This is one of those stories where it’s too early to know if it’s true, but it’s a story from a reliable publication and where there’s smoke, there is fire in a case like this. As most WWE fans know, the current WWE TV deals in the United States are set to expire in September 2019. There have been rumors for the last year about where they might end up.
The Hollywood Reporter is reporting today that NBC Universal (which owns USA Network where Raw airs) plans on re-signing Raw and they are opting not to renew Smackdown. Here’s an excerpt from Lesley Goldberg’s THR story:
Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that WWE’s Smackdown is being shopped to various networks after NBCUniversal — whose USA Network airs the highly rated pro wrestling matches — declined to re-up its deal. NBCU is said to be focusing on renewing its pact for WWE’s Raw, another wrestling franchise, and that deal is expected to close at as much as three times its current value. NBCU and WWE declined to comment on the still-ongoing negotiation. Fox has been speculated as a home for Smackdown, sources say.
The current WWE TV deal with NBC Universal expires in September 2019.
As you can see above, Raw is expected to receive a massive pay increase from USA Network that is three times the current annual TV deal that WWE has. The current deal is around $180 million for Raw and Smackdown on USA Network, so if it’s triple the current deal then that could be something like $300 million (if you were to say Raw is worth $100 million of that current $180 million) from NBCU to WWE to keep Raw. I don’t know if that number is accurate because it seems insane to me considering Raw’s audience is about the same of what it was in the past, but TV networks love having live programming that WWE can provide. There just aren’t a lot of cable TV shows that can provide 3 million live viewers every week the way does, so that’s where the value is in WWE programming.
Regarding the future of Smackdown, it’s possible they could land on Fox on their cable sports channel Fox Sports 1. It was rumored months ago that Fox wanted Raw and Smackdown with Fox putting Raw on their main national network and making it a two-hour show again 8-10pmET since Fox’s primetime programming is only two hours. However, this article notes that Raw is likely staying on USA Network. I can only assume that Fox wanting Raw is a big reason why USA Network is willing to pay triple the money to keep Raw.
— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) May 14, 2018
It has been reported numerous times that WWE plans on announcing their next American TV deal between May and September of this year, so that’s why there is some credibility with this report. Remember also that WWE sent Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Nia Jax to the NBC Upfronts event in New York City on Monday, which is a way to promote the product. That would suggest WWE is going to stay on USA Network as this Hollywood Reporter story suggests.
The immediate question for Raw is would it stay at three hours? I assume so because if USA Network were the ones that moved it to three hours in the first place in 2012 (WWE says it was USA Network that wanted to do it), then they are probably going to want to keep that going if they are paying WWE so much money.
For now, consider it a rumor. Until it’s official from WWE’s end, we don’t know for sure.