NEWS UPDATE: FX/Disney might bid for WWE rights; WWE-UFC merger shouldn’t have major impact on AEW or NJPW; Raw TV rating; WOW TV ratings; Trademarks

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FX might bid on WWE rights as exclusive negotiating windows end

On Monday, Andrew Marchand of the New York Post reported that FX is interested in bidding on WWE content in the current U.S. rights renewal cycle. Marchand, however, noted that NBCU and Fox remain the frontrunners for Raw and Smackdown rights.

The exclusive windows for NBCU and Fox have both ended now, according to the report. The NBCU window for Raw expiring is new. Last month, Nick Khan said the Fox window had expired but NBCU’s window hadn’t yet.

FX and USA Network are in a similar number of U.S. households, nearly every cable home. FX is slightly ahead, with 73.3 million homes and USA in 72.4 million, as of June. The exciting part here is FX is owned by Disney (not Fox, which sold FX and other assets to Disney a few years ago). So it would seemingly add another bidder into the competition for WWE live rights along with the incumbents as well as possibly Amazon.

WWE Raw or Smackdown on FX could assist with synergies between WWE and UFC when the merger is finalized, because Disney owns all live rights for UFC. WWE’s current rights negotiations won’t be shopped with the assistance of Endeavor, Nick Khan said at a conference talk in May. WWE’s streaming rights, held by NBCU and used for Peacock, expire in early 2026, though, and the renewal timing for that deal is likely after the WWE-UFC merger is complete. At that point, streaming rights for WWE and UFC could be sold together, a possibility Khan seemed open to in an interview in April.

Marchand also reported that Warner Bros. Discovery doesn’t have an exclusivity agreement with AEW for wrestling, so WBD could potentially bid on WWE as well.

John Pollock and I talked with AEW CEO Tony Khan in an interview recorded on Monday and releasing on Wednesday. I asked if WBD in fact doesn’t have to stay exclusive to AEW for wrestling content, and, you guessed it, he was noncommittal. The interview will premiere tomorrow at 1 pm ET on Wrestlenomics and POST Wrestling podcast and YouTube channels.

Opinion: WWE-UFC merger is unlikely to strongly impact AEW and New Japan

Reuters had a story on Saturday about AEW and New Japan partnering. The angle of the story was that with the merger of UFC and WWE, cooperation between AEW and New Japan is more important than ever. Tony Khan is quoted: “In a world where the proposed merger happens, as it is suggested on paper, then I would believe the AEW, New Japan Pro Wrestling partnership is more imperative than ever before.”

WWE and UFC are permanently merging, assuming regulatory approval. They will save each other as much as $100 million annually by sharing expenses and employees — and unfortunately laying off a lot of staff. The companies will likely better monetize their businesses together than they would as separate entities, in areas including media rights and sponsorships.

AEW and New Japan’s partnership is basically a talent exchange agreement that may not even be contractual. The relationship allows AEW to put on an additional pay-per-view. Talent otherwise occasionally appear on one another’s events, Kenny Omega wrestling at Wrestle Kingdom this year among the greatest benefits yet for New Japan. To contrast, notice there’s exactly one AEW wrestler, Eddie Kingston, in the G1 Climax lineup that was recently announced.

New Japan has had various U.S. wrestling partners throughout the decades (WWF, WCW, TNA, Ring of Honor), however, a partnership with New Japan has greater value to a U.S. company today than ever as U.S. fans are more aware of New Japan and its stars than in past decades, thanks to the internet and New Japan’s strong product throughout the 2010s. And major matches with New Japan stars have proven to sell tickets and pay-per-view buys.

Sure, there will be critically-acclaimed matches and incremental ticket sales, PPV sales, and subscriptions to NJPW World. I struggle to see a reason why the AEW-New Japan relationship is more important because of the WWE-UFC merger.

If New Japan and AEW suddenly stopped working together, it would be disappointing to fans, but both companies would survive and their future success or failure would be, as they are now, overwhelmingly self-determined.

While conjunctions may be uttered that are symmetrical — WWE and UFC, AEW and New Japan — the relation is tangential, in my view.

A stronger WWE post-merger isn’t positive news for AEW or New Japan; it’s not a “rising tide that lifts all boats”, either. It’s just not a major threat. Yes, “global localization” plans seem to be in the air again since Paul Levesque returned to power. And, yes, there were rumors of WWE trying to start a developmental organization in Japan just before the pandemic. That was before WWE shut down its development in the United Kingdom, which will supposedly be supplanted by still-vague plans around the theoretical NXT Europe. And that’s in a region where the culture and language are more similar to WWE’s domestic market. WWE has yet to prove it understands how to succeed in regions like Japan or Mexico, beyond a few occasional house shows, where there’s a strong non-WWE wrestling culture. New Japan is insulated from threat in that way until WWE proves it can appeal to any wrestling culture but its own.

