WWE’s television rights will soon be up for grabs, and it seems NBC Universal will face a serious challenge if it hopes to retain them.
As first pointed out by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, several Fox Sports figures, including president Eric Shanks and TV/radio host Colin Cowherd, sat front row Tuesday night at WWE Smackdown in Los Angeles. Their presence would seem to indicate a serious level of interest in wrestling rights — and a serious level of interest on WWE’s part in making a partnership happen.
In the front row last night at the WWE Smackdown show in L.A.: Fox Sports president Eric Shanks, Fox Sports talent producer Jacob Ullman and Fox Sports talker Colin Cowherd.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) February 28, 2018
Cowherd also tweeted out a picture of him backstage at Smackdown on Tuesday night.
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) February 28, 2018
Fox has been previously reported to have desire to acquire WWE rights or even buy the company outright. Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer reported last month that Fox would bid aggressively to air WWE but only if it failed to re-up with UFC. In that case, Raw (which has aired on the NBCU-owned USA Network for nearly its entire 25-year run) would reportedly be broadcast on the Fox flagship channel, which would mark the first time it ever aired on network TV.
NBCU’s deal with WWE expires in the fall of 2019.
Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand shared Wednesday morning that Fox Sports has offered $200 million for UFC media rights, substantially higher than the $120 million it currently pays, but well short of the $450 million yearly windfall being discussed when the UFC was sold to Endeavor in 2016.
Even though Fox seems likely to wind up with only one of WWE and UFC, it’s clear that the network is quite willing to open its wallet these days. Months before airing its first men’s World Cup, having pried those rights away from ESPN, Fox spent $550 million to secure rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package. Add in hefty bids for wrestling and MMA, and you’ve got a network unafraid of any sports rights bubble.