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Business and Hustling Lessons from the WWE Network

in Joan's Posts, People & Products

wrestlemania-29

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

You guys are going to think I spend my Sunday afternoons watching America’s best not-exactly-a-sport sports, between today’s post and the one from last month about 4 Personal-Finance Lessons from NASCAR!

I spent THIS Sunday watching… you guessed it… WrestleMania 30, thanks to my roommate’s subscription to the WWE Network, which I admit I watch with rather startling frequency.

The funny part is, while I’ve enjoyed professional wrestling since I was in high school, I’d never spent any time – or money – on it since. Until WWE Network came out in late February.

And now, even more than the wrestling itself, I’m fascinated with the business decisions behind the plan. The WWE Network business model is forward-thinking, audience-focused and designed for growth - key lessons that entrepreneurs and side hustlers can really learn from!

Be forward-thinking

Professional wrestling in its modern incarnation has ALWAYS been a cable TV thing. The Pay-Per-View model has worked for decades – and made WWE and its predecessor organizations briefcases full of money.

Fundamentally, the Pay-Per-View model is still working for WWE. Last year’s WrestleMania 29 event garnered the WWE company $72 million – its highest-grossing event of all time.

But for how long does it make sense to share those profits with cable and satellite companies, when the company can reach its fans directly via web and app, and in so doing, can control all of its own advertising and sponsorships, collect its own audience data and, yes, not split the profits?

And, for that matter, WWE and its predecessors have not only new events at their disposal, they have a vast archive of previous events that fans are clamoring for. Why not find a way to monetize that repository of content?

That’s the coolest lesson from the WWE Network’s launch, to me: Be willing to look aheadWhat’s profitable now is great. But is your business – whether it’s walking dogs in your neighborhood or delivering sports entertainment around the world – poised for what’s going to be profitable next? Is it taking advantage of the latest tools when doing so increases profitability and sustainability? Are you making the best use of the systems or products you’ve already built?

Interested in reading more about this? A couple of great reads about the digital-direct delivery model are CNN’s WWE: Ultimate SmackDown Stock and Bleacher Report’s Examining the Legacy of WWE and Pay-Per-View. I encourage you to read these even if you’re not a wrestling fan, if you’re serious about thinking ahead with your business.  Not specific to wrestling (gasp) but to business, Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow is a good look at not just innovation but being willing to stand out from the crowd in business. And finally, on the topic of monetizing your previous work, check out CopyBlogger’s A Ridiculously Simple Way to Get More Revenue and Build Your Audience. While that’s designed for written content, I challenge you to figure out how it applies in other industries too!

My business takeaways: As a freelancer, I know what’s profitable for me NOW. It mostly involves doing the technical/coding work on people’s WordPress-powered websites. That’s awesome, and I’ll continue to do it. But I’m working hard to expand my knowledge specifically in the areas of responsive design and app development, because that’s where my current clients will need help moving forward!

Your challenge question: Where do you see your company – or your industry, if you’re not self-employed – making money in five years? What’s one thing you can do to better position yourself for that time?

Be audience-focused

Interestingly, the WWE Network subscription model – anywhere from about $10 to $20 a month depending on the term of service you choose – is looking to be another great revenue source for WWE. But here’s the crazy part: WWE Network subscribers get access to all 12 of the yearly Pay-Per-View events included in their subscription. Are they crazy??

NOPE. This focus on building a devoted audience is probably the most brilliant business move I’ve seen in a long time.

Here’s what I figure. Normal WWE Pay-Per-Views are $44.95 apiece, and WrestleMania will set you back $59.95. Those prices are just high enough – and that one-time payment method is just volatile enough – that it’s way too easy for me to look at the checkbook today and say, “Hmm, nah, I really can’t spend that much.” And in between Pay-Per-View events, wrestling wouldn’t be top-of-mind. I wouldn’t think to come home and spend my evening vegging out to it!

As a business owner, I’d rather have a subscriber paying me $5 to $20 a month for a product STEADILY than have a one-time or occasional influx of $50 or so.  So yes, absolutely, “give away” those premium products to your steady customers – because that’s how you keep them as steady customers!

And, in reverse, what an awesome way to attract NEW (hopefully longtime) subscribers: If you’re going to spend $60 on WrestleMania, why not just drop that same amount and pick up a six-month subscription to the network? Same investment, more content for the purchaser, and potentially new loyal audience member for WWE!

The Netflix-style model works. A relatively small amount of money paid once a month, automatically, for unlimited access to a library of content you could never possibly tap the bottom of? This is a stellar plan and one that focuses on building audience, not just revenue.

And guess what? When you build a valuable audience – one that talks about your brand on social media, one that engages with your content regularly, one that  you build revenue in ways you’d never dream!

Interested in reading more about this? This Business Insider piece, Building Loyal Audience? That’s a Business Model is a good intro to the concept of building a strong fan base. The Motley Fool has a neat look at exactly how many subscribers WWE Network needs to break even (or better) in The WWE Network Will Succeed. And a book on my to-read list about building your audience is called The Human Brand, which digs into case studies from companies that have done the best job building a lasting fan base over time.

My business takeaways: This one resonates with me because I work full-time for a local news company, where audience has been the order of the day for quite a while. Newspapers, obviously, have always relied on a subscriber model in addition to single-copy sales, so there’s a big parallel there. In the digital world, the news industry has to offer insane value to make its digital subscriptions worthwhile, and each organization has to figure out what content it can provide that readers can’t get anywhere else. Meanwhile, as a freelancer, I quickly learned that I can make good money doing one-time odds-and-ends jobs, but to have dependable income, I need to find a set number of steady, repeat clients. That’s my subscriber audience!

