When Brands Step into the Ring: The Sponsorship of the WWE
Whether it is a tight game or the underdog defeating a favourite, fans live for the unpredictable moments in sports. The fact that anything can happen is part of the reason why we all tune in. However, as much as there is an opportunity for a close or exciting game, there is also opportunity for a lopsided victory. These scenarios may lack the drama needed to keep an audience engaged.
In the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a property that represents the intersection of sports and entertainment, fans are entertained by the storylines and athleticism of the roster, yet are never disappointed by an off night. Through a controlled and scripted environment, the WWE is able to create a product that fans will be interested in week after week. This dynamic means that brands investing in sponsorship of the WWE can be confident knowing that they are inserting their brand into a predictable yet compelling environment.
The WWE has existed over 25 years and has created a long list of famous wrestlers, from Andre the Giant to The Rock. The organization hosts events in several cities across North America and has a large international presence in countries as far away as Germany, India, and South Korea. MKTG examines the WWE’s appeal to corporate sponsors and profiles brands investing in this space.
Benefits of the WWE
A Shift to Family Friendly Programming- Beginning in the late 1990’s and continuing through to 2008 the WWE’s programming was more mature featuring stronger language and adult themed storylines. This period was referred to as the “Attitude Era” and while it attracted young audiences, they did not have much success in attracting corporate sponsors. The WWE than made a conscious shift to more family-friendly entertainment. The change in programming was successful in attracting more brands. The WWE reported sponsorship revenue of $7.8 million in 2008 which was the end of the “Attitude Era” and in 2013 when they had fully shifted themes they saw their sponsorship revenue increase to $20 million.
Multiple Touch Points- The WWE prides itself on being more than just wrestling matches, they have created what they refer to as the “WWE Universe” which features ongoing storylines. To accommodate the wider universe the WWE has multiple touch points with their fans. From the WWE Television Network which was launched last year, to merchandising with apparel, toys, and video games. The WWE also holds WWE fan fests and crown jewel events like WrestleMania. The WWE has an extensive social media following with over half a billion followers across all platforms. For sponsors this means there are multiple opportunities and channels for them to reach fans.
Demographics- The WWE reports that 35% of their fan base are those that are 50 years or older. This could mean that a high number of WWE fans have been so throughout their lives. This loyalty is something that brands can tap into through the WWE by showing their support and playing to the heritage of the brand.
How Brands Have Leveraged the WWE (Case Studies)
“Out of the Arena” Integrated Programming- General Mills brand Totinos and the WWE teamed up last year to run the “Totino’s Bold Show Us Your Superstar” contest. Fans were asked to create their very own WWE character and submit a short online video. The winning entry was taken to the WWE training studio in Orlando to hone their character before being revealed during a Summer Slam Match in Los Angeles in front of thousands at the Staples Center. Their training and preparation from WWE fan to WWE wrestler was captured and released as an online series in the lead up to Summer Slam. The contest and the subsequent digital series gave Totinos the opportunity to create a compelling splatform to engage their consumer base beyond simply their product.
Match-Day Product Integration- Sponsors have also had the opportunity to be featured in WWE segments. During last month’s SmackDown event a reporter interviewed wrestler Dean Ambrose in the locker room before his match. During the interview Ambrose was looking though his gym bag and got angry when he couldn’t find his Payday candy bar. The video has since received over 320,000 views on WWE’s YouTube channel. When a brand integrates with the programming, they are inserting themselves into a moment of higher relevance which could contribute to increased levels of awareness and consideration.
Association with a Pro Wrestler- The WWE has a large roster of wrestlers that can be leveraged through sponsorship. For example, Irish Spring ran a promotion with popular Irish wrestler Sheamus. Fans could log onto the WWE website to vote for the the best moments of Sheamus’ season. Irish Spring also hosted a video series where Sheamus would answer fan questions. Wrestlers must be able to perform both athletically and for the camera and crowd. This provides potential sponsors with a charismatic spokesperson, an area where many professional athletes in mainstream sports fall short.
For some wrestlers this ability to perform in front of a crowd has given them the opportunity to appear outside the WWE in notable movies or TV shows. By appearing in ventures outside the WWE they are able to gain a wider main stream audience which is appealing to many brands.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
One of the best examples is Dwayne Johnson, who went by the wrestling name “The Rock”, a prominent wrestler for the WWE from 1995-2004. He became one of the most famous and recognized wrestlers in the WWE and has since has gone on to appear in many movies and television shows. Dwayne Jonson has entered into deals with many brands including Mentos and most recently appeared in campaigns for Under Armour and Ford. The Rock is known as one of the most entertaining pro wrestlers in WWE history, and is extremely active on social media, creating an opportunity for his partners to drive awareness and credibility for their brand among his fan base.
Another example is John Cena is currently one of the biggest stars in the WWE and also has an extensive list of movie and television credits to his name. In addition, Cena is also highly involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and holds the record for the most wishes granted in the company’s history. As one of the most prominent wrestlers in the WWE’s “family friendly programming” era, Cena has been used by products aimed towards families and children such as Capri Sun and Fruity Pebbles.
With their memorable characters and entertaining events, the WWE has attracted a loyal following. This allowed the WWE to successfully shift the tone of their content while retaining their fans. This became a win-win scenario for the WWE as their fans remained and were able to attract interest from corporate sponsors.