WWE Paves Virtual ‘Road to Wrestlemania’

NEW YORK In an effort to generate excitement among teens and tweens, World Wrestling Entertainment is taking its Road to Wrestlemania XXIV to the virtual world of Habbo, a social networking site aimed at teenagers.

“For WWE as a content company and a content marketer, it’s very important for us to figure out this intersection of the TV manifestation of our product with the Web,” said Geof Rochester, evp of marketing.

Once it has expanded its digital footprint, the next stage is to develop a strategy to monetize it. The goal, said Rochester, is to have more inventory for the WWE ad sales team to sell against on a global scale.

In the virtual Road to Wrestlemania, Habbo denizens will compete on behalf of their favorite WWE superstar in one of the five matches, including “The World Heavyweight Championship: Edge vs. The Undertaker” and “The Biggest Battles the Best,” which pits WWE’s Big Show against welterweight boxer Floyd Mayweather. The campaign launched on March 24 and runs for 11 days. The WWE first partnered with Habbo in January to promote its monthly Royal Rumble pay-per-view event.

Rochester noted that the company is looking for the most popular online sites in each country or region the WWE is eager to penetrate. “I don’t want to assume that because we do a deal with Habbo or YouTube or Facebook that that brand is the best Web partner for [places like] India or China. We are trying to figure out that alphabet soup,” he said.

Tom Boland, director of interactive marketing, said the WWE is exploring sites such as the U.K.’s Bebo to determine how it works, where it is considered a leading social network and how it can be a successful fit for the company. “There are between 20-25 leading social networks, so what we are doing is designing all of our assets to be able to support all of the different platforms,” he said.
The WWE began to formalize its digital program last year, which has resulted in several initiatives. Three weeks ago, it launched a YouTube-branded channel, Fan Nation. Also within the past month, it launched the WWE MySpace Fan Nation page. In the beginning of the year, it launched its official WWE Fan Nation outpost on Facebook, which it began to experiment with at the end of 2007.

“We understand that our fans and the usage patterns of how fans are consuming and enjoying wrestling are changing. We wanted to be able to let our fans access our content in a variety of different ways. And by setting up profiles on popular social networks, we know who our fans are and we want to bring our content to them,” said Boland.

Rochester said the WWE held back from delving into the space: “A year ago, we, like every other entertainment and media company, wasn’t quite sure if the Web was friend or foe.” He is referring, in part, to the inability of firms to monetize their content on the Web. Rochester noted that after some WWE talent created MySpace pages, they were instructed to take them down. “We weren’t quite sure — in terms of protecting our intellectual property — where this was all going,” he said. However, after a year of learning, the firm has changed its policy.

Added Boland: “All of [these digital initiatives] are architected to provide advertising opportunities.”

The WWE foresees the availability of multi-platform ad buys in the near future.