Charles “The Prodigy” Richey is an on-air host and producer for chicagolandsportsradio.com
As reported this week by Michael McCarthy of the Sporting News, Fox Television is trying to negotiate with the WWE to air Monday Night Raw on Fox Sports and Smackdown Live on FS1.
With WWE’s current contract with USA Network set to expire in September 2019, WWE spokeswoman Annie Kruger was reported by McCarthy as saying that WWE plans on announcing their TV plans between May and September of this year, which means that a meaningful announcement regarding the future of WWE, and thus all of sports entertainment, is coming ups soon.
It also means that meaningful suitors to WWE content are already getting in line. You figure long established partner NBC Universal is not backing down at all, but as it turns out neither is Fox Sports, who made their overtures to the company public while Raw and Smackdown toured through Southern California this past week.
I can only imagine what’s got to be running through the minds of Vince McMahon and his brain-trust in Stamford, Conn. along with all the investors in the publicly-ran WWE. Could Fox take WWE to the next level? Let’s break down the pros and cons of this possible move.
Raw moving over to Fox Sports and airing on network television for the first time would be a huge shot in the arm for the company.
Currently available in 96 million homes on USA, Raw would see its potential exposure jump to 115 million with such a move.
According to McCarthy, a source has indicated, “Fox is definitely trying to get the WWE. They’ll pass on UFC, then use Raw for Fox Broadcasting and FS1 content.” WWE has long been established as an entertainment entity but Fox is looking to make it one of two cornerstones of its sports programming, the other being the NFL.
This can take the WWE to new heights on top of giving the business a leg up over friendly rival the UFC, who it would essentially be replacing in the Fox Sports portfolio if they make this move. The UFC’s contract with Fox Sports is set to expire this year.
Fox is a suitor the WWE would find it hard to ignore, but it wouldn’t be surprising if out of loyalty the WWE remains with USA and Universal. Vince McMahon has utilized USA in particular in some form or fashion almost continuously since acquiring control of the company from his father back in the 1980s, it remains the most fruitful and longstanding relationship between a pro wrestling promotion and a network in the history of the business, but it may also have outlasted its usefulness.
With Triple H and Stephanie McMahon taking more and more responsibility than Father Vince both in WWE programming and behind the scenes, this flirtation with Fox could be a push coming from new controlling figures in the company looking to take it to the next level?
One major point to add is that the WWE has always remained constant with making their content available. Triple H has proven he can establish his own brand of young and up-and-coming talent in NXT and WWE 205. Think about it, if the formally named Paul Levesque wasn’t a part of the brain-trust with Vince and his family, would WWE Network be at the level of success where it is today? And without the element of WWE Network, how appealing does WWE as a whole look to a larger content provider such as Fox?
Again, it’s Vince’s children I believe that are trying to take this company to a whole another level that maybe even Vince couldn’t dream of!
If this were to go down, the WWE would be ending a 30-plus year partnership with USA Network that began in 1985.
Think of all the hit programming that has been featured on there, programming which allowed WWE to build a fan-base and consciousness that it could call a “universe”: Prime Time Wrestling, Monday Night Raw, Superstars, Action Zone, Sunday Night Heat.
The greater relationship with Universal TV networks have also provided hit reality TV in Total Divas and Total Bellas for the E! Network. WWE also has taken advantage of NBC’s connection to the Universal family by resurrecting Saturday Night’s Main Event sporadically and featuring WWE talent in prime-time specials and episodes of Saturday Night Live among other spots.
I’m curious as to how the average wrestling fan would feel about this move? How much risk vs reward would be at hand for the WWE in changing the long-held viewing habits of their fanbase? It can’t be forgotten that WWE unsuccessfully broke its main programming away from USA from 2000 to 2005 with Raw airing on Viacom-owned TNN. Now known as Paramount Network after a long run as Spike TV, TNN made its biggest leap away from its humble beginnings as “The Nashville Network” by acquiring Raw, but in the end it wasn’t enough to satisfy the needs of McMahon and his company.
Fox should be more suitable than the former TNN, but will it be a real home for sports entertainment as it fights for schedule space alongside the NFL, MLB, NCAA, and NASCAR?
Let’s face it, WWE still believes deep down inside that they can compete with the UFC, even though they’re two different animals, with WWE being an entertainment entity as opposed to a federation built on honest competition. Still, with the use of crossover talents like Brock Lesnar and Rhonda Rousey that can draw viewers of both shows and more, WWE has put itself in a unique place among sports broadcasting providers and Fox is paying a lot of attention to that.
The only concern is that will this be a long-term successful marriage? In the past NBC and MTV eventually proved to be short-term fixes, but being on each helped build the business of sports entertainment.
Picture this, WWE Universe, Raw or SmackDown comes to a close after a suitably wild main event, the screen changes to a familiar logo and the shouting chant of “We are Fox Sports!”
If there’s anything to remember about Vince McMahon’s business its what he famously was quoted as saying back in the day — “Anything can happen in the WWE!”
Follow Charles at his personal blog and on Twitter @ProdigyRichey; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio