WWE media rights will be an essential topic for the company now that a sale to Endeavor Media has all but gone through. President Nick Khan spoke about a few issues on Thursday as the company prepares to negotiate a deal before it expires in 2024. Khan provided a smidgen of eye-popping information on the status of their place with Fox, which airs Friday Night Smackdown each week.
Tony Maglio of IndieWire tweeted, “WWE’s Nick Khan just said #SmackDown could switch nights (again) if it goes somewhere else for its next deal,” along with an additional, eye-popping nugget about a potential home for the show.
WWE's Nick Khan just said #SmackDown could switch nights (again) if it goes somewhere else for its next deal. Was speaking pretty highly of Amazon…
— Tony Maglio (@TonyMaglio) May 18, 2023
Khan would continue, per Maglio: “We could go any of the night of the week. So for entities look for– ‘Hey, we want to program certain nights of the week,’ we think we’re attractive to them as well.”
"We could go any night of the week. So for entities looking for— 'Hey, we want to program certain nights of the week,' we think we're attractive to them as well."
That's exactly what Amazon is trying to do, he said just prior, citing #ThursdayNightFootball https://t.co/pHk89UxvOF
— Tony Maglio (@TonyMaglio) May 18, 2023
In 2019, WWE signed a billion-dollar media rights deal with NBC Universal and Fox. They each currently air Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown, and their developmental brand, NXT, which like Raw, is broadcast on USA Network.
Smackdown landing on Fox, a national over-the-air television network, was a massive coup for WWE. The show launched on UPN in 1999. UPN hosted the show until a move to the fledgling CW upon the launch of that network. The show has had many homes over the years and it’s true that it did air on an over-the-air network once before.
But obviously, Fox is a different level of visibility, significantly more potent than that of its previous homes. UPN, the CW/MyNetworkTV, SyFy, and later USA Network doesn’t have the exposure Fox does. Smackdown also tends to deliver strong ratings on Fridays, a night that traditionally doesn’t earn significant viewership. But lately, they have found their number and will usually hit somewhere between 2.0-2.4 million.
A move off over-the-air television would be tricky. The attention-grabbing 2+ million viewers each Friday is a noteworthy thing. Especially since the No. 2 promotion, AEW continues struggling to reach 1 million viewers weekly or even 900,000. Its access to everyone has made it a big plus, and it’s seen as the big show. It’s littered with huge men’s and women’s superstars.
The Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns, for example, has patrolled the show for three years as its top star. Previously, other top WWE stars have been heavily featured on the show. AJ Styles, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Brock Lesnar, Charlotte Flair, Edge, Liv Morgan, Rey Mysterio, Rhea Ripley, Ronda Rousey, Sasha Banks (now known elsewhere as Mercedes Moné), Seth Rollins and others have all etched prominent roles on the program. These are among the most popular stars and the best talents that WWE has had to offer since the move to the Fox network.
Pat McAfee also came to life on the show and became a huge fan favorite. NBA star Trae Young even once appeared at a special SmackDown at Madison Square Garden in Sept. 2021, the first show at the Garden since the company began letting fans into the building again after a pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But as we’ve seen in this current sports media climate, moving to streaming is what everybody’s doing. If the NFL can justify moving one of its Wild Card Playoff games to streaming, along with an entire streaming package for a weekly game, of course, WWE will look at that and justify the move too. When the Premier League is also going behind the Peacock paywall, WWE will move in lockstep with that too. If they moved off Fox and, say, went to Amazon, as Nick Khan appeared to hint? They’d only be moving just like everybody else.
In the end, with Khan, typically, you don’t like to read into anyone’s comments about sports media rights. You’ll always see negotiating through the media in any form. Sports media is not exempt from this. But there is an underlying question: Is WWE the only one thinking of not being on Fox anymore? From the sounds of it, Lachlan Murdoch didn’t provide a peachy outlook for the two’s relationship.
Murdoch says NASCAR and WWE have been great partners but says Fox is disciplined and points to sports rights they have exited
— Brandon Ross (@BrandoLightShed) May 17, 2023
“Murdoch says NASCAR and WWE have been great partners but says Fox is disciplined and points to sports rights they have exited,” Brandon Ross of LightShed tweeted on Wednesday. It didn’t receive much fanfare, but the statement becomes more intriguing now that Khan has openly suggested Smackdown could move. Smackdown, and in the bigger picture, WWE and Fox, have had a great relationship the past few years. Both sides have arguably benefited from it, at least from an exposure or viewership standpoint.
It’s not as if the show isn’t used to moving around. Not just from networks, either. It was taped on Tuesdays before it aired on Thursdays. That process ran from 1999 until September 2005, when the show moved to Friday nights. It was still taped on Tuesdays before it moved back to Thursdays. But then, in July 2016, ‘Smackdown Live’ was created, as for the first time, the show aired on its natural night: Tuesdays, live, ending an era of spoiler-reading that lasted nearly two decades.
Smackdown then moved back to Friday nights, but a move again could be in its future. And it makes you wonder what other maneuvers the company might make with its media rights. Raw will no doubt be unchanged. It’s the company’s flagship television show and has created too much of a name for itself being on Monday nights. So that’s probably not going anywhere. Smackdown, though? Throughout its history, it’s had a habit of being restless. Thus, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it shift around.
And that move then makes you wonder about the future of NXT, too. It’s on Tuesdays, but let’s say that Thursdays are out of the question for Smackdown. They probably won’t go head-to-head with AEW Dynamite for either Smackdown or NXT on a Wednesday. So what happens? Does Smackdown take NXT’s spot? Would NXT move to another day later in the week? Would it move entirely off the TV and go to streaming also? NXT has moved in the past as well, originally airing on Wednesdays before shifting to Tuesdays. It also came off streaming before, as it was one of the original key selling points of their over-the-top streaming service, the WWE Network, before moving to cable television in the fall of 2019. So maybe more options are at play than we think, because if they’re willing to move Smackdown again after all its success, then both could be up for grabs because you simply can’t rule it out. Whether or not that comes to fruition? Yet to be seen.
There are a lot of possibilities at stake here. But what WWE does with Smackdown will probably be a huge tell of the future of WWE on television and in streaming.
Raw is the flagship, but Smackdown currently features all the big stars. Reigns, The Usos, Styles, Belair, and Bayley are the top stars on the show right now. It’s a group of big players that the company has leaned heavily on for over a decade. The show’s star power makes it very attractive. But traditionally speaking, just like Nick Khan alluded to: The blue brand can’t ever get too comfortable where it’s at.