WWE is reportedly in talks to sell its pay-per-view rights to ESPN, which would then air the events on its ESPN+ subscription service.
According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Ryan Droste of ComicBook.com), WWE became interested in selling its pay-per-view rights after seeing ESPN pay UFC a significant amount to air its pay-per-views.
Since 2014, WWE has aired its pay-per-view events on its own streaming service—WWE Network. For a price of $9.99 per month ($119.88 per year), wrestling fans currently have access to every current WWE pay-per-view, every old pay-per-view and thousands of hours of other original and retro content.
An ESPN+ subscription is actually cheaper than WWE Network at $4.99 per month, although that doesn't take into account possible additional costs for WWE pay-per-views.
In order to watch a UFC pay-per-view on ESPN+, viewers must have a $4.99 ESPN+ subscription and pay an additional $64.99 for each event. Assuming WWE would air its pay-per-views exclusively on ESPN+, that would likely be a tough sell for WWE fans who are used to paying less than double that for an entire year of pay-per-views.
Another question regarding a potential deal between WWE and ESPN is if it would include NXT TakeOver pay-per-views as well. If it does, then it stands to reason that WWE Network would see a steep drop in subscriptions.
The weekly NXT show was one of WWE Network's biggest draws, but it moved to USA Network on Wednesday nights in September. Fans can still watch the replay of the show on WWE Network, but it doesn't air live and exclusively on WWE Network any longer.
The departure of NXT left WWE pay-per-views as the clear reason to keep the network, but getting rid of those would be another massive blow to the streaming service.
Fans would essentially be left to decide if access to old pay-per-views and shows, original non-in-ring content and secondary shows like NXT UK and 205 Live would be worth $9.99 per month unless WWE intends to drop the price.
Even with pay-per-views, WWE Network subscriptions have been on the decline. As part of its 2019 fourth-quarter and yearly earnings report released in early February, WWE reported a 9 percent drop in paid subscribers compared to the end of 2018.
WWE has massive television deals in place with Fox and USA Network for SmackDown and Raw, respectively, plus a significant contract with Saudi Arabia to hold multiple shows there per year.
Those factors helped WWE achieve a record-high revenue of $960.4 million in 2019, but after stock prices dropped sharply in the wake of the firings of co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios, WWE could use some positive press.
Another fat contract with a world-renowned brand like ESPN would increase WWE's scope and undoubtedly be a great optic in the view of stockholders.
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