Pro wrestling returns to broadcast television in 2019.
WWE has been shopping its two flagship television shows, Raw and SmackDown, in recent months ahead of their current deal with NBCUniversal’s expiration. While NBCUniversal is expected to hold onto Raw (for three times the current going price), it looks like the blue brand has found a new home: FOX.
According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, WWE and FOX are nearing completion of a deal that would see SmackDown aired on FOX’s broadcast station, possibly on Friday nights. The deal is reportedly worth a whopping $205 million a year for five years, putting it at over a billion dollars in total.
Fox is looking to heavily invest in live programming as a way to bolster its prime time schedules in the wake of the 21st Century Fox/Disney deal. The network already has broadcasting rights to the NFL (to which it pays $3 billion for five seasons of Thursday Night Football), Major League Baseball and UFC, though it is unknown if they will continue airing UFC alongside WWE.
Though professional wrestling’s broad appeal has unquestionably dwindled in recent years, Raw and SmackDown are both still consistently in the top five most watched shows on cable television every week, making it an attractive get for a station looking to attract advertisers. WWE is almost wholly responsible for USA’s claim to the highest rated network in cable.
The last time a deal for SmackDown was negotiated, NBCUniversal paid about $30 million for it. As networks become more and more desperate for live programming — one of the few “DVR proof” genres that helps counteract cord cutters — consistent live programming like WWE becomes very attractive.
It’s interesting to note that if SmackDown moves to a major broadcast network, it will almost certainly beat Raw — widely seen as the “A show” — in the ratings on a consistent basis. Between this deal and a new crossover star in Ronda Rousey, WWE may be poised to make a return to the mainstream consciousness. And investors have been responding in kind — as of the time of this writing, WWE stock is at $58 a share, an increase of $43 from when the WWE Network launched in 2014.