The year is 2018, and pro wrestling and MMA are worth over $1 billion in TV deals. That must be some sort of mistake, right? Think again, as WWE was able to land a $1 billion deal with FOX to be he home of SmackDown Live. Not to be outdone, the UFC and ESPN struck a $1.5 billion deal only a few days later.
Both companies have put all their eggs in one basket, in order to provide a service for fans and to profit heavily from. The same could be said about both broadcasting companies.
What do these deals mean for all four organizations?
For starters, never before has pro wrestling been this vied for. The so-called “b-show” of WWE, SmackDown Live is moving to a major network in FOX, and not the reported Fox Sports 1 and 2 programs as predicted. It is a huge gamble on FOX’s part, considering the unpredictability of pro wrestling. In the end, Vince McMahon gets his way once again.
WWE programming will now be promoted on programs like football and baseball games. Revenue produced by a TV empire like FOX, and a brand like WWE, will be through the roof, even if a move to Friday is imminent.
The deal opens the door for suitors for WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw. NBC Universal, the current home of both programs, is looking to make a huge run at Raw for a lengthy deal. Will McMahon stay loyal to the company that has housed Raw for years, or will he take the brand elsewhere?
The one downfall I can see take place on WWE’s behalf is the viewership. Speaking from experience, pro wrestling shows on a Friday don’t generally receive as many viewers compared to the middle of the week. SmackDown has been on Friday’s before, generating viewers that ranged from 1.7 million to 2.3. In 2018, SmackDown Live has averaged 2.59 million on Tuesday’s. Still rich in viewers compared to most programs, there is expected to not be a drastic change, if everything from promotion to value is done right.
This move seemed inevitable once a partnership with ESPN Plus was made. The deal is also more important in the long run. For WWE, they have invested one singular brand. The UFC? The company’s entire livelihood is on the line.
Along with broadcasting deal with ESPN Plus, the UFC will be able to produce 30 fight events, along with PPV’s. The Fight Pass app will still be in play. What does this say about a promotion being worth a certain price while a singular brand of WWE’s is almost worth the same? The hope is that it won't matter.
Adding on the ESPN Plus deal helps elevates the status of the company, while also adding a boost in the revenue it can provide for ESPN and vice versa.
With MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani set to join ESPN with loads of content on the horizon, ESPN’s partnership with MMA dramatically grew. Add in the fact that new ownership (Jimmy Pitaro) reportedly has more interest in MMA than former president John Skipper did, and you have yourself a recipe for success.
As it was stated above, the UFC is putting a lot on the line here. ESPN diving into new sports is an attempt at regaining their empire-like status. Boxing is already promoted by the company but could be treated like a much bigger deal. If the UFC is able to up their promotion value, while also keeping their hosts and in-company partners, the relationship can work. Otherwise, you might have someone like Stephen A. Smith attempt to give his take on MMA.
Some will say WWE walked out of this deal the winner. It is a bold move by the UFC to be as all in with ESPN as they are. Only time will tell who will get the knockout win. All we truly know is that both deals are groundbreaking.
There is plenty of time to prepare for what should be a colossal shakeup in the entertainment and sports world. Combat sports fans: are you ready for a big change in the way you view content next year?