LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Although it's a nearly 30-year-old franchise, World Wrestling Entertainment may be having its biggest year yet in 2010. Since transitioning from an adult-targeted TV and event property to a family-friendly, PG-rated property in 2008, the WWE has conquered more platforms and pop-culture milestones in the last two years than nearly all of its previous iterations.
With popular programs such as "Monday Night Raw," airing on USA, and "WWE Smackdown," on Syfy, WWE content is regularly viewed each week by 14.4 million Americans -- only 60% of which are male, according to Nielsen Media Research. The cross-generational appeal has also opened new doors for the wrestling brand. Earlier this year, the company partnered with Mattel for a global deal to license and develop WWE-branded toys, which already rank as the fourth-largest property in the action-figure category in terms of sales. And it also inked a deal with Walmart as the exclusive retail partner for releases from WWE Films.
"Ten to 15 years ago, a lot of our core fans were coming to us for edgy superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin," said Michelle Wilson, WWE's exec VP-marketing. "Our fans loved that content and shared it generationally, so as those fans got older in their late 30s and early 40s, they wanted to be able to watch the WWE and enjoy it with their kids."
The lighter touch has also caught the eye of Hollywood, with "Raw" doubling as a talk-show-like vehicle. Celebrities including Donald Trump, Toby Keith, Jeremy Piven, Snoop Dogg and Ashton Kutcher have stepped into the ring to promote their projects. "We get more viewers for 'Monday Night Raw' than all the late-night shows, so the publicists realized, if they're going to promote a movie, they'll get a much broader audience," Ms. Wilson said.
Also coming by early 2012 is the WWE's own cable network, which Ms. Wilson said will launch in conjunction with distribution partners such as Time Warner Cable or DirecTV. But all the exposure hasn't affected WWE's core business: events. This year's WrestleMania XXVI, held at the University of Phoenix Stadium, attracted more than 72,000 fans and grossed more than $5.8 million in ticket sales. That's an even bigger turnout than the 71,000 fans who attended Super Bowl XLII in the same venue.