If asked what sports brands have the most global followers on YouTube, leagues like the Premier League, Major League Baseball, or the NBA might come to mind. With subscriber counts of 1.1 million, 2.4 million, and 14.1 million, respectively, all three have found success on the video-sharing platform.
However, those numbers combined represent just over one-fourth of the sports brand with the largest YouTube presence in the world: WWE.
As of July 9, WWE has extended its industry-leading success with more than 62.7 million subscribers on the platform. To put that into context, only six other channels have surpassed the 60-million mark on the platform, with WWE exceeding pop-culture icons like Dude Perfect, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran in this category.
The secret to WWE’s YouTube success is two-fold, said Jayar Donlan, executive vice president of advanced media: its diverse athletes and their compelling narratives.
“The real drivers – and why people are engaged with our brand – is we have incredible superstars, and we’re telling fantastic stories,” Donlan said. “We’re customizing content for the platforms or partners that we’re working with, and that’s been the recipe for success.”
Looking back at WWE’s early beginnings on YouTube and one would find several videos centered around grunge, a future president shoving down a CEO and male superstars ranging from John Cena to Randy Orton.
Since its debut in 2007, WWE’s YouTube content has evolved to more than just shock value and its male athletes, branching out into numerous verticals. It initially broke into gaming in the early 2000s with WWE2K, where Donlan and WWE saw in their data that fans were largely driven to their gaming capabilities.
In March 2015, WWE launched its UpUpDownDown channel, where longtime gamer Austin Creed – a.k.a. WWE star Xavier Woods – explores the industry alongside many of his competitors. As of July 9, it has accumulated nearly 2.2 million subscribers and 352.3 million views, which Donlan sees as evidence of the mark that gaming has left on the WWE brand.
“I think if you went through from the launch of that channel five years ago through today, you’ll see its evolution,” Donlan said. “Our superstars are into gaming, our fans are into gaming, and we have great gaming partnerships, so the channel has been very successful.”
Largely absent in WWE’s early YouTube videos were women. Currently, the media and entertainment brand has attempted to carve out a niche in what Donlan calls “women’s lifestyle.” An example of this is WWE’s “The Bella Twins,” a channel starring WWE twins Nikki and Brie Bella. The series gives viewers an inside look into the twin sisters’ lives beyond the WWE landscape with content ranging from topics like fashion, beauty, and motherhood to collaborations with other YouTubers and a behind-the-scenes look at certain marquee events.
As of July 9, “The Bella Twins” is not only WWE’s second-most popular YouTube Channel at nearly three million subscribers, it has also drawn more than 637 million views since its inception in November 2016.
The Bella Twins are also at the forefront of another female-specific WWE show, Total Divas. Debuting on E! in July 2013, the series gives viewers another exclusive look into the lives of as many as 20 female WWE wrestlers, including Ronda Rousey. Its ninth season recently ran last October to December, averaging roughly 253,000 viewers across 10 episodes.
Since Total Divas’ YouTube account, TotalWWEDivas, was created in June 2013, the latter has grown to more than 692,000 subscribers and 142.5 million views.
“Our female superstars, they’ve just done a fantastic job over the past few years,” Donlan said. “We’ve had a revolution that turned into an evolution, and our female superstars have even done things like take the main event at WrestleMania, which is our largest event of the year. Having some more content specific to their audience, we just saw the demand for it and created these channels.”
Outside of WWE’s main YouTube profile, the company has five separate sub-channels. The proliferation of content offerings is one of the main reasons for WWE’s large growth in recent memory.
Since the start of 2019, it has gained more than 22 million followers, more than the total number of subscribers from the NBA, NFL, and NHL combined, according to Conviva, which specializes in global streaming and social media intelligence. WWE is also a customer of Conviva.
The only sports-related channel with more subscribers than WWE? A content-playlist aggregator called “Sports,” with more than 75.1 million subscribers but zero uploaded videos since its launch in December 2013.
“WWE’s videos, while covering a broad range of content, are consistently polished and include many recaps, replays, reviews, top 10’s, highlights, nostalgia, and more,” Nick Cicero, vice president of strategy at Conviva, wrote in an email. “Perhaps most impressive is how the WWE YouTube caters to everyone, from new fans looking for Wrestlemania 36 highlights to life-long fans in their 40s looking for throwback videos of their favorite wrestler from when they were young.”
After moving to remote production due to the coronavirus pandemic, Donlan says that WWE has yet to slow down its YouTube output.
Hours consumed on WWE’s YouTube Channel from March to June increased 100% year-over-year, Donlan said. Numerous shows are being produced remotely, including WWE Network’s The Bump, which typically occurs in a studio but is now being conducted via video chats and VOC technology.
Even with these circumstances, Donlan says that hours consumed on WWE’s YouTube Channel the last three months have risen 100% year-over-year. According to Conviva’s Social Insights Sports leaderboard, the network has posted more than 3,000 videos in 2020 alone. The average sports account has posted 25 video videos in the past 30 days; WWE has posted 524, an average of 17 new videos per day. This has helped WWE rank first in total views with more than 240 million in the past 30 days, compared to the category average of 1.3 million views, according to the leaderboard.
“From a lot of different areas, it’s good for us,” Donlan said. “When you talk about content that you can be successful at in all these different areas, it highlights the breadth and depth of interest in WWE as the brand.”