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Progressive Pairs Pro Wrestling With Immersive Advertising As Title Sponsor Of “Friday Night SmackDown”

October 4, 2019 Melissa Piccinich

smack down WWE progressive

Do you smell what Progressive and WWE are cooking? The partnership between the iconic sports-entertainment heavy hitter WWE and insurance company Progressive will hit the small screens tonight as part of Progressive’s new title sponsorship of WWE’s “Friday Night SmackDown.” This partnership comes after WWE’s highly anticipated move from NBC Universal to Fox.

WWE’S Content KPIs Are A Stone Cold Stunner

According to WWE’s website, more than 11 million fans watch the franchise’s programs every week. Celebrating 20 years on air, WWE is positioning “Friday Night SmackDown” to add to the brand’s triumphs. Even with some financial struggles, WWE is a legacy brand that has successfully stood the test of time, grown with its audience and continued to experience fiscal wins with the evolution of its brand. According to Forbes, WWE was valued at more than $6.2 billion in 2018.

In its Q1 2019 press release, WWE reported stunning digital KPIs:

  • Digital video views of their content increased 15% year over year.
  • Total hours of content consumed grew 23% across all digital platforms.
  • Social media followers exceeded 1 billion.
  • In April 2019, the WWE Network’s total subscriber count reached 2 million.

Why Are Brands Getting In The Ring With WWE?

The debut of “SmackDown Live” on Fox this week marks the first time WWE will be available live 52 weeks a year on a premier broadcast platform, and big brands want a piece of the action. Fox Sports executive VP Seth Winter was the architect of the advertising deal between WWE and Progressive. He explained that content integrations such as immersive advertising will play a significant role in Progressive’s backing of “Friday Night SmackDown”. Even with the transition to a new night on a new network, Winter told AdAge he fully expects SmackDown to enjoy demographic dominance among viewers 18-34, which WWE will target on Friday nights.

Immersive sponsorships will be a bigger part of WWE advertising partnerships in 2019. In addition to incorporating sponsored content within the script, Winter noted Fox “may look at reducing inventory loads” during SmackDown, and could decrease the frequency of ads by up to 20%.

Immersive sponsorships put brands where their audiences are already spending time, and brands want in. According to WrestlingInc.com, Winter revealed that, in addition to Progressive, 20 sponsors that never bought ad time previously on a professional wrestling show have signed on to advertise during “Friday Night SmackDown.” Other big brands making their way to the ring with “Friday Night SmackDown” include quick-serve restaurants such as Domino's Pizza, Burger King, Little Caesars, Arby's, Popeyes, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Subway in addition to telecommunication company Boost Mobile and motion picture mogul, Paramont.

More sponsors with less traditional ad time means immersive sponsorships will continue to be the spotlight of WWE’s advertising partnerships. Immersive advertising has great potential to work well within the WWE show format. Unlike sports programming like MLB baseball and NFL football, scripting is a leading component of WWE programs. WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon said, “We can script the touchdown, we can script the buzzer beater. Audiences watch [WWE] for different reasons and on different platforms, but no matter where they are, you need to entertain them.”

Contrary to rumors that could have concerned sponsors, during the WWE Q2 2019 conference call, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon reaffirmed the sports-entertainment brand will not be returning to the blood, guts and gore content of the WWE “Attitude Era,” and instead will embrace more edgy stories and complex character situations. John Brody, WWE EVP of Global Sales noted that since it’s shift to a PG content format from TV-14 almost a decade ago, WWE show sponsorships have quadrupled.

Fans Are Distracted, So Meet Them Where They Are

The fight for an audience’s attention is fierce. Immersive advertising works because the target audience is already engaged. Immersive advertising brings audiences closer to a brand’s messaging and keeps them in the content they elected to consume.

By weaving sponsored content in with program content, WWE and Fox are bringing brands in front of their target audiences and blending their messaging within the context of the show. The concept of immersive advertising is a seamless experience for fans. It brings brands into the content which is already engaging the audience.

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About the Author

Melissa Piccinich

An innovative problem solver by nature, Melissa Piccinich is both experienced and passionate about the digital marketing industry. She has held a number of high-level positions within the real estate, mortgage, entertainment and digital advertising industries, including Director of PR and Business Development at NJ Lenders Corp. and Director of Communications & Government Affairs at Eastern Bergen County Board of Realtors. As Director of Content at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), Melissa demonstrates a strategic, creative and tactical approach when handling the thought leadership programs and marketing and communications efforts for DMS and its family of brands. She manages all conferences, sponsorships and event execution and plays a pivotal role in the creation of written, digital and video content for all campaigns. Melissa has consistently positioned the team at DMS as experts in performance marketing across multiple industries.

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