World Wrestling Entertainment isn’t just your average run of the mill wrestling promotion. CEO Vince McMahon has turned the company into a full-blown media juggernaut which sells everything from children’s toys to video games to Hollywood movies. The WWE is recognized globally for its popularity and though it is not a legitimate sport, it’s on par economically with true sports entities like the NFL, NBA and MLB.
The company’s profit margins run into the hundreds of millions which it receives from multiple revenue streams such as TV deals, live event touring and merchandise. At one point, WWE was looked at in the same vain of old-school pro “wrestling”: cheesy, hokey and appealing to the lowest common denominator of consumers. The WWE has proven those stereotypes wrong through its building of appealing crossover stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, Stone Cold Steve Austin and other wrestlers, as well as its promotion of the annual tradition of WrestleMania which has placed WWE firmly into modern pop culture.
In 1999, when WWE first became a publicly traded company on the US Stock Market, it broke the glass ceiling for what a pro wrestling promotion could be. The corporation proved that they are so much more than a wrestling company, they are an entertainment conglomerate powerhouse around the world. With wrestling and its larger than life characters as their main attraction, WWE has broken records and boasts some lucrative figures and statistics that you may be surprised to learn.
Let’s take a look at 15 startling financial statistics the company has in the record books below.
15 WWE Almost Went Bankrupt in 1995
The WWE wasn’t always the near billion dollar pro wrestling monopoly that it is today. The company came from humble beginnings and was only a moderately successful brand in the 80s and early 90s. But as a famous rapper once said, “more money, more problems.” In 1995, WWE went through a dark period that nearly put the company out of business. After steroid and sex scandals left a black eye on the company and top stars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man moved on to the increasingly powerful competitor WCW, WWE’s business incurred a massive loss of $4,431,000 which rocked the company to the brink of bankruptcy.
On numerous occasions, the WWE thought they were on their dying days and company morale was low. Vince McMahon had this to say about it: "It was bad enough that we were going to mortgage our retirement home. Those are some times you don't forget."
14 WWE Bought WCW For Around $2 Million
In the late 90s, WWE was up against a formidable opponent that put their back up against the wall. WCW being run by Eric Bischoff had something that WWE didn’t have, an endless supply of money from Ted Turner. However it appeared that once WWE began to turn things around with a more appealing product, Turner conceded to Vince and put to rest his desire of putting McMahon’s wrestling company out of business.
In 2001, WCW was losing money and sponsorships fast due to an inferior product and mismanagement. It was at this point that Vince McMahon seized the opportunity to eliminate his biggest competition once and for all by purchasing the company for the astronomically low figure of $3 million dollars.
13 The All-Time Best Selling PPV
The WWE may still be in the pay-per-view business but with the advent of the WWE Network, but WWE doesn’t see PPV as being a large factor in the company’s revenue stream anymore. In the past, it was one of the deciding factors in terms of the year being a fiscal success or failure.
The WWE’s best selling PPV in history occurred in 2012 with WrestleMania XXVIII, headlined by a “Once in a Lifetime” matchup between a returning Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the WWE’s marquee star, John Cena. The spectacular even netted an impressive 1.2 million pay per view buys, a record that his likely to never be broken due to the WWE’s new business model of having PPVs on the WWE Network.
While the amount of viewers and subscribers may surpass this amount of buys, one has to consider that to watch PPVs now, it essentially costs $9.99 as opposed to the standard PPV rate of $60 in the past.
12 WWE Network Loss
WWE usually boasts that business progressively gets bigger and more lucrative every year. While in some ways that may be true, as in 2014 the WWE posted total revenues totaling a remarkable $542.6 million, it doesn’t factor in the loss the company incurred the same year that cut into their budget deep.
Due to the investment and launch of the WWE Network that same year, the WWE reported a significant loss of $30.07 million. In calls with investors and stockholders, the WWE stated that it was the cost of implementing the WWE Network and the cannibalizing effect it had on other areas of WWE business.
While in the short-term it did considerable damage to WWE’s bottom line, the WWE is confident that their costly game-changing investment and the growing pains the Network brought will eventually pay off and generate bigger business for the WWE, which it has already begun to do.
