For the first time since 2005, WWE’s Monday Night Raw could find itself on a new channel.
On Thursday, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported that WWE’s Friday Night SmackDown will leave Fox in 2024 and return to the USA Network. With that, WWE is searching for new homes for Monday Night Raw and NXT, both of which currently air on USA Network.
WWE’s upcoming television rights deals have received plenty of attention in recent months and have only been amplified by the now-completed merger between the company and UFC to form TKO Group Holdings. Raw moving from USA Network — where it aired from its inception in 1993 until 2000 and 2005-present following a five-year stint on TNN/Spike TV — certainly throws a wrench in what was expected, as many anticipated that WWE’s flagship show would be staying put.
So where will Raw wind up? There are no shortage of possibilities.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the potential suitors for Raw as WWE seeks a new home for the longest-running weekly episodic program.
On the surface, the idea of WWE winding up on Disney makes a lot of sense. In fact, “The Mouse” was considered a potential contender to purchase WWE before it opted to merge with UFC.
WWE President and former sports media power agent Nick Khan has no shortage of relationships at ESPN, which can never be ruled out when it comes to live programming. Plus, ESPN is the primary broadcasting partner of WWE’s new partner, UFC, and it’s already been speculated that the two TKO entities could pursue a joint streaming deal (UFC’s deal with ESPN expires in 2025 while WWE’s current streaming deal with Peacock expires a year later).
Perhaps the biggest question regarding a WWE-Disney partnership is the logistics. It’s hard to imagine Raw running on ESPN 52 weeks a year — although WWE would reportedly be open to moving its flagship show to a different night.
Other possibilities under Disney would be putting Raw on FX or even ESPN+. The idea of WWE putting its most famous show behind the paywall of a streaming service certainly seems daunting, but also inevitable, whether it’s this rights deal, the next one or beyond.
Between its resources, platforms and pre-existing relationships, there’s a lot that adds up when it comes to a possible WWE-Disney deal. Until WWE makes a deal to air Raw and/or NXT somewhere else, Disney has to be considered a serious contender.
While the Hollywood Reporter notes that USA Network’s deal to add SmackDown means “the end of Raw and NXT on USA,” that doesn’t necessarily mean the network’s parent company, NBC Universal, is out of the running. And while Raw might not be returning to USA, that doesn’t necessarily rule out other platforms such as Peacock — which already airs WWE Premium Live Events — or even NBC, itself.
Ideally, WWE would likely prefer to diversify its rights, just as it did during the last go-round of negotiations. But money talks, and considering the strong history between the two entities, NBC Universal should always be considered a serious candidate when it comes to any potential WWE rights.
It likely wasn’t a coincidence that WWE’s Chief Creative Officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque was spotted sitting next to Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos at New York Fashion Week earlier this week. And the forward-thinking Khan has spoken glowingly about Amazon’s foray into Thursday Night Football while hinting at how WWE could fit into its plans.
“We like broadcast, but if you look at what Amazon has done with Thursday Night Football, and folks can say that viewership is down. It’s worked because it keeps people engaged in Prime,” Khan said while speaking at the MoffettNathanson’s Inaugural Technology, Media, and Telecom Conference earlier this year (via Fightful). “What we believe Amazon is looking to do, is they want to program nights of the week… For us with Friday Night SmackDown, which was on Thursdays prior to going on Fox and Tuesdays before that. We could go any night of the week. For entities looking to program any night of the week, we think we’re attractive to them as well.”
While SmackDown is now off the table, Raw remains an attractive bargaining chip. With Thursday Night Football already in place, Raw –– which is regularly the top-rated cable show on Monday nights outside of football season — could provide Amazon with another tentpole live program, especially for the 35 weeks it isn’t airing TNF.
Like with Disney, Amazon should be considered a strong contender to land Raw until further notice.
Like Amazon, Khan has praised Netflix as a potential partner.
“On Netflix, we’ve been saying on these calls for many months that we believe Netflix is looking to enter the live space,” Khan said during a WWE quarterly earnings call last year. “We got confirmation of that this past quarter when Netflix made a bid for the rights for Formula 1. We believe Netflix’s appetite for live (programming) will only increase after the introduction of their ad tier.”
In the time since, however, Netflix has been slow to add live programming and it’s hard to envision WWE being used a guinea pig of sorts. From a streaming standpoint, it would make more sense for Raw to land somewhere like ESPN+ or Amazon’s Prime, both of which have established themselves in the live events space.
Considering Khan’s comments, you can’t rule Netflix out. But at this point, it would be a surprise.
Warner Bros. Discovery
This is a potential suitor that’s certain to raise some eyebrows, as WBD is currently the home of All Elite Wrestling (AEW) — WWE’s biggest rival promotion since the collapse of WCW in 2001. But WBD’s deal with AEW is reportedly set to expire at the end of 2023 and the company has previously been linked to reported interest in WWE.
If nothing else, it’s curious that WBD and AEW haven’t announced a new TV deal and also worth noting that AEW wasn’t included in the just-announced plans for Max streaming service’s live sports tier. While it’s most likely that WBD will stick with AEW, it shouldn’t be ruled out that the company would make a run at the more prestigious — albeit costly — WWE.
All things considered, WBD should be considered somewhat of a longshot to land Raw. But until it strikes a new deal with AEW, it’s something to keep an eye on.
[Sports Business Journal]