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WWE looks abroad for growth
By NICK TYLWALK -- SLAM! Wrestling




The solution to the WWE's current difficulties lies overseas.

That was the gist of the message delivered Tuesday morning by CEO Linda McMahon and CFO Phil Livingston during the company's quarterly conference call. Faced with a quarter of declining pay-per-view buys, TV ratings and domestic live event ticket sales, WWE management plans to tap even more into the increasingly profitable foreign market.

International revenue accounted for 22 percent of the company's overall income versus just 12 percent for the same period a year ago, thanks to a European tour that featured the first ever live Raw broadcast from England. With the overseas market so hot, it came as no surprise that McMahon announced plans for a similar tour next April and as many as 50 live events outside North America in 2005.

Aside from "resting" the domestic market to increase demand, WWE executives plan to look at their U.S. tours in a new light thanks to lessons they've learned elsewhere.

"We will be flying into more hub markets and driving to those adjacent markets, scheduling promotions with our retailers around those events much along the model that we've used internationally," McMahon said.

Addressing some recent WWE television experiments, McMahon credited the new Tough Enough segments on Smackdown for increasing the ratings for the quarter hours in which they aired. The company's first interactive weeknight pay-per-view, Raw's Taboo Tuesday, was a mixed bag. Four million votes came in online to help shape the card, but only 174,000 buys means viewers may have been occupied with something else when the show actually aired.

"Taboo Tuesday competed for viewers aginst the sixth game of the Yankees-Red Sox playoff series, and achieved buys that were below our expectations," McMahon admitted. "But I thought they were very respectable given the competition."

WWE executives also have high hopes for their fledgling movie business. Livingston revealed that prinicpal photography on their first two feature films -- including the John Cena vehicle The Marine -- will wrap in December, with expected theatrical releases in the fall of 2005. McMahon stated that the company has more scripts under consideration and could handle producing four movies a year.

When asked about a launch date for the much-anticipated WWE 24/7, an on-demand subscription video service that would utilize the company's 75,000 hours of wrestling footage, McMahon would only say that it would be "soon." The company has received good response from soft launches and expects to announce more about which cable systems will carry the service in the near future.

One additional highlight of the conference call came when Livingston announced that a deal had finally been reached to close the book on the WWE's ambitious but ultimately unprofitable presence in New York's Times Square. The property that opened to much fanfare in 2000 as WWF New York has been closed since 2003, a melancholy reminder that wrestling's popularity isn't wat it was just a few years ago.

"We had a minor celebration here at the company when we [closed the deal]," said Livingston. "Our annual lease on the property was almost three million dolars a year, so offloading the liability was a positive for sure."