Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wrestling with a crisis - Fairfax - 27th February 2009

The wrestling sector revealed this week that it has taken a body blow from the economic crisis. World Wrestling Entertainment reported a sharp slide in profits and then announced plans to sack 10 per cent of its workforce.

Apparently the number of people wanting to watch large lycra-clad men and women grappling one another fell in the December quarter, and net profit slid 37 per cent to $US13.6 million ($21 million). Pay-per-view and live attendances were down, ratings for the WWE television show SmackDown fell 25 per cent and DVD shipments fell 36 per cent.

The chief executive, Linda McMahon, said: "Over the past year we've seen a difficult economic environment, which deteriorated in the latter half of the year and became especially harsh in the fourth quarter."

With fears that the US stimulus package would not improve the situation enough, WWE said it would proceed with a $US20 million-a-year cost-cutting program.

"WWE may face more challenging trends in the near-term, and circumstances require us to operate in a smarter, more efficient way," McMahon said.

More disappointing was the group's full-year result, which contained $US17.6 million in impairments on two films, See No Evil and The Condemned. It is unclear why the latter, which stars the wrestler Steve "Stone Cold" Austin, was a commercial failure.

The Condemned received rave reviews in the US and narrowly missed out on a nomination for this week's Oscars. Rated R, it tells the story of a prisoner on death row, Jack Conrad, who is "purchased" by a wealthy producer to take part in an "illegal" reality TV game show. Conrad is pitted against nine other death-row inmates from other parts of the world in a fight to the death on a desert island.

A review in The New York Times said: "As one character lectures on the ethics of broadcasting heavily manipulated violence, it is clear the producers, World Wrestling Entertainment, are as ignorant of irony as they are of filmmaking."

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