11 Randy Orton Makes $291,666 a Month in Salary
The Viper and master of the RKO, Randy Orton started his WWE career in 2002 and quickly rose up the ranks in WWE to become one of its established stars for the better part of a decade. The decorated 14 year veteran is still a major player in the WWE who brings a lot of value to anything he gets himself involved in, so it’s only right that he's paid handsomely for his contributions. And he most certainly does according to court documents regarding his divorce to his ex-wife Samantha.
In the court documents released to the public in 2013, Randy Orton reportedly rakes in a whopping $291,666 dollars a month in salary via the WWE. Going by that number, that would mean that he makes at least $3.5 million dollars a year.
So even though the divorce cost him some money and a house, don’t feel too bad for Orton, as he looks to be doing just fine.
10 The XFL
Part of the reason that WWE went public on the stock exchange was that they wanted to pursue endeavors outside of the world of wrestling and expand into a global brand. One of those non-wrestling business ventures that Vince McMahon experimented with was the ill-fated XFL football league that was launched in Spring of 2001.
Vince McMahon wanted to revolutionize the game of football and make it more exciting and gritty than the NFL. Despite initial buzz and efforts to be unique and entertaining, the league quickly died out after its first season due to terrible ratings, taking an astonishing loss of more then $120 million. NBC took half of the hit on the loss, which means that McMahon burned more than $60 million on this venture.
Not one to back down easily, Vince McMahon tried to revive the company after the first year flop, but no one wanted to touch the business or air it on their television channels.
9 WWE’s Lowest Selling PPV in History
Firstly, this will avoid PPVs since the inception of the WWE Network, as that's greatly reduced buyrates on PPV.
As opposed to WrestleMania XXVIII being the WWE’s most successful PPV when it comes to buyrates, WWE’s lowest drawing PPV was actually an ECW event. In 2006, WWE decided to resurrect the ECW as a brand within their company after the success of their one-off ECW One Night Stand PPV. Vince McMahon would give the company its own TV show on Tuesdays, its own crop of talent, consisting of new stars and ECW originals like RVD and Sabu, their own Championship and even had Paul Heyman in charge of running the programs.
It appeared to have all the makings of a success, but unfortunately it bombed due to Vince McMahon’s fingerprints being placed all over something he didn’t create. This particular PPV from top to bottom was one of the worst cards ever put together and it resulted in an abysmal 52,000 PPV buys, a historic company low.
8 The Gamble That was WrestleMania I
It was the event that put WWE on the map and changed the pro wrestling business forever. On March 31st, 1985 the inaugural WrestleMania took place, the first ever pay per view for the WWE.
Its success was crucial for Vince McMahon and the future of his young company. McMahon took a huge gamble on this event being a big draw, putting all of his assets and even his life savings on the line promoting the event and getting stars like Muhammad Ali, Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T to participate in the festivities.
Thankfully, the roll of the dice paid off and the card that was put together drew record numbers at the time when it came to gate attendance and 1 million viewers watching on closed circuit television. If it wasn’t for WrestleMania I being a hit, WWE most certainly would not be the global media empire it is today.
7 Triple H’s Two Contracts
In his illustrious career, Triple H has been known as The King of Kings, The Game, The Cerebral Assassin and carried the World Championship 14 times. Triple H now has moved on to the corporate world as the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative. Triple H is the brainchild behind the NXT and the Performance Center in Tampa, Florida, as his focus is on creating the next generation of talent and giving them all the tools they need to succeed.
Though being an executive may be a heavy enough responsibility to warrant all of his time and energy, it hasn’t kept him from still being an active wrestler, albeit part time. In 2015, Triple H made a lucrative $3,112,624 in the form of two contracts. One as an executive and the other was a WWE talent contract.
While Triple H can’t wrestle forever, he hasn’t officially retired yet. He surely will have to hang up his boots sooner rather than later to focus fully on the next generation.
6 Which Executive Makes the Most Money for WWE?
While many of WWE’s in-ring talents salaries are kept hidden from the public, WWE’s corporate website publically lists the salaries of all of their corporate executives. The highest paid executive for 2015 may surprise many. It’s not Vince McMahon surprisingly and it’s not even McMahon’s daughter and second in command Stephanie. The WWE’s highest paid executive is Kevin Dunn, the company’s Executive Producer & Chief of Global Television Production.
