On the latest edition of Wrestlenomics Radio, Brandon Thurston sat down with former Wrestlenomics host and AEW SVP “Mookie” Chris Harrington to talk about the wrestling business today.
As noted in many past editions of Wrestlenomics Radio and on this website, wider TV viewership has been down over the past several years. However, TV and media rights values continue to increase, with WWE and AEW signing big deals with top networks. AEW’s growing popularity suggests they may sign a stronger deal when their current agreement is renegotiated. But would this have any bearing on WWE’s TV rights deals? Harrington gave his insight.
“Definitely being able to say, ‘Hey, AEW would not have gotten into this business if we didn’t see the rights that WWE was commanding’ and be able to say, ‘Oh, there’s some investment going on here, and there’s still probably an opportunity for more players in this marketplace, and there’s money that can be spent, and we will be an economical and we believe creatively viable choice, alternative, investment, whatever, to also join this,’ so that was important to us,” Harrington explained. “When you’re talking about ‘what what should I worry about,’ just like what we were talking about earlier, NFT’s wasn’t a thing three years ago, but they’re a thing now.
“So you’ve got to be thinking a lot about revenue streams. Maybe it’s media rights but media rights is a very particular bucket because you could also say it’s TV advertising, and that’s different than media rights. It could be about OTT money, it could be about SVOD, or AVOD, or getting involved in FAST.
“And not just media revenue but just the idea that, ‘Yes, right now, it’s networks paying a lot of money for the rights for a dealer, or Peacock or someone paying the rights for a library, along with special events. We’re still in the pay-per-view business. I work very hard on the pay-per-view side, and that’s the four events we’re doing a year.
“We just had our most successful event ever (All Out), that’s no secret. I’m monetizing this content in a very discrete way, at a very discrete time and maybe that’s what the future is like but maybe there’s some other way that you have that financial transaction so that you can still get value from that event, but it’s in some other way.”
The re-negotiation period for WWE and AEW is expected to be around 2023. Thurston asked Harrington why would a TV network executive pay a certain amount for WWE Raw and SmackDown compared to AEW Dynamite and Rampage’s performance.
“I have no idea. I never worked for a TV network,” Harrington noted.
“You talk to them,” Thurston pointed out.
“I do, but I talk to them from my side,” Harrington said. “I don’t know how they think about it on their side. I don’t know how they position their choices. Do they really say, ‘Oh, I’m deciding whether or not to buy this wrestling show or that wrestling show?’ I would say more they’re deciding ‘what do I program? What does that audience that program bring? How much does it cost for us to be involved with this?
“Next year, AEW Dynamite will move to TBS and AEW Rampage will stay on TNT, that’s because when you think of your slate of times, when you plant a flag to say, this show’s gonna be on at this time, 52 weeks a year, that’s a big investment from a programming standpoint, and I don’t think that anyone says, ‘Oh, I’m choosing my wrestling program to put on here.’ They’re just choosing what are they going to program in a steady slot for these periods of time, and so for instance, WarnerMedia made an investment in hockey rights.
“They’d made the choice to bring in hockey rights as part of what they think they want to put on their programming, but that means they have to be very careful then about what they’re thinking is their portfolio. A lot of times it’s not so much, ‘Hey, I want wrestling. I don’t want wrestling,’ as much as what does this [wrestling program] look like compared to everything else that I’m doing, and what’s [the network’s] vision?
“When MTV plays Ridiculousness, for 23 hours a day, there’s a vision there. There’s a reason they’re doing that, but also, the one hour that they’re not playing that, you don’t expect them to put on Oprah. It’s got to be in line with what the rest of the network is doing and what they carve that to be.”
Excerpts from Wrestlenomics Radio were edited for clarity.
Photo by All Elite Wrestling.
Jason Ounpraseuth has covered pro wrestling since 2019. He co-hosts the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast.
Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also an independent pro wrestler and trainer. For more, see our About page.
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