WWE: Ready to wrestle it out

MUMBAI:  If you grew up in the 90s then you would clearly remember the greatest moment of WWE’s attitude era. That day, Stone Cold, arguably the most known face of the time, drove a beer truck straight into the arena where wrestler The Rock, WWE (then known as WWF) chairman Vince MacMohan and his son Shane were busy shooting a promo. The tension between Cold and MacMohan was known but what he did that day left fans spellbound. Cold left the three drenched as he sprayed them with tones of beer leaving them as well as audiences stumped.  

The period also had the likes of The Undertaker, Triple H, Chris Jericho and the New Age Outlaws, who were household names. When not on screens, these names came alive through trading cards that kids, especially teenagers, invested their pocket money in.

Fans will definitely remember the animosity shared by the Cain and Abel; The Undertaker and his half brother Kane. The matches were not just mere fights, but spectacles of rivalry clubbed with excellent storylines, metallic music entrances, blazing fire and aerial stunts, all for the ultimate Championship belt that signified attitude, glory and honour.

‘If you smell what the Rock is cooking’ wasn’t a kitchen related term at all but the most memorable catchphrase of The Rock, which was on everyone’s lips.

In India however, as other sporting leagues came into being and with GECs serving a variety of shows, it didn’t take much time for the WWE mania to phase out. Over the years, terms like chokeslam, brainbuster, piledriver lost their charm.

The early 2000s did see little spurts of excitement and mentions when India saw the debut of The Great Khali on WWE television on Smackdown, pitted against the Undertaker in 2006.

WWE programming is broadcast in more than 150 countries and 35 languages and reaches more than 600 million homes worldwide. In terms of global viewership, India is ranked third after the US and UK reaching 140 million viewers a year.

The fresh five year deal with the wrestling body to air WWE matches on Ten Sports has been pegged at close to $100 million and will see investments in multiple forms to grow the WWE ecosystem in India.

While other broadcasters had shown a keen interest in acquiring the property, WWE India general manager Rukn Kizilbash says, “We can’t imagine another partner. There were others who were interested since WWE is a hot property but ultimately the best choice was Ten Sports.”

He informs that specials like Wrestlemania alone receive 2.5 million viewers per airing.

Ten Sports CEO Rajesh Sethi proudly says, “Monthly specials including Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series have seen its popularity increasing among viewers in India. Specials along with the weekly RAW show will for the first time be carried live in India on the network with the new deal and will also include the popular Main Event.”

The channel has taken a step forward as it will air content in multiple Indian languages and will also have live events probably like the GrandSlam being held in India.

As for the WWE licensed products, which are created by more than 130 licensees worldwide and available at major retailers like Kmart, Walmart, GameStop, Tesco, Ackermans etc abroad, in India Kizilbash says licensing is still in a very nascent stage. He informs that their licensing agent in India is Dream Theatre and Pro Line, its apparel partner will be launching its collection next month.

WWE India also has plans of coming up with stand alone WWE stores in India in a year or two.

“WWE products are available in product categories for kids and adults but our focus is on kids. These products include lunchboxes, schoolbags, backpacks, playing and trading cards, video games etc. But the toy Mattel figures are our basic staple merchandise” says Kizilbash. Since 2010, global toy company Mattel has been WWE's master partner in the toy category and for the third consecutive year in 2013 saw WWE ranked as the number two action figure brand in the US (NPD January 2013 - December 2013) says the website of WWE. While counterfeits products are a challenge to WWE, the publicly traded company has a strong legal team, based in the US which looks after the same.

While games like Super Mario and the joystick enthralled kids of the 1990s, WWE games have entertained kids in India too. Now, it is launching the much awaited video game WWE 2K15 which will be launched worldwide on 31 October 2014. E-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon in India have currently priced it at Rs 2,499.

To promote the sport in India, WWE recently got superstar and Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett better known as Bad News Barrett to the country. Ten Sports also organised a special visit of another superstar 'Big Show' at New Delhi and Mumbai earlier in the year. These visits are part of the deal between the two partners and will see similar promotional tours.

Group M ESP national director- entertainment sports and live events Vinit Karnik says it is not difficult to host on ground events in India once the necessary approvals like security and crowd management have been taken care of.

WWE is set to grow in India due to a growing younger population and an increased spending power of consumers. “WWE as a premium property has a massive fan base in India especially among kids” he adds.

With a blueprint in front, the sport is all set to make a comeback and thrill the Indian youth, once again.

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