At the start of 2018, WWE’s (WWE) stock hovered around $30 a share. By the end of December, it closed at an impressive $74.72 a share. It’s particularly impressive when you consider the fact that the market overall had its worst year since 2008 with the S&P 500 losing 6.2%.
There were some major controversies and dips along the way, but one thing is for sure — 2018 was a year that the WWE, its shareholders, and fans will never forget.
Major TV deals
In late June, WWE announced that it secured two major television deals — one a $265 million renewal with NBC Universal (CMCSA) for flagship program “Monday Night Raw” and the other a 5-year $1.025 billion deal with Fox (FOX) for “Smackdown Live.” If WWE officials were happy about the news, stockholders were ecstatic — for the next three months the company’s stock marched toward the stratosphere. The company was firing on all cylinders, but as summer turned to fall all of that momentum seemed to shift downward.
Early in 2018, the company entered a partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The 10-year deal is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Saudi Vision 2030” — a plan created to increase tourism and reduce its dependency on oil revenue. For WWE’s part in the agreement, the company is obligated to produce a number of events in the country. The first of these events — the “Greatest Royal Rumble” took place on April 27 in Jeddah, and was by all accounts a success.
However the second event of the partnership — November’s “Crown Jewel” was mired in controversy. On October 2, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed while visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi had been a vocal critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government. At first, the Saudis denied knowing what happened to Khashoggi only to later say the journalist was killed on the orders of a rogue intelligence officer. Most in the global community didn’t buy this story, and many multinational companies began to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia. One company that did not distance itself from the Kingdom was WWE.
Many called for the pro-wrestling company to cancel the “Crown Jewel” event amid the storm of controversy surrounding Khashoggi’s death. Protests even came from within WWE's own locker room with WWE superstars Daniel Bryan and wrestler turned actor John Cena both refusing to perform at the show in a show of solidarity over Khashoggi's death.
As fall progressed, the hits just kept on coming. Television ratings continued a steady decline. The September 10 episode of “Raw” earned 2.73 million viewers; the December 10 edition of “Raw” had an average viewership rate of 2.19 million. On that night, the ratings for the flagship program reached their lowest point in its history.
Many point to WWE’s ratings decline as a sign that fans want new content. Wrestling fans are a vocal audience, and many feel that WWE has grown complacent, resulting in a stale and uninspired product, and the company took notice.
On the December 17 edition of “Monday Night Raw,” WWE’s chairman Vince McMahon ushered in “The People’s Era.” It’s still early to tell what exactly “The People’s Era” actually is, but McMahon vowed to listen to its loyal viewers.
Despite the ratings dip and controversies overseas, revenues through the third quarter reached $657.7 million, and digital engagement is up 61% during the same period. In late November, Guggenheim analyst Curry Baker raised the price target on WWE to $105.00 up from $100.00. Baker cites WWE’s anticipated TV deal in India as a possible catalyst. The WWE also extended two long-standing broadcast partnerships with Japan as well as New Zealand.
This month, WWE enters its peak season, which culminates with its biggest event: Wrestlemania. The 35th installment of the big show will emanate from Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The “Road to Wrestlemania” is usually paved with gold for WWE, and this year looks to be no different. Will 2019 bring another 130% spike in WWE's stock? Only time will tell — and the fans will decide.
Reggie Wade is a wirter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade
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