Media Smackdown! WWE Seeks 1st Agency Partner

Wrestling delivers more than a few good young male eyeballs, and World Wrestling Entertainment thinks it’s time to find its first media shop to help it spread the message to more adult males.

The estimated $10 million advertiser is looking for a small to midsize agency partner. WWE vp marketing Dan Levi said the Stamford, Conn.-based company has been working on a project basis with several specialty shops, including out-of-home agency MacDonald Media in New York and Harmelin Media, a boutique cable media shop in Philadelphia, but buying and planning have been handled in-house.

Advertising is also handled in-house, with projects doled out to various agencies.

“We’re in a different time as far as media goes,” said Levi, explaining that he wants a more progressive media mix. “We’re not only trying to reach young men but male adults as well. We need a media company that can work with us on syndicated research and that understands who our potential audience is.”

Levi plans to narrow down to three or four agencies within the next few weeks. There is no consultant involved in the review.

The bulk of the account will involve placing national and local media in support of the wrestling empire’s signature shows, WWE Monday Night Raw on Spike TV and WWE SmackDown! on UPN, as well as pay-per-view events.

WWE said it spent $5 million on a campaign for last month’s WrestleMania XX pay-per-view event in Madison Square Garden that included a mix of national and spot television buys and guerrilla marketing. The Wrestlemania logo was placed on graffiti murals, taxi tops and lobby kiosks in Loews and Magic Johnson movie theaters; in Los Angeles and New York, 1 million Wrestlemania tattoos were distributed on the streets. The event outgrossed previous WrestleManias by 25 percent, according to the company.

WWE is currently running a trade campaign that broke last month, “Think Outside the Ring,” which was developed by Philadelphia shop Red Tettemer. Ads focus on ways WWE’s programming reaches the 12-to-34 male demographic and points out to buyers that WWE markets popular DVDs as well as videogames.

Last month, WWE launched a video-on-demand outlet that draws on its 75,000-hours-strong video library. Next week, WWE will introduce a new hour of Sunday-morning programming on Spike, and in June, Great American Bash will premiere on pay-per-view.

The past several years have been rocky for WWE, thanks to a legal battle with the World Wildlife Federation that eventually forced the company (formerly the WWF) to rebrand itself; its unsuccessful co-branded extreme-football venture, the XFL; and a temporary decline in wrestling’s popularity. Revenue for fiscal year 2003 decreased 12 percent from 2002 to $374 million.

But Robert Routh, senior cable media entertainment analyst at investment bank Natexis Bleichroeder, said WWE is getting back on track. “Their balance sheet is pristine,” he said. “The wrestling business is at an inflection point—wrestling is seeing an uptick in popularity, and we’re now seeing ratings increases and events such as WrestleMania XX exceeding expectations.”

Nielsen Media Research reported that for the week of April 5-11, Raw Zone on Spike was the second-highest-rated ad-supported cable program, just behind the NCAA women’s basketball final on ESPN (Monday Night Raw was No. 6). WWE SmackDown! was UPN’s highest-rated show during the same week, with a 4.8 rating.