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New report details how Fox landed SmackDown, says WWE’s new TV deals worth $2.35 billion

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Triple H Stephanie McMahon

We’re still waiting for an official announcement of either deal from the networks and WWE, but The Hollywood Reporter published a new story earlier today (May 30) which contains a lot of details about how Fox won the rights to broadcast SmackDown starting in fall of 2019. It also has some numbers for how much NBCUniversal paid to keep Raw.

A May 17 morning meeting in Manhattan was attended by WWE executives Stephanie McMahon, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, George Barrios and Michelle Williams, WWE’s representatives at CAA, and a Fox team of Eric Shanks, Larry Jones and Rupert Murdoch himself. Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch joined via teleconference. The date is significant because NBCU’s exclusive negotiating window with WWE had expired the night before.

NBCU had the right to match offers of $200 million per year or less. Fox offered $205 million for SmackDown. But THR’s report says the decision was about more than money for McMahon and her team:

“The elder Murdoch insisted NBCU was ‘embarrassed by your product.’ Fox, he said, would fully embrace WWE, with SmackDown promos airing across sports programming every night of the week, along with a weekly studio show on FS1.”

Let’s get Renee Young hosting that FS1 show, huh? You could call it... oh, I don’t know... Talking Smack?

But I digress.

Lachlan Murdoch is said to have called Stephanie privately to wrap the meeting and close her on the deal by saying it was a way to “herald the marriage of the Murdochs and the McMahons”.

Hollywood Reporter puts the value of Raw’s new deal with NBCU at $265 million per year, meaning the two contracts will be worth $2.35 billion to WWE from 2019 - 2024, or $470 million annually. NBCU pays $130 million a year for both Raw and SmackDown under their current rights package.

And the story paints a positive picture for WWE beyond these deals. In discussing them and UFC’s new contract with ESPN with THR, industry insiders continue to tout the value of live sports programming to broadcasters, calling it “beachfront property. They’re not making anymore sports franchises.”

One of the remarkable things about what WWE has accomplished here, however, is that they’ve convinced networks they should be considered as a legitimate sports franchise, or at least in the same category, despite frequent “it’s not real sports” criticisms from non-fans. The McMahons’ decades-long goal of moving wrestling out of the pop culture ghetto seems to be achieved, with mainstream advertising partners, a marquee spot at NBC’s Upfronts to tout their “Women’s Evolution” and a primetime network home for SmackDown that will be promoted during NFL and Major League Baseball games, among other things.

What will they do with that kind of spotlight? And how big could their next deals be if they use it well?

Stock is still trading at historic highs, but it still might not be a bad time to buy.