Cramer praises WWE's growth story, says investors can buy 'a small position' after monster run

  • World Wrestling Entertainment's stock is worth buying on a pullback, CNBC's Jim Cramer says.
  • Shares of the professional wrestling broadcaster have surged more than 250 percent since the "Mad Money" host's first recommendation.

World Wrestling Entertainment's stock has run more than 250 percent since CNBC's Jim Cramer first recommended it in March 2017, and while Cramer loves the story, he knows it's worth checking in on the monster move.

"It was a $22 stock and now it's a $79 stock," the "Mad Money" host said on Thursday. "When you've got a triple, you need to take something off the table. That's common sense. It's portfolio management."

But how much stock should WWE investors sell, and is it too late to buy for those who missed the move?

For those answers, Cramer looked at the professional wrestling giant's long-term growth story. In the last several years, the company has transformed itself from a traditional television and pay-per-view play to a direct-to-consumer colossus.

In January, WWE co-President George Barrios told Cramer that WWE's digital properties were driving massive growth. The strength, helped by WWE's online streaming platform, WWE Network, has sent its market cap north of $6 billion and made it the most-followed sports brand in the world on social media.

Removing the "middleman" and offering digital subscriptions directly to consumers have also boosted subscriber growth and helped WWE's revenues accelerate, Cramer said.

At the same time, WWE hasn't shunned its TV roots: in June, the company extended its longtime deal with USA, a NBCUniversal subsidiary, to air Monday Night Raw, and it agreed to air WWE Smackdown on Fox Sports.

"The really amazing thing with this story, though, is that WWE has both a thriving online subscription business, where people pay them directly for premium content, and they can negotiate better deals with their traditional TV partners," Cramer said.

"You'd think it would be a zero sum game, right? So how has WWE managed to square this circle? The company embraced a strategy they call tiering," he continued.

Tiering, as described by Barrios, is WWE's way of distributing its content. Some content is produced specifically for paid television, but the company also produces different content for YouTube, Facebook and the WWE website that is separate from what paid TV viewers see.

"Then we're going to do about [300], 400 hours on our direct-to-consumer network to super-serve our most passionate fans," Barrios said in the January interview. "So all those different platforms, different content ... it raises all boats."

And the strategy has not failed, at least not on Wall Street. WWE's stock trades at 60 times next year's earnings estimates, which most investors would see as a lofty multiple for a media company.

"But this is a growth stock, which means we have to look at what we call the out-years," Cramer argued. "On the 2020 numbers, WWE's trading at less than 25 times earnings, which seems a lot more reasonable, doesn't it, when you've got a 37 percent long-term growth rate?"

All things considered, Cramer was wary of the stock's climb, but not so wary as to resist recommending it altogether.

"WWE has caught fire here, so if you already own it from when I first recommended it, OK, maybe ... ring the register on part of the position. But I definitely wouldn't sell all of it," he said. "And if you've missed the move? Hey, this thing can dome down a little, and while I hate to chase — ideally you want to wait for that pullback — I can countenance putting on a small position up here. Yeah, that's how good this darned story is."

WATCH: Cramer talks WWE's strength and backs the stock

Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust owns shares of Facebook. Additionally, NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.

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