AEW has carved out something of its own fan base, and there’s room for a strong #2 U.S. company, if distantly behind, certainly while live media rights revenues continue to grow. AEW’s future will largely be determined by the marketability of its own stars and brand, its ability to maintain and improve media distribution, and whether weaknesses in the quality of WWE’s creative provide AEW a continued opportunity to offer wrestling fans and talent an attractive alternative, and whether AEW capitalizes on that opportunity.

WWE’s business is well-managed and will only be better monetized with time and synergies brought by the merger and services from Endeavor. WWE’s content will remain popular enough almost no matter what. Whether WWE’s business is marginally better or worse, and whether wrestling alternatives like AEW (especially) and New Japan (to a lesser extent) have a greater or weaker opportunity depends on WWE’s creative quality. That won’t be impacted by the merger unless the merger unexpectedly impacts how much Vince McMahon is involved with creative. His influence on programming has been the most pivotal force that affects WWE’s content. The reduction of his influence allowed the popularity of WWE’s content to have its most sustained improvements in popularity — not to mention morale — in years (decades?), which are bared out in positive trends in TV ratings and ticket sales since his involvement in creative diminished in the last twelve months.

If they weren’t cooperating, AEW and New Japan would be less exciting, for sure, but they wouldn’t be profoundly changed, and it’s not as if AEW and New Japan must align to defend against the growing strength and threat of WWE in light of the merger with UFC.

Additional news

  • WWE Most Wanted Treasures on A&E averaged 386,000 viewers and a 0.12 P18-49 rating, ranking #12 on the day, according to Showbuzz Daily. Stone Cold Takes on America averaged 229,000 viewers and a 0.06 P18-49 rating.
  • Women of Wrestling in syndication via CBC Media Ventures in May averaged 284,000 viewers and a 0.04 P18-49 rating. Updating since our last report on WOW TV ratings, the May 14 episode averaged 291,000 viewers and a 0.04 P18-49 rating. May 21 had 317,000 viewers and 0.05. May 28 had 244,000 and a 0.03. The episode on June 4 had 343,000 viewers and a 0.06, the highest total viewership since January 1.
  • GCW’s extension of time to potentially oppose the AEW: Fight Forever trademark passed on May 31 without an opposition being filed.
  • WWE filed on May 31 to oppose Claudio Castagnoli’s intent to use the “CSRO” mark for coffee products and other merchandise. In the filing, WWE’s attorneys say “CSRO” and WWE’s mark “Cesaro” (the name Castagnoli wrestled under for WWE) “is nearly identical in appearance, sound and meaning.” Castagnoli, who is being represented by trademark attorney Michael Dockins, has until July 10 to file an answer.

TV ratings: WWE Raw, June 12

WWE Raw last night on USA Network, was watched by 1,595,000 viewers on average, including about 599,000 aged 18 to 49, for a 0.46 P18-49 rating.

Raw was #1 in P18-49 for the day among cable originals, according to Showbuzz Daily.

This was Raw’s lowest total and P18-49 viewership since January 16, which was a night when Raw was opposed by an NFL wildcard game.

Opposing Raw last night was game 5 of the NBA Finals on ABC, which saw the Denver Nuggets win the series, averaging 13.1 million viewers, and a 3.98 P18-49 rating.

Compared to last week, Raw was down 13% in total viewership. Among viewers 18 to 49, viewership was down 17% from last week’s 726,000.

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+: 1595 (-5%)

P18-49: 599 (-16%)

M18-49: 399 (-15%)

F18-49: 200 (-19%)

P18-34: 265 (-6%)

M18-34: 158 (-16%)

F18-34: 107 (+11%)

P35-49: 334 (-23%)

M35-49: 241 (-15%)

F35-49: 93 (-38%)

Non-P18-49: 996 (+5%)

F12-34: 122 (+15%)

M12-34: 172 (-18%)

P25-54: 730 (-13%)

P50+: 913 (+3%)

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

Rhea Ripley receives the new Women’s World Championship: 456,653

Are The Judgment Day on the same page?: 381,614

Damian Priest confronts Finn Bálor: 355,976

Rhodes challenges Mysterio to a match at WWE Money in the Bank: 303,442

Bálor challenges Rollins to a World Heavyweight Title Match: 288,575

Owens & Zayn vs. Imperium – Undisputed WWE Tag Team Title Match: 248,299

Cody Rhodes vs. The Miz: 225,589

Imperium deliver consequences to Matt Riddle: 137,498

Ricochet vs. Bronson Reed: 118,241

Matt Riddle vs. Damian Priest – Money in the Bank Qualifying Match: 118,043

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

Ranking and other telecast data is unavailable right now due to an outage with a vendor we use to process the data.

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

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