The WWE – which has long been the industry leader in the world of professional wrestling – officially announced the launch of their online subscription platform yesterday. Dubbed “WWE Network“, the service allows pro wrestling fans to pay a monthly fee and in return watch a wealth of WWE content from the past and the present, and the package includes the organization’s monthly pay-per-view events. What that means in terms of dollars and cents can be best summed up by the cost of watching their next scheduled pay-per-view, Royal Rumble on January 26: for online subscribers, the monthly $9.99 gets them that event plus the WWE’s extensive back library; for fans who order on their TV, Royal Rumble will cost $54.99.
This is huge for those who follow pro wrestling, but how is it relevant to the MMA world, where fights are unscripted and the outcomes are predetermined only by the Fates? Well, considering that the WWE and the UFC both share fanbases to a certain degree, and the UFC just unveiled their own online subscription-based content platform, UFC Fight Pass, it seems that the two endeavors are entwined.
Zach Arnold follows both pro wrestling and MMA closely, and had this to say:
The consensus amongst us as to why UFC rushed Fight Pass out for public consumption was, partially, due in part to the upcoming launch of the WWE Network. In other words, UFC wanted to win the media news cycle by launching Fight Pass first even if it wasn’t a complete product and a product not 100% tested for bugs or failures.
After Wednesday night, one thing is for sure: the WWE Network is going to make the launch of UFC Fight Pass look like the launch of HealthCare.Gov. And that is not a position Zuffa wants to be in with the 18-to-34 year old demographic.
UFC Fight Pass has been met with mixed reviews since its unveiling, and the immediate reaction to fans on Twitter at the WWE’s announcement centered around how UFC Fight Pass offers exclusive access to mediocre card at best – such as the recent UFC Fight Night 34, which featured mostly local, unknown fighters – while WWE Network offers access to all their upcoming pay-per-views. In other words, it suddenly became more expensive to be a UFC fan, but drastically cheaper to be a WWE fan. Why the disparity in business models?
As longtime pro wrestling and MMA scribe Jonathan Snowden put it pretty succinctly:
There’s a reason that WWE is including live pay per views in their package and the UFC isn’t—WWE PPV is dead, UFC’s still a cash cow. Simple
— Jonathan Snowden (@mmaencyclopedia) January 9, 2014
A comparison between the two platforms reveals another glaring difference, and that is in the feel of the respective products. Whereas WWE Network is polished, UFC Fight Pass seems like a work in progress – which, according to UFC president Dana White, it still is.
Thanks everyone for tuning in this Today. We will make a few tweaks to fight pass and it should be great. Also thanks for the input!!
— Dana White (@danawhite) January 4, 2014
For all the comparisons made though, at the end of the day, any analysis of the two new services must consider where in the marketplace the fortunes of both pro wrestling and MMA lie. Pro wrestling has been around much, much longer than MMA, and its business model has had more time to evolve to match its core demographic. In terms of media development, and how it must generate revenue, it’s had to change to survive. Long gone are the days when the WWE could play the UFC’s game of “make big bucks from pay-per-view” sales, hence its heavy TV presence and now its massive online venture.
To get its dinner, the WWE has had to learn to walk upright and make tools like bows and arrows, otherwise it starves. The UFC, meanwhile, is still the lumbering Tyrannosaurus Rex. All it needs to do to get food is to lean down and snatch up something in its gigantic jaws. And that’s fine.
For now, at least.