Television audience ratings will establish the fact that WWE (the freestyle wrestling entertainment) remains the most-watched sports in India after cricket. When there is no considerable cricket on Sony Sports Cluster screens, WWE broadcast has kept the SPNI Sports channels in the top five sports genre charts in the Broadcast Audience Research Council television ratings.
The combat-sport entity is further trying to strengthen its market in India. As the WWE broadcast rights will be coming up for renewal in the Indian territory, the management will be eyeing to have a major push in the highly competitive market. WWE, after cricket, are the rights each broadcaster will be keen on. Incumbent, Sony Pictures Network India will like to retain it at any feasible cost.
World Wrestling Entertainment, in an effort to increase engagement with its India fan base, had held the first-ever WWE try-outs in India in Mumbai between March 2 and 5. The try-outs saw widespread participation from male and female athletes experienced in kushti, kabaddi, wrestling, basketball, combat sports, cricket and bodybuilding from Mumbai, Delhi, Gwalior, Chandigarh, and Rohtak, among and other cities across the country, all hopeful of being selected to join the WWE network.
With 80 potential candidates from India, 20 of whom were women, this was also the largest try-outs in WWE history globally. Having been in India for 25 years, India is the biggest market for WWE outside the US, in terms of fan base with 386 million unique TV viewers annually. While globally, digital engagement continues to grow with video views up 57% to 31.4 billion and hours consumed up 77% to 1.2 billion across digital and social media platforms in 2018, India is the number one market in the world for WWE in terms of Facebook and YouTube viewers.
Talking about the importance of the Indian market, John Brody, Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Head of International, WWE said, “WWE does 550 live events per year in 70 international cities, in 25 different languages. I am proud that the largest tryout in WWE history took place in Mumbai to an audience and fans that has been so passionate for WWE for so long. While we currently have nine members of Indian descent as part of the WWE network, the tryouts are an attempt to increase that number, while helping more men and women to realize their dream of becoming WWE superstars.”
Currently, WWE has an exclusive partnership with Sony which extends to its shows being screened on Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3, Sony Max which sees approximately 90 million viewers tuning in each week. The shows are also available on Sony’s OTT platform SonyLIV. Apart from this, it also connects with fans through social media channels like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp, as well as through live events which are held on a quarterly basis in India, WWE superstar mall visits and talent tours, such as the WWE tryouts. The longest reigning WWE RAW Tag Team champions are also in India.
In terms of advertising and marketing for WWE, Sony has a number of brands on board for its WWE programming including Unilever, Hero MotoCorp, Bajaj Auto, Coverfox, and Denver, among others. “Sony is a tremendous marketing partner for us. They have invested heavily over the years to diversify and to provide more opportunity for fans. What we find is our content ecosystem is so rich that there are many ways for us to interact with fans. So, we rely on those as a primary component to how we connect with fans because we are on every week, 52 weeks a year with no off-season, no off-day, unlike other sports,” remarks Sheetesh Srivastava, WWE VP and General Manager, South Asia.
Going forward, as part of its localisation strategy in India, WWE is looking at developing more local talent, increasing the number of local languages for its shows, and creating more localized shows, besides working with its social media team to create more local content to connect with a wider audience. “We are always searching to be a part of what’s next, to innovate, to reimagine. Keeping this in mind, our immediate focus is deeper fan engagement, increasing consumption and sustainable growth, with the ultimate goal of creating a deeper connection with the WWE universe in India,” concludes Brody.