World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) India wants to celebrate Republic Day with its fans in the country. The wrestling body will unveil a show – Superstar Spectacle – specifically for Indian audiences on 26 January, which will be telecast on Sony Pictures Network. The special, according to Sheetesh Srivastava, vice president and general manager, WWE South Asia, is an ode to the country’s fans and is a step towards localisation.
The event will have 10 Indians as part of the talent in the show. Mike Levin, vice president and general manager, emerging markets, WWE, said that this the manifestation of years of work that has gone into developing Indian talent.
The event is part of a slew of initiatives WWE has for the Indian market. Also on the horizon is the launch of its global OTT offering in India (in association with Sony Liv).
We caught up with Srivastava and Levin to learn more about their marketing efforts in India, the growing fan base, merchandising opportunities, and more…
WWE has been quite a success in India in terms of fans and viewership – what would you attribute that to?
Sheetesh Srivastava (SS): We enjoy a unique relationship with this market. The kind of adulation and passionate fan base we have in this market is unprecedented and phenomenal. We have been associated with audiences for over 25-years.
The passionate fan base fuels us to invest time and energy in India. We do this by generating local content (with our broadcast partners Sony Pictures Network), localised brand campaigns, getting superstars to the market by way of talent tours, and with a shop for authentic WWE merchandise at localised pricing.
The latest example of this is our partnership with Sony to create an India-specific show for Republic Day. We have a WWE Superstar Spectacle and it’s one of the many firsts that we have around localised content.
We are also launching our network – a global OTT offering – in association with Sony Liv in India. The offering will be available for Rs 299 a year, wherein users can get all the action and family-friendly entertainment programming whether it’s live or on-demand. One can expect to have a rich library of over 10,000 hours of WWE programming. We’ll soon also be launching a marketing program for this.
You mentioned the content being consumed on social media – what kind of content is it and how different it is to television programming?
SS: We have two types of content on social and digital. One is short-form – clips of current episodes. We believe that short-form content drives viewership for long-form. At the same time, we have also added some yesteryear matches; classic legendary matches of our superstars.
Among the global markets in terms of importance from WWE, where would India stand?
SS: India is our biggest market globally in terms of television viewership, social media engagement, and YouTube content consumption. In a cricket-loving nation, we are the second most-watched sports brand.
Outside of India, the UK is a big market and a country we have a strong history in. Australia and China are top markets, too. We are everywhere, and truly global, in that sense.
During the pandemic – how did you keep WWE alive and relevant?
Mike Levin (ML): We used to produce seven hours of live content weekly throughout the year. At the high-level, the company’s goal is to put smiles on people’s faces. It was never a question of ‘if’, but ‘how’ when it came to creating content during the pandemic. We knew we couldn’t have fans (in the arena) and the health and safety of our talent and staff came first. We started producing content with no audience in our Florida training facility. It’s obviously not the same without fans, but every sport is experiencing this.
We kept evolving and adapting and started our programming through a residency in Orlando at the Amway Centre where we brought in state-of-the-art virtual fan experience. We have around 1,000 fans in the arena through digital. This brings back to life our products and shows. Our superstars, perhaps more than any other sport, engage with the audience while performing, so the idea was to get them to engage real-time with the fans virtually. Yes, it will never be the same without fans, but it’s got us to a pretty decent level. We are really excited to bring this to India too with the Superstar Spectacle which will be live with Indian fans.
With regards to diversity, do you get performers from different parts of the world to keep global interest alive? How many countries would your talent represent and what would the male-to-female ratio?
ML: Diversity is critically important for our business and we have known that for years. We are getting to the point now where years of efforts of recruiting internationally and truly finding the next global superstar has helped. 80% of our current talent is from our development centre and they are being recruited from all over the world. 40% of the talent in our Orlando training centre comes from across the globe, and India is no exception. It’s where we held our largest try out in our history, in 2019. We pulled in several Indian talent that came to Orlando and we are excited to introduce them at the Superstar Spectacle. The objective and the goal is to create local talent that resonates with audiences in those markets.
We have performers from 30 countries at this moment.
In the last three years, we have doubled our women’s division and it’s a massive priority for the company.
There's a 'Blockbusters' series on air in India. Is the idea to engage with an older audience? What's the current TG?
SS: We want to provide multi-generational, quality, and classic content to our audience. We are currently talking to the young and the youth audience. 65% of the Indian population is below 30 and we continue to focus on that cohort. We also wanted to provide them with an opportunity to peek into the content created with legends and when they were in the making. So the idea isn’t to specifically target an older audience but to get the younger generation to understand what happened in the WWE universe back in the day. For instance, 10 years later people will be talking to younger kids and tell them who Sachin Tendulkar was. That’s what we’re trying to attempt here.
You've got a merchandising deal with The Souled Store. How has this worked? Is there a lot of demand for WWE merchandise?
SS: Back in the day, our passionate fan base would order merchandise from the USA and would end up paying in USD and the shipments would take weeks or months, even. So, we wanted to serve our fans and partnered with a local company in India that’s catering to our e-commerce platform. This is the place where the fans get authentic merchandise for localised pricing. All these products are made and manufactured in India. We are very proud to say that it’s enjoyed demand from tier one and also seeing traction from tier two and three markets.
Along with the current stars, legends like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin are very popular in terms of sales.
What would be the challenges to promote WWE in India?
SS: We don’t see too many challenges; we are very popular in the audience circuit. However, certain strata of the audiences feel that our content isn’t relevant, especially for their young children. However, we have ensured we are a family entertainment brand and we promote our content accordingly.
ML: We are competing for people’s time and it is up to us to create compelling content.
Sheetesh Srivastava (left) and Mike Levin