WWE Says Business "Largely Unimpacted" by Coronavirus Pandemic in Q1

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WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon

WWE is among the last live sports programming on TV, with 'Monday Night Raw' still airing weekly on USA and 'Smackdown' airing Fridays on Fox. Both shows now film from the company’s training facility in Orlando without a live audience.

WWE on Thursday said its revenue rose 60 percent to $291 million in the first quarter thanks to new distribution deals in India and Germany and “increased monetization of content” as fees tied to rights deals with NBCUniversal and Fox rose.

WWE is among the last live sports programming on TV, with Monday Night Raw still airing weekly on USA and Smackdown airing Fridays on Fox. Both shows now originate from the company’s training facility in Orlando without a live audience.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared live sports and entertainment productions, including WWE, to be an “essential” business, allowing the productions to continue with restrictions around who can attend and participate. McMahon told investors that the company has venues "in a number of states" ready to host the company's shows should Florid shut them down.

Indeed, the company said that live ticket revenue and merchandise revenue was down significantly from 2019 but was more than offset by the boost in its media segment revenue.

According to the company's financial data, rights fees nearly doubled year-over-year, from $68.1 million in 2019 to $133.2 million this year.

“Our first-quarter financial performance was strong and largely unimpacted by the COVID-19 outbreak,” WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon said in a statement. “Now we are in the midst of unprecedented times, which require us to be especially nimble, creative and efficient in order to ensure the long-term value of WWE. We are taking precautions to protect the health and safety of our performers and staff as we produce content in new ways, engage fans with a much-needed diversion and operate effectively in this evolving environment.”

WWE also streamed its Wrestlemania event, which was pretaped and ran over multiple days. The company said that its WWE Network streaming service saw its highest weekend of signups in its history, hitting 2.1 million total subscribers on April 6.

WWE said last quarter that it was exploring strategic options for WWE Network. McMahon said that the company "was very close" with a number of potential partners on a deal, but the negotiations have had to be extended due to the pandemic. "[It] caught everyone with their pants down," McMahon said.

Despite the revenue boost and continued TV production, the company has taken moves to cut costs, releasing several wrestlers and producers, deferring spending on the company’s new headquarters and suspending its stock repurchase program.