WWF grapples with loss of sponsors to rival WCW

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While national TV advertisers claim to have left the World Wrestling Federation over content issues, some financial considerations may also be at work.

Recent WWF defectors, including AT&T Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Mars Inc., the U.S. Army and Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., have moved virtually all their TV support over to the WWF's main competitor, Time Warner's World Championship Wrestling. These advertisers buy wrestling to target the hard-to-come by demographic of young men ages 12 to 34.

Additionally, Western Union Financial Services shifted a fairly big budget from WWF to WCW, according to Joe Uva, president of Turner Entertainment Group Sales, which sells national ad time on WCW.


The shift in ad dollars, Mr. Uva said, was because WCW's operation is more "family-oriented."

In response to these content issues, WWF Chairman Vince MacMahon earlier said he would be toning down the new UPN show, "WWF Smackdown," labeled too violent and sexually provocative.

WCW is hoping to grab more TV money soon because the WWF appears to be limiting any cleanup efforts to its UPN broadcast.

"They have continued to push the content on `[WWF] Raw,' a USA Network show," Mr. Uva said.

Industry analysts believe advertisers' claim the ad shift was over content is a convenient one, but not the only underlying reason.

"If you are a wholesome family-image-type client, I don't see how you run in wrestling at all," said one veteran major ad agency buyer of TV time. "The shades of difference are not that great."

Was content the only issue? "No," said Jim Rothschild, senior VP-advertising sales for the WWF. "We have been told there are some very strong ties between the WCW and Coca-Cola."

Some industry executives believe Coca-Cola is getting a better financial deal with WCW.

The soft-drink giant's move has been puzzling to WWF. Mr. Rothschild said Coca-Cola bought a year's worth of advertising with WWF during the upfront sales period. When WWF asked about a specific content transgression, Mr. Rothschild said, "They [Coca-Cola] never cited an issue."


One media buyer who didn't want to be named said he was able to get big discounts buying WCW because his client bought other Turner cable network dayparts.

WWF still holds an advantage over WCW in ratings. WWF pulled in a 3.8 Nielsen NTI rating for "WWF Smackdown" on UPN Nov. 25 and a 6.3 Nielsen HomeVideo Index Nov. 15 for "WWF Raw" on USA. On Nov. 15, "WCW Nitro" pulled in a 3.4 rating. Nielsen Media Research's NTI rating measures broadcast programming; the HomeVideo Index is a measure of cable TV.

According to agency executives, wrestling on UPN goes for $50,000 to $60,000 a 30-second unit, $40,000 for a :30 on USA and about $25,000 to $30,000 per :30 on WCW.

"We have had virtually no viewer complaints," a UPN spokesman said, "and no affiliates have pre-empted the show."

World Federation Entertainment's stock fell 3/16 on Dec. 1 to 19 15/16.

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