WWE gets smacked down by Wall Street
Posted October 23, 2019 2:04 p.m. EDT
CNN — Shares of World Wrestling Entertainment, aka the WWE, have been sent crashing into Wall Street's turnbuckle this year and are in danger of being pinned to the mat.
You would think this would be a great time for the WWE: It has new TV deals with Fox and Comcast's USA that are financially beneficial for the company. But the stock is now down about 10% this year and is trading more than 30% below its 52-week high.
Some investors are concerned that we've reached peak WWE. Fox's first broadcast of SmackDown on Friday nights brought in solid ratings earlier this month. But viewership has tumbled in the weeks since then, which could be a concern.
"Ratings are a barometer of fan interest and they have been going in the wrong direction," said Brandon Ross, a media analyst with LightShed Capital.
Questions about WWE's international TV deals
Ross said investors are also wondering what the financials will look like for two recently signed international TV deals — a new partnership in the United Kingdom with BT Sport that begins in January 2020 and the extension of an existing deal with Fox Sports in Latin America. Terms have not yet been disclosed.
"People are trying to wrap their head around the international deals. Expectations have been reset," Ross said, adding that this creates uncertainty about the earnings and revenue outlook for WWE in 2020.
Another worry: WWE still needs to announce a new TV deal in India. Its current partnership with Ten Sports ends this year.
That has analysts in a tough spot when trying to figure out their forecasts for 2020. Needham's Laura Martin cut her 2020 earnings estimates and price target on the stock earlier this month, citing the uncertainty.
Martin did concede in a recent report that the new US deals with Fox and Comcast are a good thing, as they guarantee that about 40% of 2020 sales are already locked in. But she noted that WWE still has to ink a new deal for the Middle East as well.
Analysts and investors are hoping that the company will provide more details about the international TV deals when it reports earnings on October 31.
A spokesman for WWE declined to comment for this story, citing quiet period rules leading up to the earnings report.
Don't count out WWE just yet
But some analysts remain optimistic despite all the lingering questions.
"WWE is on the brink of a period of unprecedented growth," said Evercore ISI analyst John Belton in a report. Belton thinks there are "several growth opportunities not priced in" to the stock currently, such as the possibility that international contract deals will wind up being more favorable for WWE than expected.
Belton also thinks that sponsorship revenue and demand for the company's WWE Network streaming service will boost revenue and earnings too.
But WWE is also facing a challenge from a rival league called All Elite Wrestling that just debuted and enjoyed strong ratings on TNT when it went head to head with WWE's NXT show that airs on USA on Wednesday nights. (TNT is a part of AT&T's WarnerMedia, which is also the parent company of CNN.)
This doesn't concern Loop Capital Markets analyst Alan Gould though.
"In the past new competitors brought more attention to all of wrestling and WWE has been able to withstand the competitive threat," he said in a report.
And Rosenblatt Securities analyst Bernie McTernan said he thinks WWE ratings in the US should start to improve thanks to promotional love from Fox and Comcast's NBC.
"Fox has been actively promoting the program with commercials during the NFL," McTernan noted, adding that NBC has also promoted the WWE's "Raw" show on Sunday Night Football.
"This increased support by their distributors could lead to greater engagement which could be helpful to WWE in their next rights renewal," McTernan said.
So even though investors have taken a steel chair to WWE's stock as of late, WWE could wind up making a heroic comeback and once again emerge as a Wall Street champion.