Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Worked WM Attendance numbers

year   reported    actual      Diff
2009    71,617     61,617     10,000 
2010    72,219     61,093     11,126 
2011    72,744     61,661     11,083 
2012    78,363     66,500     11,863 
2013    80,676     72,000     8,676 
2014    75,167     65,000     10,167 
2015    76,976     67,000     9,976 

WWE attendance numbers occupy an interesting intersection between promotional gusto and pertinent investor information.


Let's take an example such as WrestleMania 31.

On April 1, 2015, WWE released a press release "WRESTLEMANIA BREAKS MORE RECORDS". And I quote, "WrestleMania 31 broke the attendance record for Levi’s Stadium as 76,976 fans from all 50 states and 53 countries converged on the home of the San Francisco 49ers."

However, if you look at the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) slides there's a slightly different story:

This indicates that during Q1 2015, WWE average paid attendance was 7,400 over 73 North American shows (including WrestleMania 31). If you exclude WM31, WWE average attendance was 6,700 over 72 North American shows.

That would imply that WrestleMania 31 paid attendance was 7400x73-6700x72 = 540,200 - 482,400 = 57,800. However, this chart is using very round numbers. The w/WM # could be as high as 7499 (rounded down to 7.4) and the w/o WM # could be as low as 6650. Or it could be the 7,350 and 6,749. That gives us a range of 68,600 (high) to 50,600 (low)

Dave Meltzer has published that the actual attendance for WrestleMania 31 was 67,000 (which would imply around somewhere between 6,650-6,724 w/o WM and 7,477-7,550 w/ WM numbers) which is within the range.

What's far outside of the range would be a number like 76,000 paid attendance which would have put the w/ WM average of North American attendance in Q1 up into the 7,600-7,700 range instead of 7,400 number they reported.

However, there is (as always) caveats. WWE's press release didn't say "paid attendance". Were there possibly 10,000 papered tickets to WrestleMania 31? Possible? Yes. Likely? No.

Dave Meltzer has posted that, "Mania was set up for 66,000 last year at first. They added extra seats for 4,000 more. The people at the 49ers who run the stadium that I know joked that they actually with sales and freebies had enough to legit sellout, and then they added the bleachers and had 3,000 empties."

Furthermore, WWE's own legal filings suggested that the capacity for Levi's Stadium was 66,060. (Each year, WWE files a lawsuit against "John and Jane Does and XYZ Corporation" for trademark infringement, counterfeiting and dilution under the Lanham Act. It's a technique they've used in the past to go after people associated with the "unlawful manufacture, distribution and/or sale of counterfeit merchandise bearing unauthorized copies of WWE's registered and unregistered trademarks and service marks." I noted that in the exhibit of their lawsuit, filed 3/18/2015, WWE included a list of upcoming WWE events, including WrestleMania, with details which included building capacity.)

So, that's where we stand with modern attendance records. WWE will claim one thing on television and often back that up with a press release. They may even briefly mention it during a conference call (though I looked through last year's the Q1 and Q2 transcripts and didn't see any mention of it). I believe that WWE thinks other organizations (such as NFL) make similarly inflated attendance claims, and it's only an entertainment statistic.


However, what matters is the actual revenue that the event generates. On that front, I believe the numbers that WWE reports. Analysts are FAR more interested in seeing the inflated live event numbers than they are about truly understanding whether the once-a-year WrestleMania attendance figure is a worked or real number.

To that end, analysts are far more interested in the details of WWE Network subscriber behavior around WrestleMania. How many people are signing up? How many are first-time subscribers people? How long do those people stick around for? How does the subscribership split between domestic and international groups? Those are the sort of datapoints that investors are hungry for. Those are the areas where you see probing questions during the conference calls.

I don't believe WWE feels any compunction to "tell the truth" about attendance numbers in any forum outside of SEC filings and possibly on conference calls. I don't think that investors are that fixated on the topic, except to note that overall North American average paid attendance has been stagnant at about 6,000/event for several years. The mega-events (SummerSlam, WrestleMania, the UK tour) may signal bright spots, but overall WWE is achieving higher live event revenue through raising ticket prices and running more events (i.e. expanding NXT touring).


When we're talking about historical attendance records, there's certainly a different dynamic at play. First of all, many of the people (like Barrios) with WWE today weren't with the company 15 or 30 years ago. Some are just going to repeat the talking points they've heard and been fed. Second of all, World Wrestling Federation (Titan Sports) was not a publicly traded company until 1999. They wouldn't see any need to "tell the truth" when it comes to attendance numbers to the outside public.

I will note that I have been surprised to find court filings by WWE which reference the allegedly worked WrestleMania III attendance number.

In the 2004 version of the WrestleMania anti-bootlegging lawsuit, the company refers to "Subsequent Wrestlemanias have occurred in such sites as the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan (Wrestlemania III), which drew over 90,000 spectators" (page 5-6)

I am not a lawyer so I cannot speak to whether including a disputed fact like this a court filing has any questionable legality. My experience with reading these filings is that in the "factual background section), the company can make whatever claims they would like and it's up to others to challenge or deny them. Since this attendance fact is not highly relevant to the proceeding at hand, there really was no meaningful reason that the "fact" would be challenged. The thrust of this part was establishing that WrestleMania is a big deal and whether it's 78k or 93k, the point would stand.

Essentially, unless the lawyer filing the case knew that the report 90k+ attendance number for WM3 was an outright lie (and one specifically that had shown to be false - such as there was a deposition or an affidavit to the contrary), I would propose that it would be reasonable for them to include this statement in the filings without thinking twice they need to dig into that particular (then) 17-year-old claim.

There are cases of a pre-public WWF revealing detailed live event revenue numbers. WWF had to work with commissions and often needed to pay taxes based on live gates. For instance, during Titan Sport's battle with the State of New Jersey's boxing and wrestling media rights tax, WWF went into extreme detail about live event revenue, closed-circuit revenue, international television rights and PPV purchases of WrestleMania IV. Likewise, the Ventura royalties lawsuit revealed details of the WWF business around video-tape sales and royalties payments. I haven't found any cases that directly covered WM III in a meaningful way that would touch upon the true attendance at that time, but it's possible there was some fact disclosed in a lawsuit that would provide an enlightened discourse on this subject.

Only case that might come to mind would be something involving Hulk Hogan. However, while Terry Bollea may say something in a deposition, I truly don't trust or believe his memory when it comes to facts like what was the true attendance of WrestleMania III. In both the Ultimate Warrior and Gawker lawsuits, he's made many claims under oath which do not fit with established facts and timelines, especially around his wrestling career.


Jay Cortes said...

So when it comes to seating, you only count the seats pre-installed and ignore the chairs they set around the ring and the extra bleacher seats behind said seats?

WWE Wrestle said...


PunditFight said...

It's interesting to note that Trump's Press secretary Sean Spicer in his first address talked about misleading crowd numbers for his inauguration. Worked crowd numbers is a thing now.