The launch next month of the magazine, WWE Kids, is just the start of a broad initiative to engage the kids audience, says WWE VP Gary Davis. “We realize there’s a challenge for parents to pass down the WWE brand to their kids because they feel it’s not age appropriate,” he says. Into that difficult situation comes WWE Kids, which launches April 15 at a time when print publishing isn’t terribly robust. The magazine will be steered by Publishing Director and VP Bob Lee and Tony Romando, VP and Editorial Director, who already publish 21 issues of flagship title WWE each year. We asked them about the contents of the kids magazine and the thinking behind it.
What’s the age target for this magazine?
Bob Lee: the bookends are 6 to 14, but obviously there’s a pretty big gap between there. The sweet spot will probably be that 8 to 12 range. We have our flagship magazine, WWE, which hopefully the 12s and 14s will graduate to.
What topics will we find in WWE Kids?
Tony Romando: Having launched 6 or 7 magazines this is the only one where when you finish the day you get this super positive feeling. I didn’t get that feeling launching FHM or Jane. I feel like I’m making a difference.
So, back to my question. What’s in the magazine?
Tony: For kids, it’s all about sports, and a sense of humor. So we have brain teasers and puzzles and there’s a page in there we call History’s Mysteries where we put Rey Mysterio masks over the faces of people in history from Beethoven to Michael Jordan. When we met with kids in a focus group the kids said they liked it because they love wrestling, but one 12-year-old said, “It was challenging, I felt like I was learning something.”
Your release says the magazine will build self esteem in kids. How?
Tony: Well, for example, we show two pictures, one of a fit superstar and the other of a heavy, out of shape guy. We tell the kids our superstar looks this way because he did lots of push ups. The other guy looks this way because he ate a lot of donuts and three chickens. So we’re able to infuse sports with feel-good things.
Any other examples?
Tony: We even did a Q&A with [WWE leprechaun] Hornswoggle. Technically he’s a dwarf, although he hates all those phrases. We let the kids ask the questions, so kids asked if he got teased as a child for being different? Did you get bullied growing up? But we were also able to ask funny stuff, like do tall peoples’ gas smell worse cause you’re at butt-level? One of the things we emphasize is we want kids to have a good laugh, but also to educate, but we don’t want to cram it down their throat.
Obviously some people will say, ‘This is WWE, and I don’t want my kids looking at their magazine.’ How do you respond?
Tony: We spoke with a lot of parents [before we decided to publish this magazine], they’re the ones who spend the money. One important thing is there is no violence. There are no pictures of any wrestlers grappling whatsoever. Unlike any other WW product there’s no boobs, no blood and no violence. It’s not risqué at all.
How did you decide to publish a kids magazine?
Bob: WWE’s been publishing for 25 years, but two years ago we closed down a bunch of our magazines and revamped them completely. Our circulation for the flagship magazine, WWE, jumped 50% in one year, from 200,000 subscribers to 300,000, and that was with a hefty cover price increase.
Tony: And we realized we had a great magazine but it wasn’t for kids. And if you look at the WWE live events, a lot of kids attend them. That’s what led us to this magazine. Nobody’s getting a boot to the face, but it’s not all ponies and feel-good.
[WWE VP] Gary Davis tells me the magazine will tap into WWE’s pro-social ascetic, which includes initiatives to promote reading among others. How will that be seen in the magazine?
Tony: The first issue we just want to touch on the fact that our superstars go out and do all this stuff. So we tell kids that Jon Cena did some work on a home, so check with your parents and maybe volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. On the food side we have a list of the most healthy chips and we say our superstars eat healthy food. For the first issue we didn’t want to pack too many things in.
All the research shows kids are really socially aware. They come home from school and tell their parents to have recycling cans, because they learned that at school. So from issue 2 we are starting WWE Community Champions, where we will invite kids to send in video to our new Web site for kids that we’re launching in mid May or have them send something to the magazine. Kids will say my local park is in shambles and we’ll say that we will send Triple H and Sean Michaels to that park and they’ll help you and your friends improve the park.
In the long term we are looking to have WWE-sponsored kids teams for sports like baseball, football etc. And on the social side to sponsor WWE All Stars, where we sponsor kids with talent in all sorts of things. There are also plans to eventually have WWE-sponsored kids teams. We don’t want to cram this stuff down people’s throats. But what we can do in the magazine is tell kids that Batista and Jon Cena are doing [charitable work], now you kids should want to go out and do it, too.
You know print publishing isn’t a picnic at the moment. Why launch a magazine now?
Bob: It’s based on the success of WWE. We have so many platforms to reach our fans, [the magazine] gives us an opportunity to introduce new products, but it also means we can use our other platforms to push the magazine, it’s a 360-degree approach. This is also a key to the success of magazines like ESPN, Rachael Ray and Oprah.
Will the magazine explain to the kids that the wrestling itself is scripted?
Tony: No, that’s not part of the magazine. Truth be told we are not covering in-ring action at all. For us it’s more about sports activities, healthy eating, not the day-to-day results of wrestling.