Big Four firm EY has been tapped by World Wrestling Entertainment, as the sports entertainment giant looks to secure knowledge of its results. The company hopes that by safeguarding the pre-planned outcome of its exhibitions, it can appease US regulators enough to allow betting on its fights.
World Wrestling Entertainment, popularly known as WWE, is a globally integrated media and entertainment company. While it has branched out into other products in recent years, including films, video games and even American football, its bread and butter remains the staging of professional wrestling fights.
The bouts WWE stages are not ‘legitimate’ contests, but entertainment-based performance theatre, featuring story line-driven, scripted, and partially choreographed matches. This means that betting is currently barred on WWE events by state regulators in the US – preventing the sports entertainment brand from wetting its beak in a booming market.
Recent years have seen betting restrictions liberalised across the US, providing a massive revenue opportunity for sports companies partnering with bookies. In the first 10 months of 2022, $73 billion was legally wagered on sports, according to the American Gaming Association – a 70% increase year over year. One example of the chances this presents sports brands was illustrated by the Super Bowl – which some 50 million Americans bet on in 2023, waging $16 billion compared to $7.6 billion during the previous year’s event.
WWE’s equivalent of the Super Bowl – its annual WrestleMania event – is around the corner. However, there will be no such glut of legal gambling on the event in 2023. That could all change in the coming months, though – as WWE has contracted EY to secure its results.
Looking ahead, this could see EY provide the kind of service fellow professional services giant PwC has traditionally supplied to the Academy Awards – safeguarding results months in advance, to keep the outcome of the keystone event a secret. For example, the WWE could lock the results of Wrestlemania’s main event months ahead of time, based on a scripted storyline that hinged to the winner of January’s Royal Rumble. Betting on the match could then take place between the end of the Royal Rumble and up to days or even hours before Wrestlemania, when the wrestlers and others in the show’s production would learn the results.
While gambling regulators might currently be hesitant on the idea, sources reported by CNBC suggest WWE executives are citing Oscars betting as a template to convince regulators gambling on scripted matches is safe. While most states still don’t allow betting on the Academy Awards, it is already legal and available through some sports betting applications, including market leaders FanDuel and DraftKings – suggesting the position may shift further in the future.
If that happens, WWE will hope to be ideally placed to push for betting in its own corner of the market. Doing so could give WWE an increased appeal to a new set of fans, while significantly altering creative storylines, sources added.
Betting on WWE outcomes is already legal in some markets outside the US, meanwhile. In the UK, platforms such as Unibet and Paddy Power have offered odds on major WWE events like the Royal Rumble and Summerslam for years – while other gambling sites such as Betfred and Betfair even offer the chance to bet on the scripted ‘results’ of soap operas such as EastEnders.