WWE Smackdown rights taken by NBCU, Raw goes to open market

WWE announced Thursday morning a new five-year U.S. TV deal with NBCUniversal that will return Smackdown to USA Network beginning October 2024. But now it’s unclear where Raw will end up.

This means Smackdown will leave Fox about a year from now.

The new deal is worth $287 million per year, according to CNBC, which is a 1.4x increase over the current deal with Fox, valued at $205 million annually.

Broadcast rights to Raw, which currently airs on the USA Network, is going to the open market, WWE confirmed to Wrestlenomics.

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported that NBCU is still in talks to renew Raw. The rights to NXT on USA Network expire at the same time as Raw, in the fall of 2024.

The Hollywood Reporter seemed to contradict SBJ’s report, though, writing:

While the new deal will bring WWE to NBC primetime and SmackDown to USA on Friday nights, it will also mean the end of Raw and NXT on USA.

A source familiar with the Raw discussions tell The Hollywood Reporter that the market for the program is “extremely active,” with traditional linear networks, streaming services and “unexpected players” all interested.

Possible bidders for Raw, besides NBCU, include Amazon and Disney. “Unexpected players” could potentially include The CW, which aired Smackdown from 2006 to 2008, an idea floated by Jimmy Traina of Sports Illustrated.

The new deal was a disappointment to shareholders. TKO stock fell by more than ten percent on the day. As recently as last month, Morgan Stanley was estimating a base case of 1.5x for WWE’s rights renewal, a bull case of 2x, and a bear case of 1.35x, so the news of Smackdown getting a 1.4x deal, even though it’s a 40% increase in fees, sent the newly-merged WWE-UFC stock tumbling.

“We are excited to extend this longstanding relationship by bringing SmackDown to USA Network on Friday nights,” WWE President Nick Khan said in a joint press release from WWE and NBCU, indicating the show will continue airing on Friday nights when it moves to USA.

As part of the new deal for Smackdown, there will be four primetime specials each year that will air on NBC.

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

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