By many metrics, World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE) had a smashing Q4 and full-year 2018. And on the momentum of these results, plus WWE's lucrative TV deal with Fox (NASDAQ:FOX)(NASDAQ:FOXA), the "sports entertainment" purveyor's stock continues to tease all-time highs.
As a shareholder I was very encouraged by recent financial results. There were, however, two areas of concern that haven't gotten much attention from investors.
A tag team of trouble?
For the most part WWE's quarterly and annual figures were excellent. In the quarter, the company produced nearly $273 million in net revenue, 29% higher on a year-over-year basis, with a net profit that was almost 9 times larger at $41 million. Both figures were comfortably above many analyst estimates.
Over the course of fiscal 2018 WWE posted net revenue of $930 million (16% over the 2017 tally) and a net profit of just under $100 million, more than three times the previous year's result. The former number was an all-time annual record for the company.
All of those numbers are heartening for us WWE shareholders. But let's put a bear suit on for a moment and talk about those two negatives -- the lower take from both live events and consumer products.
Now, we're not dealing with scary declines -- on an annual basis, the former dropped by 5%, and the latter by 10%. Yet these two pillars of WWE's revenue still matter; for the year, they still constituted 16% of the company's overall revenue. And they represent classic means for it to make money.
WWE admitted that its live events aren't drawing people as they once did (average audience attendance fell by 7% last year to 5,000 people). This seems like an opportunity squandered; after all, one of the best memories a fan can have is of seeing their hero or heroes live in action.
When I first watched wrestling in the 1980s, the TV advertising for upcoming events was relentless. These days it doesn't seem as pushy, despite the many channels (web site portal, TV, dedicated network, Twitter, etc.) available to the company. Some of these wouldn't cost WWE much in terms of added expenditure or resource depletion.
I'd say the same for commercial products. WWE fans young and old like to own its stuff, whether it's action figures for the kids or t-shirts and video games geared to followers of a more advanced age. I don't think those people would mind a few more strategically placed ads when watching Wrestlemania reruns on WWE Network.
Use that muscle!
I guess we can't really blame WWE for concentrating its time and effort on network TV -- the Fox deal is indisputably a triumph -- and certain foreign adventures (the controversial yet lucrative events in Saudi Arabia). These have really brought home the bacon; it's no mean feat for such a well-established company to show such encouraging growth as WWE has lately.
No wonder analysts are projecting substantial growth for the company. Thanks in no small part to that sweet Fox arrangement, analysts believe per-share earnings will rise 33% next year, with revenue rising 12% according to data compiled by Yahoo! Finance.
But there would be greater scope for growth if more firepower were devoted to consumer goods and live events. WWE has a nice set of revenue levers it can pull. I believe that those two particular ones have been neglected; it'd be nice if the company gave both a good, wrestler-strength yank.