WWE is two years into five-year deals with both USA Network and FOX, and still going strong.
Since this Summer, Fightful has spoken with reps and sources of many levels within WWE, FOX, FOX Sports, NBCU, Peacock and USA Network about how the relationships between the sides have been a couple of years into one of the most interesting broadcast partnerships in entertainment. We sought to ask questions in regards to talking points that appear to be foregone conclusions, but may not be so. As a result, we've uncovered information on several meetings and upcoming plans.
Fightful has reached out to several close to the WWE/Fox relationship after being told in July that the relationship between the two sides was strained. A source at FOX admitted that the WWE viewership was disappointing in comparison to expectations, but was quick to note that given the nature of the pandemic it was still hard to gauge where those numbers would level out, and that it was impossible to predict what happened in 2020 at the time the deal was reached or the series started on FOX. While the disappointing numbers were broached, both FOX and WWE noted it's the most watched wrestling TV show in the world.
As far as general concerns, and the response to them, another source at FOX said that the company has not been "over the moon" about constantly promoting another network's streaming service with WWE's pay-per-views appearing on Peacock, however other WWE and FOX sources insisted to Fightful when we inquired to them directly that there has not been an issue. Fox and WWE pointed to the fact that WWE names were heavily featured on FOX, FOX Sports and other broadcasts to build up Summerslam, which area prime programming real estate spots for Fox. Among those mentioned, included Stephanie McMahon on FOX and Friends and Charlotte Flair on The Herd on FS1. One WWE source indicated that if there were names at FOX that wanted the PPV content, they could have paid the premium that Peacock did for it.
The same FOX source that spoke with Fightful about the WWE's viewership numbers said that hearing that Rupert Murdoch, FOX owner, is likely to be portrayed in a less-than-flattering way in an upcoming scripted Vince McMahon series was a "childish move" that won't help the relationship at all. Murdoch personally met with Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and other execs in May 2018 that USA Network was embarrassed and ashamed of their programming and that Fox would welcome them as they were. However, we've since been told of at least one direct conversation that Vince McMahon had with Rupert Murdoch in recent months, where that subject wasn't said to be broached. Those we asked in WWE said that concern hasn't been raised to them, and that the relationship between the two families is one of "great respect."
While this piece was close to publication multiple times over several months, those we'd be in contact would request a hold so the situation could be evaluated after particularly big moments. Those ended up being the returns of John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch respectively, the contacts we'd made at FOX said that they felt WWE made the effort to go above and beyond to stack that roster since fans returned to live events.
WWE and FOX have had several high-level meetings in recent months. Fightful learned that the night before Summerslam, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and President Nick Khan had a meeting with Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks and their head of production Brad Zager. We're told that a dinner between the two sides at the Wynn in Las Vegas lasted around four hours, and said to be productive from WWE's end.
Vince McMahon and Nick Khan also decided on another move to further appease FOX. There was an episode of Raw that had been discussed for the Staples Center in Los Angeles. With FOX Sports being a Los Angeles based company, Khan and McMahon quickly killed the idea, and made the decision to instead have the first show in LA be an episode of Smackdown broadcast on the FOX Network, slated for December 10. That will likely be announced shortly.
Fightful Select has also taken a look at what we've learned about WWE's relationship with USA Network.
Note: The sources that we speak to do not represent Fox, NBC Universal, Peacock, Tubi, The USA Network or WWE as a whole.
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