Your challenge question: Do you have a devoted fan base? Do you have people who market your product or service for you for free because they’re excited about it? Do you have customers or clients who would support anything new you create because they are that sold on the quality of your work? What can you do today to create one more new regular client for your product or service – or for your employer’s?

Design for growth

The WWE Network is covering all its bases. You can stream on your computer, your phone or tablet (including Kindle Fire), Roku, via a PlayStation 3 or 4 or Xbox 360 app… with more devices on the launch schedule. Deciding not to tie the WWE Network subscriptions to one device or platform means  the WWE company has been designed for growth. 

Any individual platform might cap the WWE Network out at only subscribers with that particular technology. And tying their business model to just one – like, say, if they’d opted to create a cable network or sync themselves to Netflix or something – means that if that platform fails or becomes obsolete, so does your service.

Meanwhile, the apps are super-well designed. They’re clean and easy to navigate,with room for TONS of features and content to be added. The “second-screen experience,” in which you can be watching video interviews on your iPad while watching a cage match via your Roku, is surprisingly good, and again, there’s room for a bunch of new tie-ins using this method.

Oh, and while they’re still ramping up the U.S. product with the aforementioned archive content, there’s also a roadmap for launches in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and some other countries. While that’s never easy, the multi-platform approach makes it possible, and the same framework, built once, can be reused with only minor tweaks globally.

Finally, there’s the technology infrastructure itself.

Interestingly, I love what WWE did regarding this: It partnered with the company that streams Major League Baseball as “technology partner,” so that it didn’t have to deal with the scalability problem on its own. (It also hired a customer service firm named Harte Hanks, which proved brilliant when, at launch, me and a LOT of other viewers had trouble with both payment-processing and streaming due to a level of demand that was well above anything anyone had ever seen before.)

The cool thing is, I’m writing this before Wrestlemania officially starts (because, duh, I’ve got to be able to watch it), but so far, more than an hour into the preshow, I’m having NO streaming or quality problems. I attribute that to designing for growth – choosing the right partners, who would promptly address any issues and keep them from happening again, and allowing WWE to focus on the content and not troubleshooting its tech issues.

That’s designing for growth. I actually wince when I hear about small companies that refuse to hire additional staff or form strategic partnerships. Yes, you can handle your customer-support tickets at the rate of one or two a day from 50 sales, but what if you’re successful and sell 5,000 of your product or service? Does your system scale, are you prepared to hire staff if you need them, or are you going to limit yourself to only what you can get to in your free time? That’s NOT designing for growth.

Interested in reading more about this? SO AM I. But I’m not happy with most of the recent articles I’ve read in various business sources about scalable business, so if you’ve got one to share, please leave a comment, because I’d love to be able to point to a good resource in this area. Most I’ve read are designed for people looking to raise millions in venture capital, and what I’m really trying to get at is that even small businesses need to be scalable and growth-focused!

My business takeaways: This is something I struggle with in my freelancing: I trade time for money, and that isn’t scalable over a certain point. In fact, right now I’m capped out; I truly can’t take on any more work. Recently, I’ve found some trusted friends who’ve been able to subcontract with me on certain projects, and that’s been a lifesaver, but even that requires some time commitment on my part to serve as a liaison and so on, but I need to figure out if there’s something more in my future than working at an hourly rate (even if it’s a high one!) Specifically, my goal is to launch two products this calendar year (one in the homeschooling space, another in the customer-service space) so that I can create an additional stream of income even during those times I don’t have time to trade for money.

Your challenge question: Is your business – be it product or service – designed for growth? Are you tied to a particular tool or technology to excess? If you’re an employee, is your job designed for growth, or if a piece of technology changes, will your knowledge and skills become obsolete? What can you do today to increase your marketability?

Maybe you’re not a wrestling fan. Even so, there’s some SERIOUSLY good business going on in the ring right now. I hope you’ll consider the lessons you can learn as a side-hustler, entrepreneur or employee…

… and I hope you’ll share your thoughts with us in the comments!

(Bonus: If you watched WrestleMania last night, you BETTER tell me your favorite WrestleMania moments in the comments!)

What do you think?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Martha April 7, 2014 at 12:38 PM

Interesting that you mention small businesses that refuse to hire help. That’s ALMOST me. I know that I need help – I know that if my business is going to grown, I can’t possibly handle all of the logistics by myself – but that’s what I am having trouble with.

My business works out of my home. I have a serious mind block against bringing strangers into my home, or letting them work here unsupervised. I actually tried hiring some workers….. 4 so far have not worked out. I hold back from looking for the next one, and I don’t really know why. But I definitely am not scaling myself for the future if I don’t figure out a way to get past this hurdle!!

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Joan Otto April 7, 2014 at 1:13 PM

Martha, I think if I’d had four bad experiences, I might be reluctant too! And I definitely think there’s a comfort factor about having someone in your home, too. I wonder if there’s anyone in your network who could maybe help you out to start – even if it’s not a “forever” partnership, maybe that would be a way to build a system of having someone else working there, but starting with someone you know a bit and trust? Just a thought!

Definitely keep us posted on how that situation progresses – I know that’s a big deal when it comes to building your business!

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Tahnya Kristina April 19, 2014 at 11:29 AM

I love learning about money from non-traditional sources such as reality TV and Judge Judge. Great post Joan.

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Mark Ross May 14, 2014 at 8:32 AM

I’m a WWE fan when I was a child, but as I grow up I haven’t watch any WWE shows for the past couple of years now.

I do think that the ones who created WWE were great and forward thinking businessmen. It’s just an incredible business where they have different revenue sources, and yes, WWE is really designed for growth.

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