THE wrestlers you remember are a pretty good indication of your age. The older generation will point to Giant Haystacks. Those around the 30 mark will probably remember Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. The intern might say John Cena.
But World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is more than a childhood fancy – it is a hugely successful global business with a turnover of £313m and an audience that reaches far beyond the stereotypical teenage boy.
“You would be surprised how many City boys watch WWE,” says Dominic Hayes, managing director of television at the firm. “It is something people don’t necessarily talk about, but they watch it. All you have to do is go to a dinner party and mention wrestling and you realise that guys working in the City know all the names, they are fans. The fact our live shows have hospitality helps. You see a surprising number of people arriving suited and booted, often with one eyebrow raised.”
Last year the company struck its biggest ever international television rights deal with Sky that guarantees at least 10.5 hours of wrestling a week will be broadcast into every subscription TV household in the country.
Hundreds of thousands pay £14.99 to watch pay-per-view nights, including the Royal Rumble, bringing in millions of dollars a year.
Its live events across the world rake in millions and merchandise, made through its tie-up with the world’s biggest toy manufacturer Mattel, makes it a retail colossus.
Its relationship with Sky is key, says Hayes. Sky allows it to press ahead with the technological innovation that is vital to its lasting success. “Sky is a great partner, its production quality is second to none. I have worked with broadcasters across the world and I can safely say Sky is the best.”
Sky allows WWE to pioneer technology to keep its product at the cutting edge of entertainment. It was one of the first production companies to fully embrace HD and is already working on 3D broadcasting.
“It’s easy to forget how influential WWE has been in terms of presentation,” says Hayes. “It is now the blueprint for most sporting coverage, even in sports like darts, which now use theme music and the pyrotechnics that we introduced many years ago.
“Our new initiative is theatrical offerings. We now have a WWE studio in LA working on films starring our talent from action movies to family dramas. We will have nine movies being released over three years, which will be great for the brand and a source of revenue in itself.” He hopes it will be enough to ensure the future of the WWE is secure for a brand new generation of fans.