WWE’s Vince McMahon: Putting a Headlock on PPV Success

World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon has a lot to grapple with these days — not that that’s a bad thing.

WWE’s April 1 WrestleMania 23 pinned down more than $5.38 million in ticket sales, making it the WWE’s highest grossing one-day event ever. And its three branded TV shows — USA Network’s Monday Night Raw, The CW’s Friday Night SmackDown and Sci Fi Channel’s ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling — continue to be top ratings performers.

Even as WWE branches out across platforms — including a recent deal with AT&T Mobile — pay-per-view continues to be a key ingredient in its formula for success.

Multichannel News executive editor of presentation George Vernadakis asked McMahon about WWE’s recent wins, future plans and PPV’s role in its business model. An edited transcript follows:

MCN: How would you size up WrestleMania 23, in terms of its importance to the WWE brand as well as its performance as a pay-per-view event?

Vince McMahon:WrestleMania 23 was a fantastic event, and did exactly what we hoped it would do: entertain our fans, make money and create a buzz around WWE. This was one of our best attended events, second only in attendance for an indoor event to 20 years ago at WrestleMania III.

It’s too early for us to know what the buy rate is for WrestleMania 23, but the early returns are promising. We’ve achieved an average of 1 million buys for each of our last three WrestleManias, and I’m certain that we will surpass the 1 million buy mark. WrestleMania is a $100 million brand when you take into account sales of merchandise and licensed products in addition to the revenue from pay-per-view and ticket sales. When you compare the revenue from WrestleMania to a successful theatrical film release, we’ll make in four hours what a theatrical film might make in its opening three days.

MCN: For this year’s WrestleMania, you put a lot on the line, including your hair. [In case anyone missed it: In a “Battle of the Billionaires,” McMahon and Donald Trump had a bet riding on the outcome of the match between Bobby Lashley (Trump’s in-ring representative) and Umaga, the Samoan Bulldozer (McMahon’s pick). McMahon/Umaga lost and McMahon had his head shaved as a result.] Any parting words for Donald Trump or comments on this “mane event”?

VM: I may be bald but I’m beautiful, which is more than I can say for Donald. Seriously, working with Donald was great. We took two of the best known brands in the world, WWE and Trump, and combined them in an interesting, entertaining way, elevating both brands as a result. People ask me if going bald was worth it, and it definitely was.

MCN: How has the pay-per-view business changed since your early events? And how has the WWE had to change strategy and marketing techniques?

VM: One of our first events with pay-per-view was our first WrestleMania broadcast from Madison Square Garden. Pay-per-view was in its infancy and closed circuit television was the prevalent technology. It was challenging having to work with each individual arena for closed circuit.

Over the years, with the emergence of cable and the evolution of technology, coupled with the tremendous promotional support of our affiliates, it has become easier to promote pay-per-view events.

However, the competition for the entertainment dollar is fiercer than ever. There is greater competition for the public’s attention from television, the Internet, video on demand, DVDs, video games and mobile platforms. We have had to become more innovative in how we market and present our events, using all the media platforms and marketing techniques available to us to generate awareness and interest in our pay-per-views.

MCN: What about PPV’s place in the overall WWE business? How has it evolved, particularly as you have expanded to more platforms, such as cable, broadband, subscription video on demand and mobile?

VM: Pay-per-view remains a significant part of WWE’s business portfolio. We see tremendous future growth for WWE content on VOD, broadband and mobile platforms. There remains a strong appetite for more WWE content on cable, as we demonstrated with the successful introduction of ECW on the Sci Fi Channel and the success of WWE 24/7 On Demand.

MCN: Discuss the strategic balance between pay-per-view and free TV. How do free TV events drive PPV business?

VM: There is a demonstrated relationship between our television ratings and the number of buys we receive for a pay-per-view event. The Web and mobile phones also will become more important to how we drive people to watch our pay-per-views as those platforms evolve.

MCN: Why have you decided to showcase all three brands — Monday Night Raw, Friday Night SmackDown and ECW: Extreme Championship Wrestling — in future PPV events starting with Backlash on April 29?

VM: We have seen over the past two years that WWE pay-per-views have had significantly better buy rates when more than one WWE brand is involved. In the future, all three brands will be contributing and promoting to the very same PPV event.

MCN: What’s next on WWE’s PPV agenda?

VM: In late June, we start our “Biggest Party of the Summer” campaign which culminates with another classic pay-per-view in August, SummerSlam.

MCN: And you’ve announced that next year’s Wrestlemania 24 will be in Orlando, Fla.

VM: This will be our first WrestleMania in Florida. The city of Orlando did a great job presenting its vision for WrestleMania and will be a tremendous partner.

We’ll be in a 60,000 seat outdoor stadium at the Citrus Bowl and that will be a very different experience for our audience than what they are accustomed to.

Coming to the home of Disney and Universal theme parks offers all kinds of possibilities to draw an even larger global audience to WrestleMania. It is going to be something very special.

WrestleMania 23 is a tough act to follow, but we are always up for a challenge.