said.
Sponsors are keen to take advantage of WWE’s push into social media as the company pursues a multifaceted online effort to reach viewers on YouTube, TikTok and elsewhere.
The company surpassed 16 billion social video views in the final quarter of last year. It has nearly 94 million YouTube subscribers and has more than 20 million followers on TikTok. Its female wrestlers comprise five out of the top 15 most followed female athletes in the world, across Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, led by Ronda Rousey with 36.1 million followers.
WWE had more than 7.5 billion digital and social media views in January and February of this year, up 15% from the same time frame a year ago.
The size of the net that WWE is throwing out to capture viewers has been noticed by retail analysts.
“WWE has multiple channels to connect with customers which is important for sponsors who don’t want to rely on just one medium,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData. “It basically gives brands multiple bites of the cherry to reach customers. WWE has built out an entire entertainment ecosystem which brands can tap into and use to push their marketing messages.”
Even the timing of WrestleMania in early April, which falls between the end of the National Football League season and early days of the Major League Baseball season, puts WWE in a position to capture more sponsors.
“WrestleMania is our Super Bowl,” said Stimmel.
—Michelle Chapman, The Associated Press