World Wrestling Entertainment & Fox Sports have agreed to terms on a five year deal worth an estimated $1 billion to bring Smackdown LIVE! to Fox Sports, and ultimately, FS1.
The deal will see one of WWE’s weekly staples, Smackdown LIVE! move to Fox’s number one national cable sports station, FS1 in October of 2019. The deal is reportedly supposed to see an annual payout that exceeded NBC Universal’s offering of $204 million.
With the deal in place, FOX is also expected to move Smackdown LIVE! back to Friday evenings, where it held sturdy for years before recently being moved to Tuesdays on NBC Universal’s USA Network.
This move makes sense for both sides for various reasons. From a WWE perspective, not only do they accumulate over $1 billion for the next half decade, they create a new television staple on what is seen as a true national sports cable network. Indirectly, it assists in countering the generic stereotype that WWE is more of an entertainment company, and is not under the category of a professional sport.
FOX execs have been rumored to stress that WWE highlights athleticism, in-ring action, and the sport of wrestling over the traditional storylines the company is known for. FOX is taking a small gamble by acquiring the rights, and asserting what is seen by many as an entertainment platform, and adjusting a marketing & promotion trajectory to declare it a true sporting event.
The move is being made a few months after FOX lost a bidding war to ESPN to retain television rights to the UFC.
It’s actually pretty interesting, as while they didn’t host any weekly WWE programming, ESPN was visibly countering FS1’s UFC acquisition with generic WWE coverage. On the contrary, FS1 would poke fun at WWE, and assert UFC as the true fighting organization within the world of professional sports.
It seems FOX has dropped the view of WWE being an inferior product, and instead of an indirect counter with generic coverage (as ESPN did), they’re utilizing it to their advantage by making it a direct competitor, and true fighting alternative to UFC.
It is said FOX plans to completely redirect WWE’s perception with heavy cross-platform network promotion with the MLB, NASCAR, and various other FS1 programming throughout 2019.
For reference, Smackdown LIVE! currently averages around 2.5 million total viewers per week, but it’s move to Friday on a completely different tailored network could definitely see a potential adjustment in audience acquisition, as well as generic viewership.