2014 is going to be one of the most pivotal years in recent memory in the American pro wrestling scene. After two decades of rumors and broken promises, AAA Lucha Libre is launching an English language show. Rumors are flying about Jeff Jarrett and Toby Keith starting a new company. Still, nothing eclipses what's going on with WWE, where the new streaming WWE Network is now official and they're in the middle of negotiating a new domestic TV contract.
With live programming being in high demand due to the belief that it's DVR-proof, Vince McMahon is so confident that he promised a stockholder could put him in a hammerlock if domestic TV rights fees weren't doubled. It's starting to look like it. Last night on Wrestling Observer Radio (F4WOnline.com subscribers only), Dave Meltzer reported that it does indeed look like WWE has multiple suitors for their domestic television package.
During the negotiation phase of the current contract, only USA (for a renewal) and WGN (doesn't have enough homes cleared to be worth it) were interested, so WWE wasn't able to get the kind of increase they would have liked. Luckily for WWE, the landscape has changed a lot since then. Their flagship show airs live and their secondary show could easily be moved to a live time slot, so with live programming being valuable, they're coming from a position of strength.
In a Variety article written by Marc Graser last month, it was written that "WWE already has reached out to or held meetings with the expected list of players who own a variety of channels hungry for programming, including A&E, Disney, Viacom, 21st Century Fox and Discovery." Between that and the new report from Meltzer, a picture is starting to form of who the interested parties may be.
Disney is co-owner of A&E Networks, which is a 50/50 split between them and the Hearst Corporation. I think we can throw out the cable networks owned completely by Disney, as WWE isn't ending up on ESPN or ABC Family. When you look at the A&E family they own in a partnership with Hearst, it gets a lot more interesting.
A&E itself has never aired anything like pro wrestling, but in 2014, there's no real reason why they can't, as their bread and butter is a wide swath of reality shows with no branding that would get in the way of something like WWE shows. As the home of Duck Dynasty, the most-watched show on cable, the addition of Raw and SmackDown would give them a very nice prime time average. They wouldn't just be restricted to A&E proper, though: Lifetime is also in the family and there's an argument that being "Television for Women," it could serve as a new home to Total Divas.
In terms of a potential home for WWE programming, "Viacom" probably just means "Spike." While they own a whole lot of cable networks including everything in the MTV family, Spike is the former home of WWE and makes by far the most sense of everything under Viacom's umbrella. WWE on Spike would have the most wide-reaching implications of any potential WWE TV deal, as Spike is the current home of TNA Impact Wrestling and that deal expires this Fall.
Without the Spike deal, TNA is likely dead, as domestic TV money is keeping them afloat. Survival would be contingent upon NBC Universal wanting a replacement for WWE, which didn't happen when WWE left USA for Spike (then known as TNN) in 2000.
In addition, Spike is the home of Bellator MMA (owned by Viacom) and the Glory kickboxing promotion. UFC's current popularity wouldn't have happened without The Ultimate Fighter airing after Raw years ago and it would be in Bellator's best interest to be used the same way if Viacom has any hope of the promotion succeeding. Glory targets the same demographics, and while they have no weekly programming like Bellator's seasonal weekly cards, they'd benefit a lot from cross-promotion with WWE.
21st Century Fox likely means FX, FXX, and/or Fox Sports 1. If I had to guess, Fox would probably be most interested in WWE for Fox Sports 1 and FXX, which are both new networks (FXX replaced Fox Soccer Channel while FS1 replaced Speed) that are trying to build their audiences. While WWE is not exactly a sport, FS1 would still be the best fit of the networks in the family since it's the cable home of UFC.
Fox could very well be ready to pay a lot to build FS1, which has been doing abominable ratings outside of UFC programming and college football. There's some risk to WWE, though, as FS1 is in less homes than the other likely bidders and UFC's numbers have been down for most of their smaller shows. On the other hand, if they made the highest bid by a considerable amount, it could work out fine, as wrestling fans are fiercely loyal and the bigger UFC shows on FS1 (like the preliminary fights before UFC 168 a few weeks ago) did ratings in line with the biggest preliminary cards on FX and Spike.
While Discovery was named, I don't see where WWE would fit in. Sure, WWE didn't exactly fit on the Sci-Fi Channel/Syfy either, but it was arguably a better fit than Discovery Channel. I guess there's the argument that TLC is now centered around low-brow reality shows and is successful without a branding that WWE would clash with. Still, WWE is working hard to turn around perception of the company and being on the same network as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo would be a huge hurdle.
Of course, even if they're all interested, WWE is best off sticking with NBC Universal if they match the best financial offer. USA Network is the number one cable channel and it's in WWE's best interest to stay there, especially as they're changing the way they do business with the introduction of WWE Network.
What do you all think? Where could WWE fit in? Are there any dark horses that should be interested that we might not think of immediately? How much more money than whatever USA's offer is would they need to move to a smaller network? Let us know in the comments.
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