WWE Q2 Conference Call Recap: Vince is Asked About Slumping Ratings, AEW & more


Below is a recap of today's investor conference call that WWE held with questions for CEO Vince McMahon and CFO Frank Riddick:

- Michael Weitz introduces Vince McMahon and Frank Riddick ,the CFO, as the ones leading the call. He talks about their Q2 earnings and notes there will be forward looking statements and a question and answer at the end. He hands it over to Vince.

- Vince thanks everyone for joining and says they did well in the quarter despite the challenges, pointing to WrestleMania viewership records and their cost-cutting measures. He talks about the free version of the WWE Network and their strategy to convert these subscribers to ones who pay. He mentioned continued focus on developing "original content" across platforms as well as strong engagement on their digital platforms. He hands it over to Frank.

- Riddick mentions that revenue declined 17% year-over-year due to lack of live events as well as the timing of the Saudi event which occurred in Q1 this year vs. Q2 in 2019. He touted such specials as the Undertaker's Last Ride, Quest for Lost Treasures and Total Bellas, which saw a slight rise in viewership. Riddick also touched on the ratings of Raw and Smackdown and about how they are down 19% and 15%, respectively and said that it's due to both seasonal changes (post-WrestleMania) as well as COVID-19 challenges and not having a live audience. Paid subscribers for the WWE Network were up 6%. He touched on not being able to hold live events with an audience since March and said the company is unable to forecast when they will be able to return holding such events. He praised WWE's licensing agreements and noted that they launched many new replica championship belts and video games, including WWE 2K Battlegrounds.

- He once again re-iterated the uncertainty in today's climate and offered no guidance but said they are positioned well and will resume that at a later date. They opened it up for questions.

- First question is for Vince and asks about the soft ratings lately and how concerned he is and what insight he might to explain why as well as the strategy to turn around the ratings. Vince said that more than any other sport, their audience is part of their program, there is audience interaction. He said the audience is integral to their ratings but he feels they can have more compelling storylines and characters. The next question from the same caller is to Frank and asks about the outlook for the third and fourth quarters in terms of spending. Frank says they continue to be well disciplined to be controlling costs, but starting up live events with COVID will see some additional costs but it will depend on what the environment is.

- The next question asks about the WWE Network and how they are running the business and investing in it and what the plan is for improving it if the company decides to keep the retain it verus selling it. They noted that they are still investing in content but are continually evaluating the value and the user experience of the network.

- The next question asks about another Saudi Arabia event this year. Vince said they haven't made a decision on that yet, but given the current situation with the pandemic, he doubts it will happen.

- They were asked about the free tier WWE network and said the initial reaction has been outstanding and are working on plans to convert those users to paid subscribers but did not want to provide any specific figures.

- They were asked about the company suspending the stock buyback option and they said it's something that may resume in the future dependent on the business environment.

- The next question asked about an increase in paid subscribers and the timing with the launch of the free version. Riddick said they had some partnerships with ESPN and FS1 and others where users could sample their shows as well as an expected increase in people relying on digital viewing over the last few months.

- They were asked about the social media numbers falling for the first time and chalked it up to some strategies they took to geo-block users in India to better leverage their deal with SONY in that country.

- The next caller asks about the ratings "issue" that was identified earlier and why Vince thinks that AEW and NXT have bounced back better than Raw and Smackdown during the COVID-19 situation. The caller also asks about the firing of Paul Heyman and whether that dismissal abandoned his earlier plans to make new stars and whether Paul Levesque can help on Raw and/or Smackdown. Vince said the reason AEW and NXT adapted better ratings wise is because they are new but Raw and Smackdown are trying to appeal to youth more now. He skirted around the Heyman question, saying he helped create new stars and noted that everyone, including HHH, is helping with the shows.

- The next caller also wants them to speak on their historical experience when ratings were soft and how they got people back and the possibility that some viewers in this "era" may have moved on. Vince said it takes months but the key is to be in front of an audience as they are like a third person in the ring. He re-iterates that it will take months for ratings to rebound. The caller asked about reduced core content revenue and they blamed COVID in smaller markets around the world and that big changes aren't expected as they don't have any renewals coming up.

- A caller asked about their small investment - purchasing EVOLVE. Riddick didn't spend much time on it, saying it was a very small acquisition and they are not looking for any further acquisitions or merger opportunities.

- The panel is asked about what ideas they have if the company is unable to return to touring and holding live events. They simply said they are constantly running through ideas.

- The next question asked if the return of live events would be a drag on EBIDA as there will be a higher associated costs with running those events. They said that due to social distancing and other guidelines would not allow the to fully recoup all the potential revenue but it's all to be determined but there is likely to be some drag on profit margins because of all the new rules. They were asked if it would be a full return to live events or a hybrid approach and the answer was that it will be a phased approach depending on the areas of the country and the specific guidelines.

- They close it off for questions and end the call.

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