The eyes of the sports entertainment world are all on World Wrestling Entertainment right now. This follows the announcement that the company is merging with Endeavor, which runs Ultimate Fighting Championship, to create a $21.4 billion sports entertainment organization.
We are also coming off the heels of WWE’s biggest event of the year, WrestleMania 39. This is the precise moment to talk about the potential of WWE venturing into the world of legal sports betting. It’s been reported that WWE has held discussions with state gambling regulators to legalize betting on scripted match results.
With this new WWE-UFC merger, the sports betting talk appears legitimate. Most of my colleagues believe that betting on WWE can’t work. However, I will tell you exactly why it “can” work.
Understanding the arguments against
Let’s make one thing clear: I completely understand why so many in the sports betting world don’t think betting on WWE makes any sense. You are asking the public to bet their money on scripted match results.
For those of you who know the intricate details of how professional wrestling works, this is how it generally goes down. A wrestling company’s creative department develops storylines for the wrestlers/superstars to showcase on TV and in the ring. Those storylines play out as acting segments and pro wrestling matches. The results of the match are pre-determined before the talent even heads out to the ring.
There are some rare cases when the result can change on the fly. Most of those occasions are the result of an injury. However, more often than not, match results are determined well ahead of time. This means that sometimes match results can be leaked to other media outlets. It has been reported in the past that WWE has made changes simply because their original plans were revealed.
This could create a serious issue regarding the possibility of sports betting. WWE could open itself up to accusations of “fixing” matches based on betting handle. There is also the potential impact it could have on the talent. If a wrestler loses a match, could they be at risk of unruly fans that lose big money on a bet?
There are several valid reasons why US sports betting operators should stay away from WWE betting. However, there are straightforward ways to get around these issues.
Frame WWE as a prop betting sport, not a moneyline sport
If you only looked at WWE betting as placing wagers on who is going to win, it is doomed to fail. It isn’t the same as a UFC fight, where no one knows who will win. Because WWE is a scripted result sport, you don’t try and bet on the result; you bet on the script. In other words, don’t bet on who will win the match; bet on what will happen during the match.
It is a concept similar to what NASCAR suggests for its fans. Joe Solosky, NASCAR’s managing director of sports betting, has previously stated that they are trying to get bettors away from outright winner wagers and more on the matchup side. It’s an idea that can keep fans engaged throughout a particular contest instead of just waiting to find out who will win.
Some offshore betting sites allow betting on pro wrestling, with most betting options geared toward match results. However, there are special cases that US operators could adopt.
One example is prop betting on WWE’s Royal Rumble Match. The goal of the match is to eliminate the competitors by tossing them over the top rope. This would be the perfect prop betting opportunity for bettors and operators. You could place bets on who will eliminate the most competitors or who will last the longest time in the match.
DraftKings already has the framework in place with free-to-play-pools
DraftKings is already ahead of the curve due to an existing working relationship with WWE. The company’s daily fantasy site provides free pools during WWE’s Premium Live Events.
The pools tend to focus on individual matches. One of the options is always who you think will win. However, there are several categories that would make interesting betting options. Here are some examples:
- Method of victory.
- Who will have the first pinfall attempt?
- Which signature move will be successfully hit first?
- Will an announcer’s table be broken during the match?
- Will someone physically interfere with the match?
While all of these things are planned ahead of time, these are the kind of details that are very rarely leaked. These are also the kind of details that hardcore pro wrestling fans care about.
WWE’s creative process is a key factor
The elephant in the room regarding this WWE-UFC merger is how it will affect WWE’s creative process.
For decades, WWE’s creative direction started and ended with Vince McMahon. His creative mind and vision were key in the company’s critical success in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, critics feel that McMahon has lost touch with the current era of pro wrestling fans and his vision can no longer work in today’s era.
Meanwhile, McMahon has been able to steadily increase WWE’s value. According to revenue reports, WWE has seen a gross profit in revenue of at least $400 million every year since 2019. That has led to this merger which saw the company valued at over $9 billion.
But what McMahon brings to the table as far as his business acumen, wrestling fans feel he lacks a strong creative vision for his product. There have been several reports that McMahon will rip up a script and rewrite it with massive changes the night of a show. There have also been reports that he has pushed back against negative fan feedback regarding some of his creative decisions.
However, McMahon stepped down from head of creative in the summer of 2022 after he became the fixture of an internal investigation into alleged misconduct. Since that time his son-in-law, Paul “Triple H” Levesque has been in charge of WWE’s creative direction.
Many fans believe Triple H has brought a more consistent and more fan-friendly storytelling style, and that has been the driving force of WWE’s surge in TV ratings and viewer engagement. If that trend remains the same, it could bode well for operators interested in looking at WWE as a sports betting partner.
There may be some difficulty pulling in casual fans into the WWE betting market. However, there is a way to fix that as well.
Focus on major events while marketing biggest stars
WWE has two weekly episodic shows for its main roster talent, Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown. More often than not, these shows are used as vehicles to build storylines around major matches at large events WWE refers to as Premium Live Events. We used to know them as Pay-Per-Views.
Even offshore betting operators don’t create betting lines around events happening on those two shows. So if the focus remains on the larger shows that are viewed by the public at-large as “special events,” that could generate increased interest.
Secondly, WWE has typically been the launching pad for some of the most well-known celebrities. Dwayne, “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, Hulk Hogan, to name a few. Sports betting operators constantly use former pro athletes as brand ambassadors to promote their brands. So imagine a DraftKings commercial with The Rock and Kevin Hart. Or a WynnBet commercial with Shaquille O’Neal and Hulk Hogan.
There are plenty of opportunities to make betting on professional wrestling work. Sure, there will be some challenges, but that is the case with every sport folks can bet on. There is no way it can just be dismissed as a viable option and opportunity. And with this new merger of WWE and UFC, I think it could become a reality sooner rather than later.