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ESPN content chief says they’re open to a deal with WWE

WWE’s current media rights deals with NBCUniversal and FOX end next year, and the company’s CEO Nick Khan has been actively working on securing as much money as possible in the next contracts for Raw, SmackDown & NXT.

After giving their current partners an exclusive negotiating window, WWE opened things up for talks with any interested party a couple months ago. One possible suitor is Disney, parent company of ESPN.

In the past, the network’s had concerns about airing WWE’s scripted sports entertainment alongside the non-pre-determined competitions that are its bread-and-butter. But speaking to Richard Deitsch on his Sports Media podcast, ESPN President of Content Burke Magnus (who, as an aside, has a name that’s ready-made for pro wrestling) said that’s no longer a concern.

What is a concern is being able to schedule Raw and/or SmackDown on their cable channel given their existing contracts with other sports & leagues. But that still leaves streaming, and pay-per-view...

“I think it continues to be — I guess from a glass half-full perspective, I’d say I believe our companies — and this changed a couple of years ago so this is not breaking news but I believe our point of view towards WWE as a potential distribution outlet for their events, I think we passed that a long time ago and I think we’re now in the bucket of, hey, if their rights are available and there’s a deal for us that works and a deal for them that works with us, I think it’s certainly a possibility. There’s no hesitation anymore from a brand perspective or from a live event versus scripted. Their fans and our viewers, there’s tremendous overlap so, to me, it’s just about the business of it and is there something that works.

“I may have said this to you last time we talked but, to their credit, they run a 52-week-a-year business, right?… And I’m thinking, well, let me start from the linear perspective. 52 weeks a year is impossible for us to do on almost any configuration based on the other rights that we have. So that actually cuts against us from a linear perspective but on the digital side, if we were to be in business with them on a streaming or direct-to-consumer or distribution or a pay-per-view distribution or other such thing, I think that’s more easily achievable and they have a great product… Well I’m not [talking to WWE]. So, I’ll just leave it at that.”

A report from earlier this summer mentioned FX as the more likely Disney-owned home for products like Raw and Smackdown, and Burke’s answer aligns with that.

The pay-per-view piece is more interesting. WWE’s deal with the NBCUniversal-owned streamer Peacock for their library and what they now call premium live events doesn’t expire until 2026. But their new owners at Endeavor already partner with ESPN to sell UFC PPV (among other things), and execs at Endeavor and Khan have spoken about possibly returning WWE to a pay-per-view model for monthly shows like Payback and WrestleMania.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know to which channel and/or streaming service as soon as that news hits.

Thanks to Post Wrestling for transcription.

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