At the beginning of WWE’s third quarter conference call this morning, it was announced that CEO and Chairman Vince McMahon would not be appearing on the call. No reason was given for his absence and it would mark the first time a McMahon (Vince or Linda) was not part of a call. Participating in the call in McMahon’s absence was Chief Financial Officer George Barrios and Chief Operating Officer Donna Goldsmith.

Goldsmith read a prepared statement praising the Mattel toy line and described WWE as having “soft business” due to the recent retirements of Shawn Michaels and Batista. The injuries to The Undertaker and CM Punk along with Chris Jericho being “temporarily out of the ring” were also pointed as factors for a decline in business. She added that the company was building up new stars such as Wade Barrett, The Nexus and Alberto Del Rio. When discussing WWE Studios, it was mentioned that productions set for 2011 would have smaller budgets than past films.

Barrios reviewed the finanicial numbers stating the “changes in their talent base” pointed to some declines along with a “weakness in the economy.” He praised the company’s live event in China noting the potential that market holds for the future. It was noted that they made more money on pay per view in the quarter (year over year) due to the $5 price increase to $44.95.

You can read a shorter summary of the results at this link.

Highlights from the Q&A session:

* When asked if the company plans on making any future cuts to curb expenses, Goldsmith said that while they are always mindful of expenses, their current focus is on creating talent and storylines and waiting out the current economic climate.

* On if they felt the company turned the corner in getting PPV buyrates back to levels in 2009, Barrios said that the “Money in the Bank” event had a dropoff from the PPV in that prior quarter, but the other two events were “flat” with last year despite the price increase to $44.95. While he said there wasn’t enough data in yet, it was a good sign.

* It was noted that in addition to WWE having Wal-Mart exclusives with their film releases, they also have international distribution deals for all the films as well.

* In regards to merchandise sales, Goldsmith said sales for The Nexus have gone up since John Cena joined the group. She praised Barrett and Del Rio as two of the rising stars in the company as they rebuild the roster.

* When asked about the planned “WWE Network”, Goldsmith said they are still looking at creating the channel and have plans to talk to partners and would reveal more after the first of the year.

* The call itself wrapped in less than a half hour.

Source: Buck Woodward & PWInsider.com