Vince McMahon wants to take the "wrestling" out of World Wrestling Entertainment.
No, this isn't an outrageous plot the colorful impresario has cooked up for his wrestlers to act out in front of thousands of screaming fans. McMahon, the chairman and chief executive of WWE, wants to give the company a makeover, starting with the name. From now on, WWE will no longer stand for World Wrestling Entertainment. It will just be WWE, plain and simple.
Fear not, fanatics. There will still be plenty of smack in "Smackdown," and "Raw" will still be fresh.
But McMahon wants more than men in tights in his life. He wants to grow the WWE through acquisitions and expand its business beyond the ring. In particular, he said, WWE is targeting companies involved in production, live entertainment and branding.
"I think every brand has to re-create itself," he said. "I want everyone to look at us in a vastly different way than they have."
Besides hunting for acquisitions, WWE is moving ahead with long-talked-about plans to create its own cable network for its vast library of wrestling fare. The company has been meeting with distributors including Verizon and hopes to get a channel launched in 2012.
McMahon also wants to start marketing WWE's expertise in producing live events.
Vince "No one does television production better than we do, it's damn near the Olympics," McMahon said in his customary rasp after an afternoon rehearsing for a taping of one of WWE's shows. "We know more about live event touring than anyone in the United States." The company puts on about 300 shows annually.
The moves come as WWE looks to rebound from a tough end to 2010 that saw attendance at its events and pay-per-view revenue both drop 15% in the fourth quarter. The declines were blamed on the economy, although WWE probably didn't help matters by raising prices at a time when its core audience was feeling the pinch.
"I think it is very obvious that they need to do something," Hudson Square Research managing director Marla Backer said of the company's plans. "Clearly, their prospects in terms of growth are limited if they stick to their knitting."
Not everyone embraces WWE's desire to move beyond the wrestling mat.
"I think that the most important thing right now is the return of the health of the core business," said Jay Kaplan, portfolio manager for Royce & Associates, which holds about 9% of WWE stock. "One of the market's big concerns is are they losing market share to real fighting," Kaplan added, referring to mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting.
This is not the first time WWE has tried to expand beyond its core. Several years ago, it partnered with NBC to launch the XFL, a springtime football league that died after just one season. A restaurant in Times Square also flopped. McMahon said he's learned his lesson from those follies and will stick to the entertainment business.