NEWS UPDATE: Could WBD get WWE and AEW?; WWE & AEW PPV/PLE gates & attendances; Raw TV rating; MLW v. WWE update 🌏

Could WBD put WWE on the same networks as AEW?

LightShed’s most recent podcast discussed the possibility that Warner Bros. Discovery could bid for both WWE and AEW rights in the next media rights cycle, putting distribution of wrestling content all under one media conglomerate, similar to how ESPN/Disney is the home of the major MMA company UFC and secondary MMA promotion PFL.

Among other factors that might prevent such a deal, WWE might want exclusivity over wrestling with their major media partners. History tells us Vince McMahon’s impulse would be strongly against sharing a TV home with a wrestling competitor, especially WWE’s strongest direct rival since 2001. And AEW clearly views WWE as adversarial. Tony Khan ranted at a press conference in September about WWE timing events against AEW. He said more recently that he doesn’t think the way WWE competes is always ethical. There have been hints of contract tampering with AEW talent by WWE. Nick Khan took a minor shot at Tony Khan earlier this year in an interview, minimizing him as a “kid” who was using his wealthy father’s money without turning a profit yet (unconfirmed but likely true). And let’s not forget the completely accidental Wednesday Night War, when Paul Levesque claimed NXT being put on USA Network, head-to-head with the debut of Dynamite, wasn’t a competitive move because Wednesday had already been NXT’s night.

WWE and NBCU apparently have an exclusivity agreement for wrestling content, which has been alleged by MLW and not denied by WWE in the MLW v. WWE antitrust lawsuit, and actually made more apparent by the fact MLW Underground was blacked out on the Reelz stream on Peacock. It tells us at a minimum that WWE values exclusivity for wrestling content with their partners. WWE may have a similar exclusivity agreement with Fox.

Media rights fees are the biggest revenue source top wrestling companies have ever seen, though, so if anything can cause competitors to look past their competitive interests, it’s a business partner that pays them like no other.

While I’m skeptical WBD will aggressively bid for WWE, Monday (Raw) and Friday (Smackdown) do fit around their Tuesday/Thursday NBA schedule. There especially appears to be room on TBS during Raw and Smackdown’s current time slots, where those shows could fit, where TBS is mostly airing Big Bang Theory reruns or old movies.

A competitive NBA rights bidding process will probably drive up those fees greatly. By one report, the NBA wants to triple its rights fees. If WBD agreed to that multiple, it would go from paying a current average annual value of $1.23 billion to $3.7 billion. With possibly NBC and Amazon getting involved in bidding along with incumbents WBD and Disney, and with WBD’s stated strategy of being more economical with content spending, it’s plausible WBD could walk away from NBA renegotiations with a smaller inventory of live basketball games.

Currently, WBD holds rights to 64 regular season games, plus about half of the playoffs (minus the finals, which Disney owns), as well as the All-Star Game. The savings from buying a smaller NBA package could probably pay for rights to WWE core programs, as well as renewing AEW’s.

Nick Khan is on record as hoping to “over-deliver” on a 1.5x increase over WWE’s current fees. Luring WWE away from incumbents would come at a premium. Maybe at 2.0x, paying around $1 billion annually, would get David Zaslav’s networks both Raw and Smackdown.

One key to this theoretical strategy would be around the notion that the wrestling content all under one conglomerate would be stronger than if they were under separate ones, benefiting from cross-promotions and synergies in ad sales. Can you imagine, though? WWE cross-promoting AEW, and vice versa. It’s among the reasons to be skeptical of this outcome.

In a perfect world, if they were all under one TV roof, there would be huge short-term money to make in getting WWE and AEW to cooperate for an annual inter-promotional show, but historically things like that are a political disaster that muddles the creative because the sides don’t trust each other, and the weaker side comes out of the cooperative event looking weaker.

It seems likelier NBCUniversal will keep WWE content for the long term and WBD will keep AEW for the long term. In that case, the speculated eventual merger of WBD and NBCU, perhaps some years from now, may put the top two wrestling players under one media umbrella one day, regardless.

WWE and AEW live event paid attendances and gates

By way of Pollstar we have some live event ticket sales data for major WWE and AEW events. A few of these were earlier tweeted by @touringdata. Most of these I don’t think have been reported in media before.

Charts showing WWE PLEs during this timeline is below.

  • 5/29/2022: AEW Double or Nothing at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV drew 13,148 paying $1,256,272.
  • 6/1/2022: AEW Dynamite at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, CA drew 14,279 paying $942,029.
  • 7/2/2022: WWE Money in the Bank at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV drew 11,607 (announced as 12,076) paying $1,203,843.
  • 7/25/2022: WWE Raw at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY drew 13,075 (announced as 15,130) paying $987,371.
  • 7/30/2022: WWE Summerslam at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN drew 41,708 (announced as 48,449) paying $4,797,538.
  • 10/8/2022: WWE Extreme Rules at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA drew 12,136 (announced as 15,944) paying $1,109,760.
  • 11/19/2022: AEW Full Gear at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ drew 10,850 paying $1,199,486.
  • 11/26/2022: WWE Survivor Series at TD Garden in Boston, MA drew 12,375 (announced as 15,609) paying $1,574,882.
  • 12/26/2022: WWE house show at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY drew 11,080 paying $723,239.
  • 1/28/2023: WWE Royal Rumble at the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX drew 44,569 (announced as 51,338) paying $7,316,940.
  • 2/17/2023: WWE Smackdown (the night before Elimination Chamber) in the same building drew 11,744 paying $649,681.
  • 2/18/2023: WWE Elimination Chamber at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC drew 13,807 (announced as 17,271) paying $997,637.
  • 3/5/2023: AEW Revolution at the Chase Center in San Francisco, CA drew 7,958 paying $737,010.
  • 3/6/2023: WWE Raw at TD Garden in Boston, MA, which featured John Cena, drew 12,239 paying $884,269.
  • 4/1/2023: WWE Wrestlemania Night 1 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA drew 63,243 (announced as 80,497) paying $9,542,187.
  • 4/2/2023: WWE Wrestlemania Night 2 at the same venue drew 64,288 (announced as 81,395) paying $10,206,884.
  • 5/6/2023: WWE Backlash at Coliseo de Puerto Rico José Miguel Agrelot in San Juan, Puerto Rico drew 15,145 (announced as 17,944) paying $1,447,558.
  • 5/28/2023: AEW Double or Nothing at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV drew 10,478 paying $964,349.

