A few weeks ago, it was rumored that the Fox television network was interested in possibly buying the WWE from Vince McMahon and making it one of their flagship television shows spread across their networks. While, at the time, some mistakenly assumed this meant Disney would own the WWE, it turns out that it is the Fox branch that Disney is not purchasing that is interested in the WWE programming, and with the money that Fox will get from Disney for their movie division, they have the capital to afford the WWE. However, Variety reports that there are now two other companies that are interested in bringing the WWE to their networks, although it would only be television rights, similar to what the WWE has with NBCUniversal at this time.
What Is The Current Status Of The WWE?
The WWE is entering the final year of their deal with NBCUniversal, where they air Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live both on the company’s USA Network. There have been rampant rumors that the WWE is looking at other suitors for their next contract, especially if it means they can get a better financial deal, which is not as likely due to the ratings dropping over the past few years for the professional wrestling shows.
As mentioned, the first of these suitors is Fox, which could air the WWE programming on Fox, Fox Sports 1, and FXX. At the same time, NBCUniversal is always in the picture as they have reportedly said they are happy with the WWE product and pointed out how it has helped other shows that follow Raw and SmackDown to gain large audiences as well.
Stephanie McMahon spoke about the relationship of the WWE and NBCUniversal in a recent conference call (via Bleeding Cool).
“We are incredibly happy with our partnership with USA. In terms of what the future might hold, I guess we’ll see, but we’ve been very, very happy and I hope NBC is happy as well.”
What Does Fox Offer The WWE?
The biggest WWE rumors surround the idea that Fox not only wants to bring the WWE to their networks but that they want to outright purchase the company from Vince McMahon. There are reports that McMahon has not put any recent money into the future of the WWE, leading to the idea that the 70-year-old millionaire might be ready to let the company he built go.
Fox tried to purchase the UFC in 2016. According to MMA Mania, Fox bid $3.6 billion for the UFC and wanted to own and control all the content from the company. However, the WME | IMG group won the bidding, with a $4 billion offer.
While the UFC gets monster pay-per-view buys, the WWE is a ratings juggernaut compared to the UFC when it comes to basic television viewing, and having a company that puts out content 52 weeks a year is a compelling reason for a network to own the company.
Who Else Is Interested In The WWE?
However, the WWE could make a lot of money by picking up a new television deal, or even a streaming deal, that could make it a lot of money while allowing Vince McMahon and his family to hold onto controlling stakes in the company. Variety mentioned that outside of Fox and NBCUniversal, both Facebook and Amazon are interested in bringing the WWE to their platforms.
The WWE is currently having a special Mixed Match Challenge series airing on Facebook after SmackDown Live each week. This is a short one-match weekly show geared towards the small attention span of Facebook users.
Week one of the Mixed Match Challenge brought in 135,600 viewers to watch while the second week only brought in 91,900 viewers (numbers via 411mania). These are tiny numbers compared to the weekly viewing numbers of Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live and will have a bearing on whether the WWE and Facebook want to continue working together.
With that said, Amazon is also interested as they try to build their Amazon Prime original content to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and cable networks that offer streaming options for cord cutters as well. Amazon Prime has enjoyed success with shows like The Man in the High Castle and Transparent, but one wonders if WWE fans without Amazon Prime would pay the cost to continue watching the show.
However, in the conference call, Stephanie McMahon does not believe that the WWE is at a point where they can leverage their popularity without mainstream access to fans on basic cable networks.
“We leverage a content ecosystem, so at the moment, it is absolutely relevant and necessary to have [our content] on linear platforms. It is still reaching a broad audience and it’s still our most profitable line of business. One piece doesn’t work without the other.”
What Will Cause WWE To Make A Move?
This is also why the WWE has no plans to move their two main shows to the WWE Network. As of last October, Wrestling Inc reported that the WWE Network had 1.11 million domestic paid subscribers. However, Statista reported that Amazon Prime had 90 million subscribers in the United States alone in 2017, but that does not mean that they all watch the Prime programming, as many members just use it for the free two-day shipping.
The Wrap reported on Tuesday that the Raw 25 edition of Monday Night Raw had the most viewers of any show since 2015, with 4.5 million viewers. The numbers are nowhere near what the WWE brought in during the Attitude Era, but with so many fans returning to see old stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and DX, there are still fans who want to see if the WWE can improve.
Whether or not the WWE will sell to a network like Fox or move to a streaming service like Amazon Prime won’t be known until next year. However, it is worth watching because it could change everything people know about the biggest professional wrestling company in the world today.