Welcome one and all to another cosmically ginormous edition of the Friday News Update. I'm your humble correspondent, Zip Wyatt. Plenty of news and notes from the rumor mill just in time for your wrestling weekend, including a reality pitch that I daresay will be headed to the Network in record time. Speaking of which, leading the headlines today is ample discussion of the WWE's First Quarter 2014 conference call. If you were expecting news of a new WWE TV megadeal, it was not to be had (more on that in a bit), and the initial headline appears fairly grim. Despite revenue rising $1.6 million dollars over last year's first quarter, the WWE reported an $8M net loss versus a $3M net gain opening fiscal 2013. Ouch.
If you're wondering where that cash went, the answer is the fledgling WWE Network. Or, to quote their press release, "The decline in net income was driven by the Company's launch of an over-the-top digital network and lower results from its video game licensing business, due primarily to the transition of a new licensee." Despite reported revenue of $4.4M for the Network's initial quarter, startup costs turned that into a lusty loss of $3.6M.
Vince McMahon did not allow this news to shrink his grapefruits one iota: "With almost 670,000 WWE Network subscribers in the US and nearly 400,000 domestic pay-per-view buying homes for WrestleMania 30, we are confident that we will reach our goal of 1 million subscribers by the end of 2014." (INC)
Pay-per-view? FNU thought that was a dirty word.
For all intents and purposes, this news certainly didn't scream positive for WWE, but there's no way they didn't expect to take a loss with launching the Network. 1 million subscribers would appear to be more than a distinct possibility given the current rate, particularly when you factor in that it's still only available in the United States. What makes it perhaps a bit more unsettling is the current state of affairs surrounding the WWE's attempt to land a record-setting television contract. While there is little doubt WWE has performed very well on USA (with the exception of the normal clobbering that occurs during MNF), their landmark decision to dump traditional PPV viewing means in an effort to drop the price and deliver their own content has put them in a tight spot temporarily. Little surprise, then, that despite the rumored timeline, WWE remains without a renewed deal.
As to other interesting news coming out of the conference call, we learned that WWE plans to market another season of Tough Enough on the Network. It is unclear exactly when it will be filmed or released, but this marks the first time the company has publicly acknowledged it will be back. Season One was interesting enough, and few people are better at reality-style confrontation than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, but FNU remains uncertain about the validity of the whole affair. When you consider that the contestant eliminated in week one "lacked passion for the business" and currently is on the main WWE roster, then further consider that the winner had plenty of passion and was last seen operating a hot dog cart in Puerto Rico, well, you get the idea.
Other items of note: The WWE does not expect to do much better in the second quarter of 2014 (live events up due to WM XXX, offset by Network expenses and then some), the question of whether wrestlers will receive different payouts than those historically tied to PPVs received an unsurprising "no comment" from George Barrios, and we can soon expect to see the new Network on both Amazon and smart TVs. So, stockholders, hunker down for the long haul: the balance sheet may very well get worse before it gets better. (Torch)
In regards to those operating expenses:
In a bit of unfortunate news, reports have surfaced that wrestling legend and most excellent manager/announcer Bobby "The Brain" Heenan sustained a broken shoulder in late April after falling from his bed. Heenan has had his share of health travails over the years since leaving commentary, overcoming throat cancer, numerous facial reconstructions, and a broken hip and pelvis. It goes without saying that Heenan remains one of the most influential and entertaining men ever inside or outside of a wrestling ring. In honor of the WWE Hall of Famer and with wishes for a speedy recovery, FNU presents what's largely missing from heel commentary these days: humor. (Rajah)
As a postscript, one of the singularly most touching moments I've ever seen on any wrestling program was Heenan fighting to make mention across company lines of the man he spent so many years "battling." Good luck finding a classier act. Get well, Brain.
As Friday News Update has often surmised, betting odds for an upcoming event can often indicate which way the favored winds are blowing. It will not shock you to learn that the heaviest favorite in Extreme Rules is..(drumroll, please) Alexander Rusev. Can't fathom why nobody is giving Xavier Woods and R-Truth a chance there. It's actually a 3-on-1 if you include Little Jimmy. Many of the other picks are equally obvious, such as Divas champ Paige retaining against Tamina Snuka, Daniel Bryan retaining against Unincorporated Kane, Cesaro defeating RVD and former partner Jack Swagger, and the heavily-pushed Bad News Barrett taking the IC strap from Big E.
In the semi-surprising category, early betting has Bray Wyatt winning the return bout over John Cena. As recent columns shall indicate, I love Bray, but I'm not sure I see him climbing out of the cage to win, and Cena hasn't been pinned since the passing of Queen Elizabeth. Evolution also maintains a betting edge over The Shield, which would be unfortunate unless some sort of Shield split is planned. With the news that back-in-the-fold Batista will be taking some time away from his grueling three-months-straight sked to purportedly promote his Guardians movie (despite an August open?!?) one would imagine that it would be the Hounds of Justice who win that round. I'll save my money for Plinko. (INC)
If, like me, you've been hoping for the return of The Goldbergs, you'll be happy to know that chances are good. If, however, you're excited about Goldberg the Singular, well, FNU has that for you too. According to a recent report, Billy Boy would "absolutely consider" a match at next year's WrestleMania if the "right deal" can be reached. It's unclear what the right deal would be, but it would likely involve a ridiculous amount of self-aggrandizement, a serial killer Santa, and Donald Trump. So consider it a lock. (Rajah)
Finally, FNU has located what appears to be quite frankly the finest WWE reality show concept out there. Capitalizing on the reality television craze and attempting to tap into an unexploited market clamoring for a return to the halcyon days of wrestling yore, Friday Update proudly presents..Repo Man's Wrestling Road Trip. Yes, THAT Repo Man.
Far from just another antique white elephant treasure hunt, join your host Barry Darsow as he takes teams of everyday folks scouring through the props department of Titan Tower looking for relics. From Rick Martel's Atomizer to The Mountie's Shock Stick, there's plenty of fun and frolicking to be had horsing around in the largest depository of wrestling knickknacks ever. You think E-Bay's cool? It's got nothing on fetal hands and Katie Vick's corpse, baby!
After collecting the items they think will fetch the most lucre, the teams head to the Titan Throne Room to face Mr. McMahon himself. Their aim: present the recycled rubbish into brand new angles that will please the Wizard. Winning teams will see their items used in an immediate ACTUAL angle on a WWE "special event" while the runners-up will see theirs used in the following event. Everybody wins, but especially you the viewer. And don't forget, should ratings slide, Darsow can always cue up one of seventy gimmick changes to keep things interesting.
Call my people, WWE. We can make this work.