The WWE is one of the most successful media companies in the world. Unlike any other brand, the WWE keeps its fan base (the WWE Universe) engaged with remarkable success. And in return, the WWE Universe is one of the most loyal fan bases you’ll find.
However, some of those once-loyal fans recently took to Twitter to launch a #CancelWWENetwork campaign. What happened, and what can other companies learn from it?
In February of 2014, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) launched its subscription-based video streaming service called the WWE Network. For $9.99 a month, the WWE network provides subscribers with 24/7 access to over 100,000 hours of video content, including its monthly pay-per-view events.
The WWE believes that achieving success with the WWE Network will trump any growth possible through the traditional cable TV model. And it knows its fan base is a ripe audience for the service. According to WWE’s Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, Michelle Wilson:
"Digital over-the-top offerings represent the future, and given that our passionate fans consume five times more online video content than non-WWE viewers and over-index for purchasing online subscriptions such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, we believe the time is now for a WWE Network." Source
However, while WWE’s growth opportunity is massive, the WWE Network’s success will be dependent upon the WWE’s ability to continue to keep its fans happy enough to fork over the monthly fee.
Last Sunday, January 25, 2015 — a year after the WWE Network’s launch — the WWE aired its annual pay-per-view, the "Royal Rumble.” And if you’ve followed the fall-out, viewers were not happy with the quality or results of the show.
Fans are quick to praise the WWE when it surprises and delights with unique plots and unexpected endings to storylines. However, the Universe is just as nimble in taking to social media to voice its displeasure when it feels let down. And this year’s Royal Rumble PPV was one of those events that generated a massive amount of negative feedback on social media.
In fact, on Monday — the day after the Rumble event — #CancelWWENetwork became the top trending hashtag on Twitter. If you read the major wrestling blogs, you found reports of the WWE Website crashing from the mass cancellations. If you follow the market, you probably heard Wall Street hold its breath as WWE’s stock price dropped.
All Around Wrestling returns on this night just to say #CancelWWENetwork and if they don't start listening we must move on for good :(
— All Around Wrestling (@AllAroundPW) January 26, 2015
However, contrary to popular belief, the #CancelWWENetwork movement was not solely a result of Sunday’s lackluster pay-per-view. It occurred due to a series of lackluster pay-per-view events and televised content that culminated with the Royal Rumble. For the past few years, fans have been extremely vocal about its displeasure in WWE’s product. And if the WWE has been listening, they haven’t done much to course-correct.
So, was #CancelWWENetwork the beginning of the end for the WWE? Did the WWE Universe, en masse, pull the plug on their subscriptions? Ehh, not quite. In fact, quite the contrary happened.
On Tuesday, the WWE Network reached the incredible milestone of 1 million subscribers which caused its stock to shoot up 19.3%.
“While the media reported the campaign spurred so many cancellation requests that they crashed the WWE website, a spokesman told The Post those reports were wrong. The Web site “never went down,” he said, and the campaign generated “no uptick” in cancellations.” - Source
— Frank Esposito (@FBEsposito) January 28, 2015
Yep, that’s right. Even though the WWE Universe engaged in a social movement that fooled the media into believing that the WWE was doomed — nothing happened.
However, though the WWE seemed to overcome the negativity from the #CancelWWENetwork campaign, it may not be the bed of roses it appears to be. There is still a major undercurrent of disappointment and frustration that WWE fans are vocalizing across the socialsphere. (Ed. note: There is also some debate over whether the 1 million subscribers includes free trial subscribers and recent cancellations.)
The social Web has given people the power to make, break and influence brands. User-generated content has never been easier to create, consume and share. More than ever, consumers have the ability to shape a brand’s product development and services.
When consumers spend their hard-earned money with a business, there should be a value exchange. If people believe they’re getting their money’s worth, they’ll continue to spend and spread the good word. If they feel cheated, they’ll take their business elsewhere and leave a breadcrumb trail of frustration behind for future prospects to find.
The key thing to remember is: a brand is only as good as the product or service it sells. There’s no amount of marketing that can make up for a substandard product. And while a business may have enough equity to weather a few rough storms, it will live or die by the long-term consistency of its offerings.
As a proud member of the WWE Universe, I’m excited to see how WWE responds to the #CancelWWENetwork campaign. I don’t expect them to spend a lot of time directly addressing the situation on social media nor would I ever advise them to. In my opinion, the best way forward is to fix the product, make the quality consistent and let its actions direct the future of its brand.
*Adam hosted a recent SEMrush Twitter Chat (held every Wednesday at 11 a.m. EST). You can read that recap here.
Header image credit: Knockout Nation & Canva