World Wrestling Entertainment is hoping to expand its fanbase across the pond by relocating the production of its tent-pole broadcast shows to the U.K.
In October, both Monday Night RAW and WWE SmackDown! will be filmed and produced outside the U.S. for the first time, as part of a year-long branding push into England. The live events, which are already sold out, will play out at the Manchester Evening News Arena, with the shows airing in all of WWE’s international broadcast territories. The company will then return for a second phase of filming in April. Currently airing on cablenet Sky Sports, WWE’s top two shows consistently rank in the channel’s top 10.
Leading up to the October broadcasts, WWE is instigating a sweeping promotional effort that includes live shows in Belfast, Sheffield, Nottingham and London, as well as contests, new product launches and in-store appearances and school visits by league stars. Alex Romer, director of international consumer products, says the company is working with licensing agent Copyright Promotions Licensing Group to grow the U.K. merch program, particularly in the areas of novelties, food and household goods. The U.K. is WWE’s most successful market outside of the U.S., comprising 75% of its total international sales at US$10 million last year. Romer says the company would like to get back to posting annual sales between US$40 million and US$50 million in the region – a range it achieved at its peak between 1999 and 2001. ‘We want to get the brand awareness back to the point where we’re playground-hot,’ he says.
Although all eyes are on England at the moment, WWE also plans to expand the initiative into other markets including Japan, Italy, Australia and South Africa. Romer says Italy has seen particularly rapid growth, with WWE video games selling 10 times more units in Q1 ’04 than in 2003.