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The reports are rampant of a potential deal between WWE and Fox Broadcasting to move WWE to their network, ending a long term relationship with NBCUniversal. Nothing is final and rumors are just rumors. It’s entirely possible WWE reups with NBC or that a third bibber (Amazon/Facebook) enters the mix and WWE completely changes direction. Still, Fox makes an interesting, and compelling partner for several reasons.
- Putting Raw on Fox (I’m going to assume here that they are not willing to put both Raw and Smackdown Live on network; Smackdown is likely to be put on FS1) would give WWE exposure to a massive primetime audience and would likely do wonders for their network subscriptions provided they can produce a consistent TV product that is worth repeat viewing (something that they are not always good at as evidenced by the up and down nature of Smackdown’s quality over the last year).
- Fox programming would likely trim Raw down to two hours and provide a massive improvement to the product. Most fans agree that a third hour of Raw rarely contributes to a better overall show. Most times, it’s a negative.
- Fox’s NFL programming would provide a great marketing tool for WWE unlike any that WWE has with NBCUniversal.
So what’s not to love, right?
Well, if the reports are true and the WWE is considering allowing Fox to acquire them, then this changes the thought process around what WWE would be getting versus what they would be giving up.
While Fox and WWE could agree on a lot of terms up front, once the sale is final, it’s Fox executives who control the direction and the creative of WWE, despite who they might put in charge.
Those who are reading this column probably love wrestling enough to remember the debacle that was WCW/Time Warner/AOL. As told through countless Eric Bischoff interviews, the corporate lords at AOL/Time Warner created a series of headaches and hoops for Bischoff to jump through that didn’t help to make the product any better.
Of course WWE and WCW were vastly different in terms of vision and leadership. To put Vince McMahon and Bischoff in the same league long-term would be flat out wrong, but the warning signs still hold true. While the points listed above are still on the table, the following are things that could sour what might seem like a great deal for WWE brass.
No such thing as total control over creative. Certainly Fox would allow Paul Levesque and Stephanie McMahon to maintain control over the creative initially, but if the product faltered or didn’t draw the ratings that executives expected it would not be unheard of to bring in a Fox executive to run the day-to-day. Would it surprise anyone here Fox, twelve months down the road, brought in a “TV veteran” to write for the show? Wrestling is a niche sport with a nuance and culture all its own. Bringing in someone who doesn’t truly understand it has a high probability of ruining in.
Distribution is temporary. As a broadcast partner, WWE can likely make demands about how their show is distributed. They can ensure that they are not moved off of Fox if they have ratings issues or make it so that if they do there’s some sort of penalty for the company doing so. However, if the WWE belongs to Fox whole hog, then Fox can move it to FS1 at the first sign of trouble. They can yank promotions at any time if they feel like they aren’t getting the right ROI.
The WWE becomes a revenue center. I don’t think Fox would see WWE as part of their true brand identity (but I could be wrong!) but I do think Fox is likely to see WWE as they see most of their businesses. They are a revenue stream. This means that WWE gets a fixed budget and will be expected to deliver a certain amount of money.
While the WWE has to be profitable now and is beholden to their shareholders, they also have a certain amount of freedom to take chances and do things they aren’t sure will make money.
Would the WWE have done the Mae Young Classic if it had to ladder up to a certain cost benefit? What WWE likely saw as a brand investment that will pay off down the road, Fox could see as an expense that doesn’t bring an immediate payoff for the company and therefore doesn’t see value in putting the product out there.
Of course, all of these things could end up not happening but a decision to partner with Fox on any level is one that could change the nature of their business, but maybe not for the better.
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