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WWF eyes move to the silver screen

May 14, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Look for “WWF the Movie,” coming soon to a multiplex near you.
“Whether we call it that or not, that’s what we’ll be doing.” That’s the word from Vince McMahon, chairman of World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, who intends to create his own film franchise.
WWF’s highly promotable the Rock has already enjoyed box-office success in Universal’s “The Mummy Returns,” and will star in “The Scorpion King,” a “Mummy” spinoff featuring his film character.
“We’re talking to Universal and a lot of other studios” about a “multipicture deal” that would involve both WWF talent and WWF story lines, Mr. McMahon said.
The WWF now has a “strategic alliance” with Viacom and airs its programming on Viacom’s UPN, TNN and MTV units, so count Viacom as another contender for future WWF films. But Universal may have the inside track, particularly after demonstrating its willingness to go after the WWF audience in its promotion of “The Mummy.” “Most studios wouldn’t do that,” Mr. McMahon said.
When it comes to television and to TV advertising sales, however, WWF operates less like a program producer and more like a network; in fact, it held its first upfront presentation last week in New York.
WWF “four-walls” its programs-making all the arrangements itself and then selling the time with its own sales force. The current ad “split” with Viacom is 80/20, according to Linda McMahon, the CEO of the family-run company. But she added, “Of that 80 [percent] we remit to them 30 percent.” The split is in terms of inventory, not dollars, a WWF spokesperson said later.
The WWF’s four-walling arrangements are “unique relationships with our broadcast partners, that’s for sure,” Mr. McMahon said.
The WWF’s presentation itself was unique, too, even in this season of upfront hoopla. Performers from Stone Cold Steve Austin to Chyna made their pitches for the WWF. But surreally intermingled with the colorful wrestlers-who are all about fantasy and bluster, pecs and pulchritude-were mild-mannered, balding and bespectacled “suits,” who were introduced by flames, fireworks and deafening rock music.
The representative of Applied Research & Consulting, for example, was there to present the results of a research study that demonstrated to advertisers the loyalty and desirability of the WWF audience (59 percent are white collar, 54 percent own cellphones, average household income of viewers is $50,735, etc.). “The brand enjoys a monogamous relationship with its viewers,” he concluded.
The WWF’s upfront also was notable for what received scant or no mention-namely the XFL.
The upfront was proof that televised wrestling is at the forefront of today’s TV genres, and it has a history that dates back to the beginnings of the medium and beyond.
“It’s really the only variety show left on television” is how Mr. McMahon characterized the genre he has done so much to revive. The WWF’s “biggest challenge” ahead, he said, is determining what the audience wants in terms of spectacle and story. “Is it more action-adventure, is it more comedy, is it more soap opera, and to what degree?” he asked rhetorically.
As for overextending the brand-which now encompasses more than 110 licensees, generating more than $1 billion in revenue annually, and ranges from paraphernalia to publishing and recording-Mr. McMahon professed not to be concerned. “I’m of the belief that you’re either expanding or shrinking,” he said. “There’s no middle ground.”