Major League Wrestling is making plenty of deals in the streaming market, and Court Bauer says it’s all part of the promotion’s plan for the future.
Speaking with WrestleZone for the 2020 “Best For The Business” series, owner Court Bauer talked about the many deals the company has made over the past several months to establish themselves in the digital world, as well as keeping an identity in the traditional cable field. Signing deals with DAZN and Fubo Sports, among others, MLW continues to offer fans more ways to watch their content no matter where they live. Asked if all of this work is by design and a way to “future proof” MLW’s library, Bauer says that’s not exactly an easy task but they are actively looking at trends and establishing a stronghold in entertainment’s next step forward.
“I think it’s next to impossible to ‘future proof’ it, but you try to be a futurist, maybe. When you look at content, even some of the biggest companies are struggling in the traditional sector of cable and dish, and they’re all running to the other side of the boat and trying to prop up their streaming service. For us, looking at the landscape where traditionally, cable programmers are—especially right now because ad sales are super soft—they’re looking around and saying ‘OK, we want to do something safe. We don’t want to do something that’s a little bit of a risk or a little different from our programming strategy, i.e. wrestling.’ And that’s why you have a thousand ‘CSI’ shows, the similar comedies and everything. It’s because they don’t want to lose their job, yet wrestling historically has always been riding the crest of the wave with the breakthroughs in TV. Black and white with Gorgeous George, then you have cable and you look at how Ted Turner took advantage of that,” Bauer explained. “With pay-per-view and now streaming, WWE in 2014 was way ahead of the curve with what they were doing and now everyone is trying to basically mimic that but it’s half a decade or more later to break out their streaming service. It’s kind of wild that they were at the forefront of it, but for us, it’s about eyeballs.”
“MLW, for a lot of people, is the ‘best kept secret’ and I’m like, ‘That’s great. That’s a great compliment but I really don’t want to be a secret.’ I’m failing if we’re still a secret, so during this forced hibernation, I had a few goals. One of my goals was to take our cornerstone talent and negotiate new deals, get them more money, more years and it’s a win-win. The other thing was to get more eyeballs on the product, and so we entered into deals that brought us around the country and around the world. We’re now in 20+ countries like Poland, we’re throughout Africa, new deal in the UK, but the other thing was that I wanted to get into streaming. That’s the future, and our audience lives there more than traditional cable. I didn’t want to just be on one outlet,” Bauer said, “I wanted to be able to close deals where we’re on as many of these streaming homes as possible. We went to DAZN and close a deal there and they’re the ‘Netflix of sports’, now they have the upcoming Canello fight, they have ‘GGG’, they are huge. They have 8 million subscribers worldwide and they’re rolling out into 200 regions or territories this month, and John Skipper, the former head of ESPN runs it. FUBO Sports is backed by Viacom, Disney and they are going to be a major player. We’re just trying to continue to build out and grow our global footprint so more eyes are watching us.”
The pandemic has presented strange analytics to measure success by, but Bauer says there’s been a huge uptick since ‘The Restart’ last month, also citing impressive merchandise sales despite a poor economy and lack of stimulus checks. Bauer noted streaming is more adventurous and it has a ‘Gold Rush’ feel, where there’s not that same energy in cable anymore. Questioning what success on cable today really means for tomorrow and citing older audiences watching cable TV as opposed to younger audiences watching on smaller devices, Court Bauer says MLW wants to be anchored to “what’s coming around the corner” and not as much to what once was.