World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) may just have struck a multi-million dollar broadcast deal with Fox and the Comcast-owned USA network , but chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon has said she can “absolutely” see a future where one of its flagship shows is streamed on a platform like Amazon or Facebook.
Speaking to The Drum last week, before the contracts to air popular shows Smackdown Live and Monday Night Raw – which WWE hopes will grow revenues from $311m in 2019 to $462m by 2021 – were inked, McMahon said Amazon and Facebook may be options in the future, but “I don’t think we’re there yet".
"Linear is still incredible important and reaches a huge audience and delivers, but absolutely, I see content moving everywhere – that’s why WWE is everywhere, because we want to be ready when that time is right," she said.
The former WWE women’s champion and superstar has perhaps had a less traditional route to chief brand officer than some of her marketing peers. After four years overseeing the brand content strategy for the $3bn sports entertainment giant, she is still exploring ways to open up income streams for a company that formerly relied heavily on ticket sales and merchandise.
Facebook Watch experiments
Prior to this week's deal, Comcast had for several years been the home of both Raw and SmackDown Live.
Though Fox itself is currently in the midst of an aggressive takeover battle between Disney and Comcast), its believed to have centered its bid around the fact it's looking to court a bigger slice the young, male viewership; an audience that could also make SmackDown a bigger boon for advertisers.
TV is going to be a central part of WWE's strategy for the next five years at least, but the wrestling behemoth recently launched an original ‘Mixed Match Challenge’ show on Facebook Watch. The experiment has clearly given McMahon the confidence that platforms like Facebook could become a bigger part of its rights strategy.
“It had over 100 million views and it was considered a success by Facebook, we’re now in conversations to see where we go from here, but we’re nimble and flexible,” she added.
The suggestion that one day we might see rumbles in the ring on Facebook or Amazon follows on from the latter snapping up the rights to NFL's Thursday Night games and speculation earlier this year it was to mount a bid for the Premier League rights in the UK.
On top of Facebook, WWE's 80-strong social team also creates custom content for platforms like Snapchat and Instagram to keep viewers engaged in its storylines; this week’s drama revolves around Kane’s return to the ring to reunite with Daniel Bryan, the other half of ‘Team Hell No’.
It’s also got more than 25 million subscribers on YouTube, where it posts the best moments from Raw, SmackDown Live and other events.
McMahon said it's clocked up more than a billion views to date on YouTube. But, the real jewel in its crown is the WWE Network – its own streaming service that gives fans access to 24/7 scheduled programming, on-demand, pay-per view events, classic matches and replays for $10 a month.
Four years after it's launch, the streaming service now over 1.5 million subscribers.
McMahon brings a unique perspective to the marketing group. The daughter of WWE founder and chief executive Vince McMahon, the marketer started her career at the age of eight modeling Rockers T-shirts in the WWE Shop catalogue. She then worked reception and during high-school interned in “every department” including: new media, now digital; HR, where she put together insurance kits for athletes; and sales.
When she graduated she joined the creative writing team and she became head writer “by trial of fire” two weeks later after her manager exited, growing the team from two to 40.
"During that time the role really evolved because the platforms changed in terms of what we could write for, we had not only television and pay-per-view but we also had our publications business at that time. Then came social - YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and we launched WWE Network," she said.
It was in around 2014, when that rights became available for Raw and SmackDown (which went to Comcast at the time) that WWE realised it wasn't "necessarily being treated the way that it should" by broadcasters.
"We’re consistently the top one and two show on USA network NBC Universal platform," said McMahon. "We deliver like sport live from a gross rating standpoint but we also are entertainment so we’re really the best of both.
"We realised there was a need in the B2B sector especially, in terms of brand recognition for WWE [ to stand out], and that’s when my role was created about four years ago," she added.
As chief brand officer, McMahon works alongside recently promoted chief marketing and communications officer Brian Flinn.
Her motto is to always putting the fans first, and it seems to have paid off.
"You don't have a business without them, and when you create something together with your audiences that's when it's at its best because they're personally invested in making it succeed."
One recent example, she said, was the evolution of WWE's women's arm after the hastag #GiveDivasaChance trended on Twitter for three days straight in 2015.
The movement followed on from Monday Night Raw tag team match of what what then called WWE Divas Division, "that lasted all of thirty seconds". Fans then started to demand longer storylines, moth athletic matches and better character development for women.
A couple of months later the Divas Division was rebranded to the Women's Division and WWE announced it would call women 'superstars' just like its male champions.
"That's the power of listening, engaging and empowering your audiences," she said.