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WWE television rights deals coming up soon: What it could mean for the future of Raw, SmackDown, and more

WWE is on the cusp of making some major money in television rights deals and that could mean big changes to its programming.

In an article published by Variety today (Dec. 17, 2013), WWE is making a point of making it known that the pro wrestling company is looking for bidders for its variety of programming. Although it may have gone unnoticed before, the company scheduled its last television rights deals to expire at the same time so it could offer them up as a package deal to the highest bidder.

Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown are, after all, hugely valuable commodities.

Shopping for a new partner starts next month, assuming NBC Universal, which owns USA and SyFy, chooses to pass on whatever deal WWE offers, as it has first dibs. NBCU has that distinction only until Feb. 15, 2014, at which point WWE will start entertaining other offers until Feb. 28 with a final decision made by March 4.

Assuming a new deal is struck with a new network, programming wouldn't make the switch until October of next year.

Right now, WWE is pushing the fact that its live "event" nature makes it more like sports, and the company is hoping to be compensated like it. From Variety:

The company also is tackling a self-inflicted perception problem. For years, it's touted its over-the-top characters and soap opera storylines ahead of the live aspect of the year-round action in the ring.

"We've had to evolve our thinking," Wilson says. "We are clearly entertainment-based, but if you think about the characteristics of our brand, it's live action, and that's sports. We want to be compensated for a live audience, since live content is getting a very significant premium in the marketplace."

Perhaps most interesting about this is WWE being open to making changes to its product to make it more enticing for potential bidders. That includes moving SmackDown from Friday night and making it a live show, likely to run on Tuesday, which would increase cost but improve ratings.

Speaking of which, WWE is such a valuable asset to NBCU that many industry insiders, according to the Variety article, believe there's no way a new deal won't be struck. If USA were to lose Raw on Monday, it would immediately drop from number one to "as low as number four among basic entertainment networks."

Some other impressive numbers:

Syfy would also lose a sizable audience without "SmackDown," which has raised viewership by 35% for the network. "Divas" is a hit for E! but has perhaps has benefitted WWE more, given that it's helped the company attract more women, which currently make up around 35% of its audience.

The third hour of "Raw" is up 44% vs. programming that aired in the timeslot last year. "Saturday Morning Slam" is up 34% for the CW, "Main Event" is up 25% for ION and "Divas" has boosted ratings 166% for E!

WWE is in prime position to make a ton of money on these new deals. And that's not even taking into account the planned WWE Network and how much money it could bring in.

It's shaping up to be a big year for the biggest pro wrestling company in 2014.

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