WWE in clutches of AT&T

From the ring, ringtones and more

NEW YORK -- Sports entertainment powerhouse World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. and telecommunications giant AT&T Inc., which recently acquired Cingular Wireless, have struck a multiyear exclusive content agreement.

The deal will allow WWE to use its content to reach its audience via a new platform. At the same time, it will bring to fans who are AT&T mobile users the largest collection of mobile sports entertainment content to date, including text-based offerings, wallpapers and other graphics, ringtones, voice tones and video.

Executives said Wednesday that the partnership is a work in progress, with content packages and offerings to be developed over time. They didn't disclose financial terms of the partnership or how many years it covers.

AT&T says it has 61 million mobile customers.

The WWE arrangement adds to the company's slew of exclusive content deals, with such partners as HBO, "American Idol," "Saturday Night Live" and the NCAA. The WWE deal fits "our overall strategy, which is to work with outstanding content producers and providers who have a passionate audience," said John Burbank, vp of AT&T wireless marketing.

WWE's TV programming reaches more than 15 million viewers each week, and its WWE.com site draws more than 16 million unique users, according to the company.

"Now, fans can carry the action with them wherever they go, just in time for WrestleMania," Burbank said of WWE's annual pay-per-view extravaganza, which this year takes place April 1 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Said Shane McMahon, WWE executive vp global media: "Because we own our intellectual property and a vast video library of sports entertainment content, we have the unparalleled ability to create timely, unique content within hours for the year-round enjoyment of our fans."

McMahon said during an interview that, for example, WWE could within minutes send subscribers of the mobile service a photo of a popular wrestler from a live TV show plus his newest catchphrase as a voice tone.

WrestleMania 23 will be a first chance to market the new offering, with AT&T and WWE working on a "WrestleMania's Magic Moments" lineup of content, including videos from past WrestleManias and commentary building to this year's event.

In the coming months, AT&T and WWE plan to launch "a number of wireless-related services." In a statement, they said that AT&T, among other things, "intends to use WWE content to explore text-based programs that will offer AT&T's and WWE fans a unique interactive experience."

Down the line, the deal could evolve to include elements like direct-to-customer commerce, so fans could order WWE merchandise via their cell phone, executives said.