World Wrestling Federation goes for CRM body slam

Facing sliding revenue and a major restructuring, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc. (WWFE) has rolled out software that it hopes will unite its various customer relationship management (CRM) efforts and let it recapture lost revenue.

The sports entertainment giant this month went live with applications from Escalate, an e-commerce and CRM software vendor, that will power its electronic storefront and catalog, WWFShopZone.com.

The system allows WWFE to do things such as automate e-mail campaign management and slice and dice customer data to detect its fans' buying habits by geography, wrestling event or item. It also allows more selective targeting for sales efforts, said CIO Bob Berry.

The new system replaces a previous set of applications from a variety of vendors that lacked needed scalability.

"Fans want the latest and greatest," said Mark Macchiarulo, vice president of product and brand marketing at the WWFE, and the new setup allows the company to send out e-mail with the latest story lines and product offerings.

Without offering much detail on the cost or return on investment, Macchiarulo said the ability to cross-sell and upsell will increase the Web site's profitability by as much as 20 percent. He noted the Escalate system has unique features: It allows a WWFE employee to paste television content -- such as a T-shirt worn by a wrestler -- directly into the catalog and offer it for sale within minutes. The site, which has seen transactions jump by up to 40 percent, can now handle three times the amount of traffic than before.

Another reason the WWFE chose Escalate was because officials felt it would meet the the company's unique e-commerce needs, said WWFE executives. For instance, Escalate will allow the WWFE to do things such as let its suppliers see inventory levels online.

Other efforts include building an Oracle Corp.-based data warehouse that eventually will attach to Escalate's marketing applications and the eventual online sale of digitized content from television matches, Berry said.

Other media, entertainment and sports companies have turned to CRM to boost profits, including the National Basketball Association.

"It's too soon to tell if CRM applied in the entertainment field will be able to generate the kind of gains you see in typical business-to-business environments," said Louis Columbus, an analyst at Boston-based AMR Research Inc. He noted WWFE is facing sliding revenue after a "really tough quarter;" it also took losses from its now defunct XFL football league. However, the WWFE has a strong customer base, and the revitalized WWFShopZone.com venture could do well if it lets the company blend its various channels.

"Companies, especially entertainment and media ones, should have a 360-degree strategy exploiting different forms of media," said Carl Lehmann, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc. He noted that stars such as Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey have been very successful in tying together various marketing channels using the Web, something WWFE should be able to duplicate.

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