Earlier today, it was announced that Fox had reached an agreement to buy the rights to WWE’s SmackDown Live. Essentially, this proves two of my main points that I’ve been harping on for the last couple of months: 1) WWE is a goldmine in terms of TV rights. 2) Live TV is king.
This move is absolutely massive news for both network television and the wrestling business that will continue to have repercussions in the coming days and months. Without knowing the full details of the deal (length & money, primarily), it’s difficult to assess the total impact of the deal. There are, however, some basic things that we can take from this news.
First off, WWE is making some serious coin on this deal. An initial report by The Hollywood Reporter have this SmackDown to Fox deal running for five years and being worth $1 billion. Yes, one billion dollars. Obviously, the news of SmackDown moving to Fox sent WWE stock prices (which were already at record levels) even higher, to almost comical levels.
WWE stock skyrocketing again, after news that Fox has agreed to pay to broadcast SmackDown Live. pic.twitter.com/Bl6mcTNFS4
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) May 21, 2018
That SmackDown, long thought of as the B-show to Raw, got a freaking network TV deal is borderline ridiculous. However, WWE has done a nice job cultivating SmackDown, especially as of late. Obviously, this deal with Fox doesn’t take effect until October 2019, but having guys like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayne, and John Cena makes the brand awfully attractive in the present. I think we can assume that these moves were done with an eye on increasing the value of the SmackDown brand.
Fox realizes that live TV is where it’s at. As I wrote about last week regarding the cancellation of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” live television is what moves the needle ratings-wise. Largely devoid of live programming outside of the NFL, Fox desperately need to add to their live repertoire. By clearing their Friday slate of shows to make way for Smackdown, Fox has guaranteed themselves millions of viewers that they weren’t getting before. They’ll benefit greatly through the increased ad rates that they can charge here. Oh, and do I need to mention how, unlike other sporting events, WWE runs shows every week of the year.
Perhaps more important than all that is what this means for WWE’s crown jewel, Monday Night Raw. NBC Universal is reportedly focused on keeping Raw in its lineup. Currently, Raw is on the USA Network. Today’s news certainly changes the relationship between NBC Universal and Raw.
At worst (for the WWE), USA keeps Raw, probably averaging close to $250 million or more per year for that show. That would be a ridiculous number, but not nearly as ridiculous as what would happen if NBC proper tries to put Raw on Network TV. OR, more likely, what will happen when Fox swoops in to grab even more live programming.
If Fox is giving WWE $1 billion for SmackDown, what would they give for Raw? My guess would be that Raw would command a cool $1.5 billion over five years. That would put WWE at a crazy $500 million a year just in domestic TV rights. While that might sound crazy to most people, anyone who has been paying attention to the business (and how television is trending) knew that something like this was coming, even if we undershot the total value of the deal.
Personally, I hope that this new TV contract trickles down to the deserving wrestlers. In theory, everybody would benefit with this newfound cash, but, as we know, that’s not always how these things work.
All told, this TV deal will end up being Vince’s most important move since taking over the company. This trumps torching WCW and creating the wrestling boom of the late 90s. This SmackDown deal (and the impending Raw rights) will be Vince’s lasting legacy. And what a legacy it will be.