Coming off a highly successful 1998 campaign, the World
Wrestling Federation is looking to maintain its pay-per-view buy-rate and revenue growth
in 1999 by continuing its aggressive promotional and marketing efforts.
But unlike the barren PPV-event landscape of 1998, the WWF
will have to compete for operators' marketing dollars with a rejuvenated PPV-boxing
category and other events.
The company, which struggled during the mid 1990s,
experienced a renaissance last year, due mostly to a greater focus on marketing and
promotion, said Bonnie Werth, president and CEO of Team Services, which is handling
marketing duties for the WWF.
The WWF stepped up marketing for each of its monthly
events: It provided more detailed and colorful promotional pieces, increased co-op
marketing dollars for operators and gave more local marketing support to cable systems.
The WWF's new and improved characters and story lines -- as
well as its move toward more adult-oriented programming -- also contributed to its
The result was a 60 percent buy-rate boost from 1997
numbers. Overall, the WWF grossed about $130 million in 1998 -- the highest total for any
single PPV distributor.
Also, buy-rates for three of the company's signature events
-- WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and SummerSlam -- grew by at least 140
percent over 1997 numbers, Werth said.
"We've seem a big jump in WWF buys," said Ted
Hodgins, PPV manager of Media General Cable. "We've gotten more marketing materials
to work with, and we've gotten them earlier, which helps us to plan better."
The marketing push was also aided by the lack of major
fights during the year. With only one major boxing event in 1998, operators sunk more
marketing dollars into wrestling than expected.
"Wrestling was hot, and it was the only thing
available last year, so we increased our [marketing] focus on wrestling," one PPV
But the WWF's continued success will be tested early in
1999. Its Jan. 24 Royal Rumble event will have to battle for operator marketing
dollars with the Jan. 16 Mike Tyson-Frans Botha fight and the Jan. 23 George Foreman-Larry
While Werth said she understands that operators need to get
as much revenue as they can -- from the Tyson fight, in particular -- she hopes that they
don't forget what the WWF has contributed to the industry.
"I'm not naive," she said, "I know that we
have a huge challenge. But with two major boxing events canceled in 1998, operators
realize that they can't depend on boxing."
Werth added, "One thing that has been proven is that
[boxing and wrestling] have different audiences, so I don't expect [operators] to abandon
minimum and, in some cases, maximum promotion" of WWF events.
In an effort to develop marketing continuity for all of its
events, the WWF has instituted yearlong promotional deals in several markets that take
advantage of radio and local retail tie-ins.
"[Some] 10 to 15 of the top 20 markets are currently
on the plan, and we expect to increase that number this year," she said.
"Operators don't want to reinvent the wheel every month."
For Royal Rumble, the WWF is providing a value-added
offer of limited-edition action figures of popular wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve
Austin and WWF chairman Vince McMahon, Werth said. Among the marketing tactics for the
event, USA Network will run a crawl promoting it during its January Monday Night Raw
The WWF will also offer a customer-service-representative
mystery-caller contest, which will award American Express gift checks to CSRs, their
managers and systems' PPV managers, Werth said.