Fox Lays the Smackdown for a Billion

On Monday morning Fox Sports announced a five-year TV deal with WWE, worth over a billion dollars. The publicly-traded pro-wrestling giant then had their stocks hit an all-time high, meaning Vince McMahon himself is now worth nearly 2.5 Billion American Big-Bucks.

I believe that’s the proper name for US currency. I’m still learning some things.

The deal includes broadcasting rights to one of WWE’s weekly shows, Smackdown. A two-hour live sports entertainment programme, that showcases original content for fifty-two weeks of the year. Which, I believe, is all of the weeks.

So why are Fox putting so much cash on the table for a show that WWE themselves classify as their ‘B-Show’? Well, appointment viewing is hard to come by in modern times. Live sports typically do well in the ratings, but scripted shows have been suffering. Largely due to the rise of streaming platforms and binge-watch culture.

Enter WWE. Their programming has the look and feel of a sports show, but it’s entirely scripted entertainment. WWE has a strong and avid fanbase, with the average viewer dropping a lot more cash on the product, when compared with average television brand. They use their show to promote live events and merchandise, as well as their own streaming service, the WWE Network.

Now, WWE’s ratings have been declining steadily over the last several years. Only, in the last eighteen months, they appear to have levelled out to between 2.5 and 3.5 million weekly viewers. This is dependent on which part of its ‘season’ the product is in.

Other scripted shows are in a ratings free-fall, whereas WWE seem to have hit their personal rock bottom. At least for the time being. This makes them a hot commodity right now, in the dying world of broadcast television. Whether or not Fox are correct to throw so much money for rights to one-half of the broadcast live shows (Flagship show Raw will remain with NBC) is for the future to decide.

This will be a huge influx of cash for WWE. With their previous deal with NBC being for a mere $180million a year, which is for both Raw and Smackdown. The new deal sees Fox paying $205million per year for Smackdown alone. With NBC expected to pay a similar amount for Raw, they’ll be more-than doubling their revenue from TV alone.

Vince McMahon, pictured with the love of his life

So, what will WWE spend all of that extra cash on? Well, as a fan I want them to bring back pyrotechnics. Which is something that they cut from their personal budget a few years back. I’d love to see them invest their money in establishing their “independent” brand, NXT, as an internationally toured live-show. Which would put it on the same level as Raw and Smackdown.

But I’m going to put my evil, capitalist business hat on for a few minutes and make a proposal to the WWE.

No, I don’t want them to invest in my idea for ant farms that are as big as regular farms. Where the ants are genetically engineered to be the same size as people, and visitors walk by a giant, one-hundred foot high, glass box. You can drop a giant leaf in at the top and watch them carry it all the way to the bottom. Everyone will gather around the queen, like they do the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Ant Land. Registered Trademark.

This is not a regular ant farm, this is a scale model of giant ant farm.

Not that.

I have a proposal that will extend their reach on both the wrestling industry and entertainment business, as well as giving talent a well-earned rest every once in a while.

The wrestling industry as a whole has a lot of top-tier talent on the independent scene right now. Whenever someone gets a little too popular in a specific market, WWE signs them to a contract and puts them in their NXT brand. Or, in the case of UK talent in particular, they’re signed and then they’re barely utilised.

The life of the average WWE Superstar is six days on the road and four or five nights performing for TV and live shows. There’s no off-season and talent are wrestling a faster style than ever, in order to compete with the independent talent I just mentioned. This causes a lot of strain on performer’s bodies, it’s an extremely physical job, and has lead to burn-outs and career-threatening injuries.

I know I’d want a two month break after this

It’s also well documented that WWE dislike the term ‘wrestling’. Vince McMahon enjoys the term sports entertainment, but even that is too clunky for some of the younger executives. It seems to be that they’d rather wrestling was known simply as WWE. The same way that Disney don’t want you to see films, they want you to see a Disney Movie.

Human 1: “Hey bud, shall we go watch some wrestling?”

Human 2: “What’s wrestling?”

Human 1: “Where the people grapple each other to a soap-opera style storyline.”

Human 2: “Oh, you mean WWE?”

Human 1: “Yeah! Let’s watch some WWE and then go see a Disney before we come home and play an EA!”

Did you like that? I played Human 2. Really trying to break into the acting scene.

So, if WWE want to be the only major wrestling brand out there, but there’s also more talent than they’ll ever need out on the independent scene, then my proposition is that they spend all of that new money on talent. That’s right, they do what they’re doing already but to an extreme degree.

Only this time they don’t just keep these talented individuals hidden away, they put them onto the weekly programming and live shows.

Human 1: “But Matt, there’s already not enough time on WWE programming to feature the talent they already have.”

Great question Human 1! Can you give me the number of your agent?

WWE doesn’t have an off-season, but they can rest characters for 1-6 month stretches without damaging their brand. My proposition is that they plan character arcs, similar to any other show. That way:

  • Talent get some guaranteed time off every year
  • WWE owns most of the top talent in the world
  • Characters don’t get boring, their absence builds intrigue
  • They can continue to put on shows 52 weeks a year
  • More talent are featured, meaning more merchandise sales
  • No company could ever compete, and wrestling officially becomes WWE

It’s important to note that I’m a huge fan of independent professional wrestling and I don’t 100% agree with my own proposition. I think, in any business, it’s important to have competition, as well as independently created content.

But of all the ways WWE could spend a large wad of American Big-Bucks, I think this makes the most sense from a business perspective.

Thing is, Vince is probably going to spend it all on the XFL in 2020.

That, or a giant sex yacht.

Today is May 23rd, 2018 and if an ant managed to successfully mate with an elephant, than unholy animal would still be called an elephant.

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