WWE Flexes Its Muscle

3/21/2009 11:00 AM Eastern

World Wrestling Entertainment has pinned down an aggressive multimillion-dollar marketing and promotional campaign around the 25th anniversary of its venerable Wrestlemania pay-per-view event franchise.

From a unique Wrestlemania merchandising tie-in with retail giant K-Mart, to interactive and on-demand revenue opportunities for operators and satellite providers tied into the April 5 show, the pro-wrestling outfit is rolling out the most extensive promotional campaign in the event's 25-year history, according to recently named WWE executive vice president Michelle Wilson.

WrestleMania25One of the pioneering events in the PPV category, the Wrestlemania franchise over the past five years has averaged more than 1 million subscribers globally and has provided a marquee platform for such crossover WWE entertainer/athletes as Hulk Hogan, Duane “The Rock” Johnson and John Cena, according to WWE CEO Linda McMahon. This year's event is expected to feature Academy Award-nominated actor Mickey Rourke, star of last year's successful film The Wrestler.

Wrestlemania is the most consistent entertainment product in the PPV marketplace today,” said McMahon. “It has all the elements that go into an event that makes it fun and exciting [for consumers].”

On the marketing end, WWE for the first time has teamed up with K-Mart and cable affiliates to offer Wrestlemania and WWE merchandise in 1,350 of the retailer's storefronts around the country to promote the event. The in-store promotion, which launched earlier this month, allows consumers who purchase $50 or more in WWE merchandise — from CDs and DVDs to apparel and toys — to receive a $10 discount off of the $54.95 suggested retail price of Wrestlemania.

The first week of sales have been “hugely successful” according to Wilson, although she would not reveal specific revenue numbers.

“It's a really unique partnership that we've never done before and we're hoping it will drive PPV buys,” she added.

From a traditional PPV-marketing standpoint, the company is running cross-channel spots on such networks as ESPN, MTV and USA Network and including such shows as SportsCenter, according to WWE senior vice president of distribution and affiliate marketing Peter Clifford.

The network is also rolling out an aggressive direct-mail campaign touting the event with a specific focus on previous Wrestlemania purchasers as well as frequent buyers of boxing and mixed martial arts events.

“We'll deliver 1.3 million pieces of that direct mail, which not only promotes the PPV event, but also other tie-in Wrestlemania promotions,” he said. “It serves as a multipurpose promotion for WWE and our affiliates.”

Wrestlemania will also have a major presence on WWE's on-demand services. The network's subscription VOD service is running historical Wrestlemania content including classic matches and interviews throughout the month of March and the first week of April.

In addition, the network is offering a free on-demand package dubbed “Greatest Moments of Wrestlemania,” as well as transactional programming categorized by past and present WWE stars like Hogan and Cena, Clifford said. The shows, which will open with a promotional spot for Wrestlemania, will retail at a suggested price of $3.99 each.

On the interactive front, the network is working with DirecTV to develop WWE-based games and other interactive content to drive awareness of the event. In addition, the network will provide a skin overlay for DirecTV's Sports Mix channel, which features several feeds of sports events.

Dish Network will run a cross-channel spot with an interactive overlay that will allow viewers to immediately order the PPV event, Clifford said. “If I'm watching SportsCenter and the spot runs through, I can punch my remote and be directed to purchase the PPV, which we think takes full advantage of [Dish's] interactive capabilities,” Clifford said.

On the operator side, the network is working with Comcast to offer a live I-chat session on April 3 via featuring Cena, who will blog and answer questions from fans.

The network is also pushing Wrestlemania 25 in cyberspace by creating a microsite for the franchise on its site, according to Brian Kalinowski, executive vice president of digital media. The microsite, which features video clips from past Wrestlemania editions and a “smashup” tool that allows consumers to create their own WWE video montages, has generated 30 million hits since launching earlier this month.

Kalinowski said the network is hoping in the days leading up to and following Wrestlemania to top the 68 million page views and 1.7 million unique users that was generated the day after last year's event.

Given the WWE's marketing push, Clifford said he expects the event to generate around 1 million buys despite the difficult economic environment.

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