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WWE touted “record 2020 results” in its earnings report earlier this month, but on Friday announced internally that it wouldn’t give promotions or raises in 2021.
Department heads told their respective staffers on Friday that the company would not be giving raises or promotions this year, citing the financial strains of the coronavirus pandemic on key parts of its business, two current WWE staffers told Insider. These staffers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about the company.
“It sucks for morale overall,” one staffer said. “We’ve been doing extra work because they furloughed people.”
In a statement, a WWE spokesperson told Insider: “As we approach the one year mark of operating within the global COVID-19 pandemic, the most important thing to WWE is preserving as many jobs as possible.”
WWE’s Friday internal announcement was rooted in its 2021 outlook. In its latest earnings report, the company noted that it expected an increase in its year-over-year expense base after employees returned from furlough in December.
It also anticipated “restrictions related to the spread of COVID-19” to continue, impacting live events that may be canceled, postponed, or limited. (As of now, its annual flagship event, WrestleMania, is scheduled to be held in Florida in April at limited capacity. Last year, the event was held without an audience.)
The pandemic has impacted media companies in different ways. Streamers like Netflix, which recently hit 200 million subscribers worldwide, have benefited as consumers practiced safety measures and stayed home. But movie studios have suffered as theaters shut down and live events businesses have taken a hit.
For its part, WWE dropped more than 20 performers from their contracts, furloughed a number of employees, and took other cost-cutting measures in April amid the pandemic. Its lucrative live-events business has been impacted significantly without revenue from ticket sales.
Both Q4 2020 revenue and its operating income fell sharply compared to the same period last year. WWE blamed the decline on the absence of a “large-scale international event” (unlike prior years, it did not return to Saudi Arabia in Q4).
But while the pandemic has upended live events, WWE is making money in other ways.
“We thought we were in the clear,” said the first staffer, who expected to be promoted this year.
WWE said that it had reached a record $286.2 million in adjusted OIBDA (operating income before depreciation and amortization) over the full year. Revenue increased, as did subscribers to its standalone streaming platform, WWE Network.
It noted the record adjusted OIBDA reflects the “full-year impact” of its new distribution agreements, referring to its deal with Fox to air “SmackDown Live” that began in late 2019, which was worth $205 million annually for five years, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The company also struck a new deal with NBCUniversal to continue airing “Raw” on the USA Network, which was worth $265 million annually for five years, THR reported.
“I understand companies are struggling but at the same time, its record [earnings] doesn’t look good on their part,” the second staffer said.
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