The PopCulteer
January 31, 2020

This week The PopCulteer is once again roaming in the wilds of randomosity as we bring you a one news item about WWE, and some leftover photos from last month, showing off part of the awesome train layout at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

WWE’s Financial Beatdown

Yesterday WWE announced that the company’s Co-Presidents, George Barrios and Michelle Wilson (seen left), have exited the company, effective immediately. Barrios and Wilson were also dismissed from WWE’s Board of Directors. After years of serving in senior positions, they’d been named co-presidents in 2017 and presided over the recent massive TV deals and other major initiatives.

Vince McMahon is quoted in the press release as saying, “I would like to thank George and Michelle for their 10+ years of service and contributions to the organization. I am grateful for all that was accomplished during their tenure, but the Board and I decided a change was necessary as we have different views on how best to achieve our strategic priorities moving forward.”

Frank A. Riddick III, who has served as a member of WWE’s Board of Directors for more than 11 years, has been named interim Chief Financial Officer, reporting to WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon. WWE has begun a search for both a permanent Chief Financial Officer and Chief Revenue Officer.

WWE has an investors conference call next week to report it’s 4th Quarter and full year 2019 financial results to it’s investment community. This will be the first quarter since the beginning of their new and very lucrative television contracts, but it’s not clear if the first payments for those contracts was made in this quarter, or if those are still yet to come.

After this announcement, WWE stock plummetted, losing more than 20% of its value, which is bound to have an affect on the wrestlers, many of whom hold stock options as part of their contracts. WWE stock, as I write this, is hovering around $48 per share, after reaching a high of $101 mid-way through last year.

Observers speculate that Barrios and Wilson are scapegoats because the 4th Quarter results are going to be disappointing. Ticket sales to live events are way down and have been declining for years, and as a result T shirt sales and some merchandise sales are down. Last year WWE revamped the WWE Network, bringing the technical end of things in-house after the company that had been running it for them was purchased by Disney. Following the switch, the network was plagued with technical issues, and some reports are that they’ve lost 40% of their subscribers.

On a personal level, I subscribe to the network, and for most of the month of December it was unwatchable. The channel would shut down every thirty or forty seconds and hang up or reboot.

Customer service was horrible, no refunds were offered, and had they not ironed out their issues, I’d planned to drop the network after last weekend’s Royal Rumble. Luckily for them, they seem to have figured out their issues because during the entire seven-hour Royal Rumble special, I didn’t have a single streaming glitch.

So I can understand why the WWE Network has been losing so many subscribers. I think the low ticket sales and merch sales can be chalked up to viewer fatigue. WWE now has seven hours of live programming on the USA Network and the Fox Broadcast Network each week, and there’s no compelling reason for any fan to spend another three hours paying to watch a wrestling show where they are guaranteed that nothing important is going to happen in any of the storylines.

In the end, all this maneuvering is essentially meaningless. By the time the next quarter comes around, the bottom line will be boosted by the new TV deals. With hundreds of millions of dollars coming in from USA and Fox, plus the giant payment coming from the Saudi Crown Prince for the specials that they do twice a year in that country (he’s paying almost as much as one of the TV deals) WWE will eventually report record earnings, and will continue to do so for at least the next five years.

It may well turn out that there’s more than just simple scapegoating going on here. McMahon cited “different views” on the company’s priorities. There are many ways to interpret that. It might be related to McMahon’s re-launch of the XFL, which kicks off it’s first season the weekend after The Super Bowl (and just days after the investor conference). It could be dissatisfaction over the progress of WWE Network, or frustration over the drop in attendance at the live events.

There’s even a theory that the split was because Barrios and Wilson were pushing for WWE to revise their way of contracting talent, hoping to move WWE to a more equitable working relationship with their wrestlers before their current methods are legislated out of legality. Another rumor gaining ground is that Barrios and Wilson are both separately involved in controversial business dealings that WWE wanted to distance themselves from.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when WWE reports their earnings next week. It’s expected that they will be below the projections, but I have a feeling that they won’t be as bad as it seems now, and I bet the stock rebounds a bit a week from now. It’s not likely that any of these off-screen developments will be reflected on the WWE TV shows.

Trains at MSI

Last month when your PopCulteer and his lovely wife visited Chicago, we made our first trip the Museum of Science and Industry, and somehow I have managed not to post a photo essay of their massive model train layout in their Transportation Wing.With The Kanwha Valley Railroad Association‘s Annual Model Train and Craft Show coming up February 22 and 23, I thought it might just be a good time to trot these out.

This massive layout includes scale models of Chicago’s skyline and Loop District, as well as suburbs, rural areas and small towns, and even part of Seattle. Check out the pics here…

Beyond the full size steam locomotive, underneath the hanging aircraft, lay a gigantic model train layout.

The Chicago Skyline. The layout periodically changes the lighting from night to day.

The riverfront in the loop district, with a CTA bridge for the “L.”

Another shot of the epic skyline models.

From another angle.You can see top of the Willis Tower in this shot.

More of the riverfront, and into the suburbs.

Three trains running on different tracks, going by a small town.

The small town with the big city in the background.

Meanwhile, at the docks in Seattle.

Way on the other side of the layout from Chicago, we find Seattle.

Another small town depicted in the layout.

Another shot of the city at night.

We wrap up with an overhead view that can’t quite fit in all of the layout.

That is it for this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for fresh content every day, plus all our regular features.