WWE (NYSE: WWE) reported first quarter results that beat Wall Street estimates in what’s expected to be one of its final periods as an independent company; Endeavor Group’s acquisition of the company is expected to close in the second half of this year.
The sports entertainment giant reported first quarter income of $297.6 million and net income of 43 cents per share. While both sales and income were below the comparable period of a year ago—WWE had $333 million revenue and $0.77 EPS last year—the company projected the dip due to the scheduling of some large international events outside of the quarter, primarily one of its two annual events in Saudi Arabia. That resulted in the business beating the lowered expectations of equity analysts who follow the company. (Wrestlemania 39, termed its most successful ever by WWE, was held in early April, after the close of the quarter.) WWE shares closed up 2.29% in Wednesday trading on the New York Stock Exchange, finishing over $108 a share.
CEO Nick Khan noted the business continues to see robust live event attendance and sponsorship, along with strong broadcast viewership. “Our flagship weekly TV properties are also seeing growth, bucking the trend across the rest of the landscape,” Khan said in prepared remarks during a Wednesday morning call with analysts. “In the first quarter of ‘23 overall TV viewership in the 18 to 49 demo was down 16%. Not at WWE. Raw was up 16% in the 18 to 49 demo, and it was the number one program and the demo on cable on Monday nights.”
The strength in broadcast viewership is especially watched by investors: WWE will be negotiating new deals for Raw, which broadcasts on NBC’s USA Network, and SmackDown, which runs on Fox. Those deals expire later this year, and the two networks will have a one-month exclusive negotiating window. Khan said they aren’t accepting any indications of interest from other potential bidders out of respect for the exclusivity clause, but noted the company has extensive estimates over how important WWE may be to various bidders, including how the scripted wrestling business should fare in the battle for limited dollars with other sports leagues.
The earnings call is the first since the April announcement that WWE will sell itself to Endeavor and be combined with the buyer’s UFC subsidiary into a new, to-be-named company that will trade under the ticker TKO.
“We’ve known these folks for a long period of time. So, they’re not strangers to us, their style is not strange to us. It’s something that we give a full embrace to,” Khan said in response to an analyst question over potential effects on WWE’s way of doing things. “I can certainly represent, emphatically to you on the creative that there’s no one at Endeavor or the UFC has any interest in trying to interfere with that in any way whatsoever.”
While WWE executives on the call (chairman Vince McMahon wasn’t present) said they are operating as usual until the Endeavor deal is closed, they did express enthusiasm about what Endeavor’s international capabilities will bring to WWE.
“I’m incredibly excited about what Endeavor brings to the table and how we can utilize them to expand our efforts,” WWE chief content officer Paul Levesque said, “and really hyper-focus on … growing what we do across the globe. I think they’ll be incredibly helpful there.”
(This article has been updated with WWE’s closing Wednesday stock price.)