Kevin Dunn made a whopping $4,494,878 last year and many insiders in the industry feel he is undeserving. Kevin has been with the company since 1984 and has been Vince McMahon’s right hand man for a long time. He’s highly been criticized by voices inside the company, former employees and the internet for not being very skilled at his job as a producer and that much of WWE’s production problems or lack of growth and change with the times is due to Kevin Dunn’s stunted style.
5 The YouTube Era
The surge of social media and digital content in recent years has led to large amounts of people cutting the cord and getting rid of cable television or dish, instead opting for over-the-top means of media consumption. The boom of Netflix and Hulu is one indicator of this being true and is part of the reason why WWE Network changed their concept from being a 24/7 wrestling channel on cable television to an online subscription service.
YouTube is another content medium that WWE has jumped on the bandwagon of in recent years, hosting old and new exclusive content on their YouTube channel and it certainly has translated into money for the company. As of this writing, the company boasts over 10 billion video views on their YouTube channel and 11 million subscribers. Last year, WWE made $4.4 Million dollars of profit with digital media outlets and that certainly looks to be increasing for 2016.
4 Television is Still King for WWE
While WWE is working hard to diversify the way it makes money by having different revenue streams like live events, digital media and the WWE Network, their television deals with USA Network and international television deals, like their deal with Sky Sports, are the main way WWE makes its money.
In 2015 alone, WWE made $231 million in revenue from their TV deals which makes up 35% of all the company’s total revenue. These come from the television rights fees the TV networks pay to broadcast shows like RAW and Smackdown weekly. As long as the money they receive from television rights remains strong, WWE’s business will be just fine.
WWE does have hopes of cutting out the middle man and one day airing live Raw and SmackDown episodes on the WWE Network, but at this point in time they can rest comfortably knowing that large sum of money is coming in despite ratings not being as high as they once were.
3 WWE Studios Movies Disappoint
Vince McMahon has famously stated in numerous interviews over the years that he is not in the wrestling business, he is in the entertainment and content creation business. A prime example of that is WWE expanding its brand by producing and distributing their own movies.
Largely fueled by witnessing former WWE mainstay Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hit it big in Hollywood, WWE decided that fans were interested in seeing movies that starred their favorite wrestlers, so they decided to make their own Film Production Company to be able to make that happen.
Disappointingly, the money the company has invested in WWE Studios has not translated to much revenue and, in fact, after operating costs it puts the company in the red. In 2015, WWE Studios lost money, going negative $1.5 million, so it's baffling that the company continues to fund a failing venture. Maybe if WWE came out with movies less like The Condemned (-$6,500,000) and more like The Scorpion King (+165,333,180) WWE Studios would be a worthwhile investment.
2 Vince Wwns Less Than Half the Company
Before WWE became a publicly traded company, Vince McMahon owned 100% of his creation. Now, it’s quite startling to know that the controlling, micromanaging Mr. McMahon owns only 47% of the company. I know what you’re probably thinking, there’s no chance in hell Vince McMahon would do such a thing, right?
The rest of the McMahon family own much smaller amounts with Shane McMahon holding 2.03% despite no longer being in any executive position within the company, Stephanie owning 2.51% (having been in the news in recent years for selling a sizable amount of her shares, so she could purchase a multi-million dollar house) and wife Linda McMahon owning 0.75% of the company.
These shares, however, are all distinguished as class B stock, which hold 10 times the voting power of non-family stock owned by the rest of the shareholdersm so Vince is still firmly in control of the WWE.
1 WrestleMania 32 Record Setting WWE Event
For years now, the WWE has consistently broken records annually with WrestleMania. The WWE has expanded WrestleMania to being a week-long affair, with Axxess, The Hall of Fame and other festivities taking place in whatever city they decide to be the venue for their biggest show of the year.
In 2016, the WWE has topped themselves again by holding WrestleMania in the 100,000 seat Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas. The event was a phenomenal success for the WWE, as they not only broke their own attendance record by holding 101,763 rabid fans in the stadium, but by having their most highest grossing box office event in history by racking up $17.3 million dollars in revenue. This would include merchandise sales, ticket sales, WWE Network subscriptions and PPV buys.