WrestleMania 37 (WM37), taking place this weekend, is the first WWE “pay-per-view” event (at least in name; it’s free for subscribers) to stream exclusively on the new Peacock OTT platform since NBCUniversal announced Peacock would become the streaming home of WWE content back in January. Some sports media observers have suggested it will likely to be the single biggest driver, among live sporting events, of new digital subs for a streaming service.
Our Take: Peacock began to roll out WWE content on March 18 and carried its first PPV just three days later. But unlike WrestleMania 37, WWE Fastlane was not digitally exclusive to the OTT service. WWE Network was operating as a standalone service in the U.S., delivering fans content as they’d become accustomed, through April 4. Peacock would not share the number of new subs that have signed up within the last three weeks as a result of the added WWE programming. But considering WWE Network subscribers had access to Fastlane (the last pay-per-view event) and the remainder of the content on the service through last Sunday, there hasn’t been a real reason for WWE fans to sign up for the NBCUniversal owned streaming service until now. Fans who wish to purchase WrestleMania via traditional pay-per-view can at a significant premium. The cost per night is $29.99
WrestleMania is WWE’s biggest show of the year, and any self-respecting wrestling fan will want to be watching. That presents an opportunity for the upstart OTT service to add subscribers en masse this weekend. Chris Bevilacqua (co-founder, Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures) believes Peacock can net more than 1 million subscribers from WM37—a figure on par with the number of domestic subscribers WWE reported for WWE Network in Q4 ’20. “What WrestleMania did for WWE Network is a good proxy [for new Peacock sign-ups],” Bevilaqua said. WWE reported 1.22 million subs in Q2 ’20.
A million new subscribers would also likely represent a record number driven by a single sporting event. We say likely because, as Sportico’s sports media reporter Anthony Crupi told us, there is no way to definitively prove that fact (or disprove it for that matter). “The problem with walled-garden/black-box data is that you basically have to take the company’s word for it whenever they tout a significant sub gain outside of an earnings call,” Crupi explained.
Of course, as Bevilacqua said, “The only sporting event that would be a relevant comp [for WrestleMania] is a big UFC fight on ESPN+.” And while it’s not particularly uncommon for a UFC PPV to do 1 million buys (it’s been done more than a dozen times), no single UFC event is believed to have generated 1 million new subscribers for ESPN+, either. ESPN declined to comment on the matter.
It’s reasonable to believe WWE Network subscribers will make the move over to Peacock. In essence, the service is offering fans more value at half the price ($4.99). In addition to all the content that was on WWE Network, subscribers get the balance of service’s programming (which now includes some NFL games) with a subscription. Peacock should also be able to capture some portion of casual WWE fans who flinched at WWE Network’s $10 price tag, but would be willing to pay $5 for wrestling and a bunch of other content. For reference purposes, SmackDown and RAW draw 2.24 million and 1.86 million fans, respectively.
Like Bevilacqua, former Fox Sports executive Patrick Crakes expects WrestleMania to “do a record figure [in terms of new sign-ups for an OTT service].” But as Crupi notes, even if Peacock adds 1 million new subscribers this weekend (and we ignore churn), the number is tiny compared to the overall streaming market.
To be clear, that does not mean the $1 billion-plus NBCUniversal has committed to spending on WWE rights over the next five years is being wasted. It’s about competing long-term against the likes of Disney. “When you look at the data and numbers, it’s not so much about the initial lift,” Bevilaqua said. Adding WWE “builds the actual portfolio of programming, making the service more widely appealing in a world where there are a lot of choices. It’s an investment in the future of Peacock.”
(UPDATE: This article has been edited in the first and second paragraphs to clarify that WM 37 is the first exclusive WWE event to stream digitally on Peacock, but that traditional PPV outlets are still showing the event.)