WWE continues to be the unsurprising leader in social media followers, far above the next closest pro wrestling promotions. Closer comparisons to WWE’s social media following are with UFC or even with WWE’s own offshoot brand NXT.
WWE reports in its latest Key Performance Indicators that it has 705 million followers, but number includes followers of all their talents’ accounts and any secondary WWE accounts they have. The KPIs notes the 705 million count has “not been adjusted for duplication among or within platforms and do not represent the number of ‘unique’ followers.” So it’s clearly fairer to compare only flagship accounts against one another. Still, as can be seen in the graph above, WWE’s following towers over the rest to almost invisibility.
So what does that really mean? Is this a metric to measure WWE’s popularity against the other nearest brands? For comparing WWE against the other wrestling brands, I think the data we see above is suggestive of not just a difference in popularity, but also of resources. It’s WWE that has the largest number of employees who can produce social media content that earns followers. Likewise it’s WWE that has the money to invest in advertising that virtually buys them followers.
But is WWE really almost twice as popular as UFC? Probably not. It’s certainly not twice as profitable; UFC is almost certainly more profitable than WWE. (UFC reportedly made $142 million in EBITDA in its most recently ended fiscal year; WWE made $66 million in OIBDA in 2015.)
Google Trends shows there’s more search activity surrounding WWE in the last 12 months than there is for UFC. But UFC’s peaks are higher (occurring around its biggest PPV events). WWE having great interest consistently is probably reflective of the fact WWE has more regular programming than UFC. While UFC has programming almost weekly, it’s not as consist as WWE.
Because when we put WWE and UFC on the scale it’s hard to compare the social media followers of the rest, let’s remove those two leaders from the pack and look at the remaining leading brands in pro wrestling: TNA, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground and NXT.
Despite not being its own discrete promotion and lacking its own YouTube channel, NXT still has more than twice as many followers as any of the other brands here. Again, that’s at least in part thanks to WWE’s superior resources and its clear association with the most powerful brand in pro wrestling.
Note that NXT not only has more followers, but just its gains in the last six months among its three platforms (640,000 followers) equates to more than half of the total followers for either ROH or Lucha Underground.
TNA, even while in the midst of a recurring existential crisis in the last six months, remains relatively strong on social media. It continued to gain followers at a good enough pace to keep Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground well behind them.
Lucha Underground is gaining ground on ROH. That Lucha Underground is so close to ROH is impressive considering the former is so much younger as a brand than the latter. Lucha Underground debuted as a television program in late 2014. ROH started on HDNet in 2009 and joined Sinclair Broadcasting Group (its parent company and TV distributor today) in 2011; ROH itself debuted as a direct-to-video indie promotion in 2002. If all other factors remain equal (such as popularity, resources, continuing to appear on TV), Lucha Underground could essentially tied or ahead of ROH for followers by this time next year.
All brands discussed above, except NXT, are on traditional television in the U.S., and some are in other countries as well. For these companies social media remains an important supplement to their traditional media exposure. However television is still by far these major promotions’ primary means of engaging their audiences and getting stars over.
WWE’s programs are on the USA Network via parent NBCUniversal. UFC’s non-PPV programming is on various FOX networks. TNA airs on PopTV. Lucha Underground is on the El Rey Network. And Ring of Honor has syndication throughout much of the U.S.
Wide television distribution remains the key to becoming a nationally-recognized brand (and even then TNA, ROH and Lucha Underground aren’t exactly household names). I’d contend social media is essentially the extension of traditional televisual media, and therefore social media is especially powerful for independent promotions that have no traditional media distribution and have little hope of obtaining it.
In an upcoming article we’ll look more closely at how social media is used by independent promotions in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom, who which promotions have the largest social media followings.
Photo courtesy of WWE