World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Isn't Down for the Count

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The past year has truly been a roller-coaster ride for World Wrestling Entertainment  (NYSE: WWE  ) . The stock doubled just from the beginning of 2014 through the end of March, reflecting high hopes that its new subscription service would take off and a new TV licensing agreement would significantly boost revenue.

Unfortunately, all the optimism came crashing back down to earth when WWE revealed that its television content agreement with Comcast's (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) NBC subsidiary is far less lucrative than analysts had expected. This now calls into question the timing by which WWE will become profitable.

The market responded by slashing WWE shares nearly in half. Indeed, it appears that WWE management's projections now look overly ambitious and require a leap of faith to believe. However, all is not lost. If the company can somehow hit its subscriber expectations, there may be a great deal of value left in WWE.

WWE gets body-slammed
First, the details of the deal. WWE has signed a multi-year TV licensing agreement with NBC parent Comcast. The company estimates that annual revenue from its TV broadcasts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Thailand, and India will hit roughly $200 million. The broadcasts will involve WWE's two flagship programs and ratings leaders, Raw and SmackDown.

The reason for such overwhelming disappointment and the ensuing collapse in WWE's stock price is that the deal is far less beneficial than initially anticipated. WWE had hoped that the new licensing agreement with Comcast would represent at least a doubling, and possibly tripling, in revenue from its current TV content deal. That didn't happen.

Nevertheless, it's important to note WWE's progress in its key content agreements, which comprise a sizable portion of revenue. As the company laid out for investors, the new deals may be disappointing in the sense that they aren't as lucrative as initially hoped. That being said, they still represent growth from its prior content agreements.

To illustrate, WWE's past television distribution agreements generated about $76 million in annual value. That total increased to $108 million when it signed its current deals . Going forward, the new TV licensing agreement with Comcast holds an estimated value of approximately $200 million, which represents an 85% increase.

With the TV deal done, WWE's future rests on the shoulders of the WWE Network, its new 24/7 live streaming network, which costs $9.99 per month with a six-month commitment. To put it simply, it's all about subscribers.

Why WWE may have life left
After such a punishing sell-off, it may be tempting to write off WWE entirely. But that may be premature, and here's why.

WWE would need to get to 1 million network subscribers to break even. After the first quarter ended on March 31, WWE had already acquired 670,000 WWE Network subscribers just in the U.S. Based on this, management is confident it can reach $1 million by year-end.

If it adds more than 1 million subscribers, you can really justify a bullish outlook. If it hits 2 million subscribers, WWE could generate as much as $70 million in profit next year, or $0.93 per share. That means after its sell-off, WWE trades for 12 times those forward earnings.

If WWE can hit 2.5 million subscribers, the high end of its forecast, 2015 profits could reach as much as $105 million, or $1.40 per share. At the top end of its guidance, WWE would trade for just 8 times 2015 earnings. These multiples compare very favorably to the S&P 500 index's multiple of 14 times 2015 profits.

WWE down, but not out
To be sure, WWE isn't without its fair share of risk. It's entirely possible that the company won't hit its subscriber projections. But investors are being paid a hefty 4% dividend in the meantime.

And it's worth noting that after signing the TV licensing agreement with Comcast, WWE management stated that it anticipates having sufficient financial resources to fund growth and maintain its current dividend.

Whether WWE can meet management's profit expectations relies heavily on subscriber growth for its WWE Network. The company lays out a wide range of possible outcomes, depending on how many subscribers it racks up.

Clearly, the market wasn't willing to take that leap of faith, which explains the stock's massive collapse. But for investors who aren't afraid to take a risk, shares now look fairly cheap and could represent a compelling value opportunity if WWE is able to come close, or possibly exceed, subscriber estimates.

Your cable company is scared, but you can get rich
You know cable's going away. But do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple. 



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  • Report this Comment On May 22, 2014, at 11:42 AM, JAXGoBlue wrote:

    I agree that patience among investors is the key to this stock. The WWE Network is similar to streaming services like Netflix, and Netflix didn't become an overnight sensation. It has taken them years to get to 20 million+ subscribers (and counting).

    Now, I don't expect the WWE Network to get that big, however I am not disappointed in the initial numbers as investors. 670,000 signed up during the initial push before WrestleMania XXX. I read that another 400,000 bought it on PPV, and since PPV is going away, there's 400,000 potential customers to convert over.

    On top of that, they are already halfway to their goal of 1.3 million subscribers to break even. There's plenty of room to grow in the U.S. and they haven't even opened the Network outside of the States yet. WWE has always done great business internationally and I cannot imagine that when they unleash the WWE Network on Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia that they won't be able to come up with enough subscribers to break even, if not strongly surpass that point.

    IMO, short-term pain = long-term gains. It's going to hurt their bottom line in the short-term, but as they open the WWE Network to new markets around the world, there's a lot of room for growth and investors just need to be patient for at least the next year before jumping to conclusions on if it's a success or failure.

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Bob Ciura

Bob Ciura, MBA, has written for The Motley Fool since 2012. I focus on energy, consumer goods, and technology. I look for growth at a reasonable price, with a particular fondness for market-beating dividend yields.

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