We don’t have data for obvious omissions above like last year’s Forbidden Door, All Out, or the WWE PLEs in Saudi Arabia.

Additional news

  • WWE and Twitch yesterday announced a multiyear agreement, including a “sidecast” of Raw that began that night. The sidecast during Raw included Megan Morant, Drew Gulak, and Ryan Pappola. According to John Pollock, who discussed the subject last night on POST Wrestling’s Rewind-A-Raw, the latter part of the stream had under 1,000 viewers. The stream didn’t have any video or audio of Raw. In April WWE and Twitch reportedly reached a deal that allowed WWE main roster talent to use and earn money on the platform again, according to Fightful. In September 2020, wrestlers were restricted from using third-party video platforms they were earning revenue on like Twitch.
  • As of the latest estimate on Sunday from WrestleTix, there are now 8,000 tickets out for the first AEW Collision taping at the United Center on June 17. Nearly 1,000 tickets have moved since CM Punk’s appearance at the event was confirmed.
  • In the MLW v. WWE lawsuit, MLW lawyers objected to WWE earlier introducing new exhibits of media reports and press releases to the lawsuit that, among other claims, says AEW got a new TV deal worth $240 million a year. On the report about the supposed new AEW TV deal, MLW’s attorneys wrote that the report, “is unreliable on its face because it purports to be reporting a supposed future ‘announcement on Wednesday, May 17 . . . of a new [AEW] TV deal in the United States’–as opposed to the details of an actual deal–and ‘rumors’ about the expected value of AEW’s ‘new deal’.” I don’t believe AEW has a new TV deal with Warner Bros. Discovery worth $240 million in average annual value, or any new deal beyond the current term ending either later this year or in late 2024. As I wrote last week, I believe, consistent with Tony Khan’s public comments, that AEW got an incremental raise in rights fees in exchange for adding Collision as a new weekly program. I believe AEW’s amended deal to have an average annual value around or at least $70 million per year for the remainder of the term, ending either this year or next year, depending on whether WBD executes (or has already exected) the one-year option that’s reportedly part of the agreement.
  • The judge in the case approved yesterday that the hearing date on WWE’s motion to dismiss the case was rescheduled from June 15 to July 20 at 9 am.

TV ratings: WWE Raw, June 5

WWE Raw last night on USA Network, was watched by 1,828,000 viewers on average, including about 726,000 aged 18 to 49, for a 0.56 P18-49 rating.

Raw was #1 in P18-49 for Monday both among cable originals and broadcast primetime, according to Showbuzz Daily. It outranked the TNT telecast of the Stanley Cup Finals. The game also aired on TBS and TruTV.

This was Raw’s highest total viewership since the April 3 post-Wrestlemania episode and highest P18-49 viewership since May 15.

Compared to last week, Raw was up 13% in total viewership. Among viewers 18-49, viewership was up 6%.

Hour 3 had higher P18-49 viewership than Hour 1, which is rare.

Hour 1 averaged 1,827,000 viewers and a 0.53 P18-49 rating. Hour 2 averaged 1,898,000 and 0.58. Hour 3 averaged 1,759,000 and 0.56.

Viewer counts in thousands, calculated from national ratings, for this week’s episode with difference versus the median of the last 28 days in parentheses:

P2+: 1828 (+9%)

P18-49: 726 (+5%)

M18-49: 489 (+8%)

F18-49: 236 (-4%)

P18-34: 283 (+3%)

M18-34: 191 (+9%)

F18-34: 93 (-3%)

P35-49: 442 (+5%)

M35-49: 299 (+7%)

F35-49: 144 (-4%)

Non-P18-49: 1102 (+16%)

Most-viewed YouTube videos from Raw, as of 4pm today:

Seth “Freakin” Rollins and Damian Priest up the ante for title match: 505,890

Dominik Mysterio SLAPS Cody Rhodes in classic “Miz TV”: 499,434

Matt Riddle snaps Giovanni Vinci’s leg: 379,919

“Jey Uso will acknowledge…or else” – Paul Heyman: 311,423

Rollins vs. Priest – World Heavyweight Title Match: 299,035

Seth “Freakin” Rollins’ first World Heavyweight Title defense: 276,390

Cody Rhodes and Dominik Mysterio’s explosive exchange on “Miz TV”: 274,265

Kevin Owens and Gunther deliver a BANGER: 251,113

Becky Lynch vs. Sonya Deville – Money in the Bank Qualifying Match: 176,784

Ronda Rousey & Shayna Baszler vs. Kayden Carter & Katana Chance: 168,129

This ratings report was written with the assistance of automated programs created by me, then manually edited.

Subscribers have exclusive access to the Wrestlenomics Viewership Spreadsheet.

Brandon Thurston

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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