It was a breakout year for World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE) in 2018. The company expanded its reach with a couple of landmark broadcasting deals that drove the stock up more than 140% for the year, while the S&P 500 ended the year down by 6%.
The main event will continue, as WWE is scheduled to report the financial results of its fourth quarter before the market open on Thursday, Feb. 7. Let's take a look back at the company's third-quarter report, recent events, and guidance to see if it provides any insight into what investors can expect when the company reports earnings.
The taste of canvas
For the third quarter, WWE reported revenue of $188 million, up 1% year over year, while operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA) of $36 million declined by 21% compared with the prior-year quarter, the result of accrual for management bonuses and incentives in advance of the company's record-setting year. This resulted in diluted earnings per share of $0.37, up 32% year over year.
The top line missed analysts' consensus estimates of $202 million, caused primarily by lower ticket prices and declining attendance at WWE's live events. The company's media segment grew to $142 million, up 9% year over year, but live events and consumer products both declined, falling to $27 million and $20 million, a decline of 16% and 18%, respectively. Average paid subscribers for the company's streaming service grew to 1.66 million, an increase of 9% year over year.
A questionable hold?
In November, WWE made the decision to hold its Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia. This happened after the troubling death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and correspondent for The Washington Post, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. In spite of the public backlash and the refusal of wrestling headliner John Cena to participate in the event, WWE decided to host it anyway. In justifying its decision the company said:
Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh ... Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.
WWE made this decision even after being urged by members of Congress to postpone the event. It remains to be seen if there will be any further repercussions or backlash for the company's decision to host the event.
A look ahead
WWE doesn't provide much in the way of guidance, but maintained its full-year forecast for OIBDA of between $160 million and $170 million, which included the company's holding the Crown Jewel event in Riyadh.
In the absence of additional details, we can turn to Wall Street, though we don't want to get caught up in its short-term mindset. Analysts' consensus estimates for the fourth quarter are calling for revenue of $258.68 million, an increase of 22% year over year, and EPS of $0.30, up 50% compared with the prior-year quarter.
WWE was the undisputed champion last year, and we'll soon know if the company can continue its winning ways when it reports earnings before the market open on Thursday, Feb. 7.