When you think of WWE, images of gigantic men and women, body slamming each other come to mind. But there’s much more at play beyond the ring. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., aka WWE, is an American integrated media and entertainment company that primarily is known for its brand of sports entertainment. It has branched out into other fields, including movies, real estate, and various other business ventures. As of 2018, it is the largest wrestling promotion in the world, holding over 500 events a year, with the roster divided up into various globally traveling brands. Over the years WWE has managed to build a very strong licensing & merchandising business which riffs off its on-air programming.
Archana Keskar, Senior Director Consumer Products Licensing & Retail, South East Asia & South Asia, WWE helps to demystify this massive goliath for us.
ILP: You have dabbled in the licensing business for quite some time and with multiple brands including the STAR Network, Disney, Cartoon Network and now WWE. What’s it about the licensing business that you find most exciting and spurs you to dream bigger and jump higher?
AK: The brands I represent. If you believe in a brand, it’s personality & attributes, you are better placed to plan brand extensions. This is the same reason a consumer buys into WWE and licensing is a great tool that allows a win-win partnership between licensors & licensees. You are only limited by your imagination: which other business model allows brand extensions across multiple product or service categories to deliver 360 degrees consumer value?
ILP: Do you believe the business of sports licensing is coming/has come of age in India?
AK : I think, in general, licensing as a business model still has some distance to travel in India irrespective of the genre. However, more sports and sports leagues are getting support and exposure, and are now more mainstream than before. With increased support to the segment, the overall relevance and brand association opportunities will continue to grow.
ILP: WWE is a $1 billion brand at retail. Most of us in India was first exposed to WWE thanks to the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker. Now you have a whole new generation to serve. How has WWE evolved to meet the change in the demographic?
AK : There are more consumer touchpoints for WWE than ever before. As well as more than 550 live events around the world every year, WWE programming is available in more than 800 million households worldwide, and is broadcast in more than 180 countries and 24 languages. WWE Network, our subscription-based TV service, had a record 2.1m subscribers as of WrestleMania 34. In social media, WWE is the number one sports channel on YouTube ahead of the likes of the NBA and FIFA, and is the second-most viewed channel on YouTube overall with more than 22 billion lifetime video views. WWE has more than 900million total followers across all 18 platforms. WWE has a diverse roster of more than 250 Superstars and Legends
representing nearly 30 different countries speaking 17 languages and counting, and featuring household names like 16-time World Champion John Cena to new talent like our very own Jinder Mahal who was the first World Champion of Indian descent, last year. We also enlist new talents from different countries every year. Collectively, they are global personalities, icons, heroes with huge star power that is relevant to consumers of all ages.
ILP: Globally WWE works with over 200+ licensees. What are the checkboxes from a WWE standpoint before appointing a new licensee?
AK: Passion for WWE, expertise in a specific product range or service and distribution strength. There is very high demand for WWE products in India and to meet this, we are looking for experts in varied category segments.
ILP: Talk us through the licensed product portfolio in India and other categories in the offing?
AK: We work with some of the best in different product categories like Mattel for Toys, 2K, Scopely for Console & Mobile Games, Topps for Trading Cards, DK Penguin Random house for Books,
Funko for Collectible figurines, Parle & Perfetti Van Melle for Promotions and WWE Superstar Authentic merchandise is available on our e-commerce platform, wweshop.in, launched in partnership with The Souled Store. Our core target consumer segment being the 15-25-year-old young adults followed closely by kids (4-14years) and to meet their demand, we are now in discussions with local companies across multiple categories including but not limited to Apparel, Footwear, Bags, Stationery, F&B, Home products, even promotional tie-ups.
ILP: Give us an example of a great licensed brand fit with WWE?
AK: WWE is a lifestyle brand with a portfolio of globally popular Superstars. Other than Action Figures and Games, Apparel & Superstar Fashion Accessories has the highest demand. With hundreds of Superstars to design for, the range possibilities are immense.
ILP: Which is the one license program you’ve run at WWE which qualifies to be in your personal hall of fame?
AK: The best is yet to come.
ILP: India is still a very conservative country when it comes to entertainment opportunity. How do you get past the gate-keepers (parents) to sell licensed merchandise to kids?
AK: Let me share a few examples; WWE video games have always been in the top 5, 2018 is the 11th year for our Trading cards, Mattel launched the WWE Action Figures & Playsets in April this year and few SKUs are already out of stock, Superstar authentic gear sales from our ecommerce platform – WWEShop.in
has consistently grown since launch last year. To break this down, WWE is an aspirational brand with mass connect across Young Adults & Kids segment alike. In terms of popularity, India is our number 1 market for TV viewership or social media following and people of all ages attended our India Events in the last two years. With demand this high, the only way we will be relevant to all gate-keepers (retail & parents) is to have good quality products & promotions with reputed companies and aim is to add to the existing product range in the country.
ILP: Any key learnings you would like to share regarding your journey as a licensor of one of the biggest sports brands in the market?
AK: WWE is unique. We are a sports-entertainment brand and the global consumer base connects with the larger than life Superstars; their personalities and stories. Our brand is not dependent on a single championships or sports series but is relevant every day of the year without a break. Therefore, innovation is key, be it Content or Consumer Products.
ILP: What does the roadmap for WWE look like over the next 5-10 years? Will consumer products or content syndication drive the agenda?
AK: Both go hand in hand. India is a very important market for us and we are carefully evaluating opportunities for localization across all lines of business.
ILP: What does Archana Keskar watch on the tele when she’s not watching WWE?
AK: We have interesting content every day of the week but when am not tuned into WWE, I catch up on Hindi movies. But it’s interesting as sometimes even that brings me back to WWE like Dangal, Sultan or even Brothers.