WWE regularly markets itself as a one-stop-shop for brands looking to advertise within the sports industry.
With no organized players’ union to speak of, WWE’s distinct advantage over competing professional sports leagues is the ability to leverage its top talent seemingly at will, according to John Brody, WWE’s executive vice president of global sales and partnerships.
“Our secret sauce is the personality of our superstars that are world-class athletes and trained actors,” said Brody. “We also have a willingness to lean in and integrate partners into our matches. Do you think NHL or MLB would allow a brand to activate on-field during a game? No way.”
WWE may be looked at as a bit of a pariah when compared to other major sports leagues in the U.S. However, the company continues to track well across demographics that marketing professionals are keen on converting into loyal customers. These include minority groups and the all-important Gen Z and millennial generations. Women additionally represent 40% of WWE’s current fan base, Brody added.
All this adds up to the sports entertainment company quadrupling its total revenue on brand partnerships since 2011. WWE did not disclose any specific numbers around that statistic. However, company SEC filings show that WWE has earned $48.3 million in advertising and sponsorship fees through September 30 this year – across its media and live event businesses.
“We can deliver on talent, production, and execution because of our linear TV offerings, WWE Network, and our social channels,” said Brody. “There are some amazing sports properties out there, but no one else can deliver that exact formula.”
WWE is also known to have a lot of fun working with brands on activations, in the hopes of entertaining fans. While the company works extensively with the likes of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Snickers, KFC is arguably the poster child of that strategy.
The Yum Brand’s subsidiary entered a partnership with WWE back in 2016 and has gone on to feature Colonel Sanders throughout tentpole WWE pay-per-view events like SummerSlam and The Royal Rumble in-ring and throughout live telecasts. Colonel Sanders was also featured in the company’s WWE 2K18 video game.
KFC’s latest activation took place during WWE’s Tables, Ladders & Chairs (TLC) pay-per-view on December 15. Four fans sat ringside behind a table watching a live tag-team championship match while eating KFC Fill Up boxes. The activation trended throughout the night on social media and has already garnered 7.5 million impressions, WWE said.
“The best judge and jury are the fans,” said Brody. “They voted with their voices by shouting KFC repeatedly during the match. Really what brought us together was a desire to create content marketing materials, but to do it with a little bit of a chuckle.”
KFC is no stranger to having fun itself with marketing deployments and internal menu offerings – think of the brand’s Cinnabon dessert biscuit and the Cheetos chicken sandwich. With the ever-popular chicken sandwich wars permeating the quick-service restaurant industry, KFC is banking on its high-profile brand ambassador to help it remain relevant to consumers.
“I’d say we are able to stick it out mostly because of our roots,” said Steve Kelly, KFC’s U.S. director of media. “Colonel Sanders is someone people recognize and speaks to what we are trying to do: sell fried chicken. He also allows us to do fun stuff like what we do with WWE naturally, without reaching or trying to be who we are not.”
WWE’s fan base lines up perfectly with KFC’s target audience, Kelly added.
“People think WWE’s core audience is more college-aged males, but we’ve gone to events and are surrounded by families,” he said. “It’s an atmosphere you don’t get to see on the surface.”
There is no real cadence to how often KFC promotes its brand to wrestling fans. Instead, WWE brings ideas to the chain on an ad-hoc basis.
“WWE has done a great job of staying close to its fan base and doing weird and fun activations,” said Kelly. “We don’t want to be a thorn on the side of fans by showing up in uneventful ways too often.”