WWE is the largest wrestling promotion globally, and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Its recent financial performance has seen revenue and net income grow, with growth across most segments. In physical figures however the company’s TV ratings and live event attendance is down, with its key demographic of older males alienated by the company’s ham-fisted approach to mainstream appeal.
One way the company has won back some wayward fans is the NXT brand, available exclusively on the WWE network. The successor to the Florida Championship Wrestling developmental territory, NXT has evolved to become a potent product for the hardcore wrestling fan. Its appropriation of independent talent brings an element of fantasy booking, and works successfully in two ways; it brings in renowned indie names to ground them in the WWE ring style, while also providing viewers a full story arc in the character’s progression. The brand has signed exceptional talent in the form of Shinsuke Nakamura, who is already a top merchandise seller for the company despite only featuring in NXT and also helping to sell out the live Japanese tour in minutes.
The brand offers story arcs and meaningful feuds for most of its roster, and has incorporated it into the live tours, with former NXT champion Finn Balor dropping the belt at a live, non-televised show in April, with the company astutely using social media to further storylines. These are lessons the main product could incorporate to win back disillusioned viewers.
There are limitations however; NXT is taped in batches and tours are limited, compared to weekly live broadcasts across the world for the main product. Further NXT is very much a niche product; those well received in NXT may not translate to success on the main roster (although these are generally in a minority). The brand’s impact is tangible already with the influx of talent post WrestleMania 32.
There is also a fundamental clash, as NXT is supposed to be first and foremost developmental. As its stars receive the call up to the main product, the company must continue to nurture and recruit talent and keep them engaged in meaningful storylines to retain viewers. The apparent chaos of one of WWE’s main North American competitors Total Nonstop Action (TNA) has seen some talent defect to NXT ranks, but WWE must rely more on its status rather than the misfortune of a competitor.
For more information, see Marketline’s case study on the launch of the WWE network here.