The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been a cultural force to be reckoned with in the last two decades and the Indian audience is no stranger to the product. The urban population has always been a big follower of the sport and when Bret Hart & Co came to Bangalore way back in 1996, more than 30,000 people turned up for that event.
No wonder when WWE’s chief strategy and finance officer George Barrios was asked about the country, he happily remarked, “India is a jewel for us.”
In the last three years, the WWE has pulled out all the stops in making India a focus. From increasing their representation in the tryouts to hosting high-profile house shows on consecutive years, the company has been treating the Indian market as the ‘jewel’ that Barrios referred to in his interview.
However, the biggest problem for the WWE when it comes to the India has been the lack of a marquee name which resonates with the audience. There has been a dearth of Indian representation in the company since the departure of The Great Khali and as a result, WWE has remained a niche product among the Indian consumers.
Last year, the company decided to put their main championship belt on Jinder Mahal in a bid to gain more eyeballs in India, but the move did not yield the desired results.
According to a Forbes report, the number of international WWE Network subscribers increased from 408,800 to 410,100 over the first three months of his title reign – an increase of just 0.3% in an already well-performing market.
Thus, it came as no surprise when the company decided to sign new talents who are already known to the Indian audience. The latest two additions to the performance centre – Rinku Singh Rajput and Saurav Gurjar – are both popular names in their respective sectors.
Rinku had won the ‘million dollar arm’ competition in 2008 and went on to play for the Major League Baseball (MLB) side Pittsburg Pirates while Saurav was a popular TV personality thanks to his roles in several mainstream shows.
As a result, it will be easier for WWE to promote them in the Indian market and the two new signings will also bring a section of their own fan base to the company.
“I have developed a very loyal fan base on social media. So, those same fans I think will continue to support me and don’t forget... WWE has a massive global base that baseball doesn’t quite reach so I do hope that this fan base will grow in the future,” Rinku Singh Rajput said in an exclusive interview.
On the other hand, the company has also assured that there will also be ample chances for unknown talent to make their way into the performance centre.
Talking about the company’s future plans regarding India, WWE Executive Vice President of Talent, Triple H, said in an interview, “We are doing some work and, by the end of the year, we will have 11 Indian talents … under training to be the next generation WWE superstar — and it is the most we ever had.”
WWE head scout William Regal echoed similar sentiments when this correspondent talked to him last year at the sidelines of the Dubai tryouts which featured a number of Indian contestants from different paths of life. “India is filled with sportspersons and we get a lot of talented individuals specifically from the northern part of the country. So, in the next couple of years, we will be visiting remote parts of the region in a bid to find individuals who can make it big in professional wrestling,” he said.
The other strategy being applied by WWE to increase their reach in the Indian market is the production of localised content on their social media platforms. From creating special backstage videos for Indian audience to adding Hindi commentary to the action, the company is making the content more accessible to their Indian fans.
As a result, India is currently number one when it comes to social media engagement and WWE are looking to capitalise on the growing popularity to expand their market.
In a recent interview, WWE Chief Revenue & Marketing Officer Michelle Wilson said that the company will continue to create specialized content for India as they remain focused on expanding into that market.
She also stated that the company is currently seeking deals to evolve WWE broadcasting in India and the final details of the deal will be will be finalized and announced in the first quarter of 2019.
Thus, it is quite clear that the WWE are trying their level best to increase their presence in the Indian market and considering the popularity of the sport among the youth of the country, there is no reason to believe that the company will slow down their expansion plans any time soon.