In a recent shake-up, WWE's "SmackDown" is leaving FOX to return to the USA Network, just as WWE begins to renegotiate its media rights with the latter for its remaining portfolio of shows. This move has ignited questions about whether the skyrocketing media rights fees that wrestling promotions have enjoyed are beginning to wane.
Writing in the latest issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer dissects the growing complexities in the TV rights landscape for wrestling, particularly WWE and AEW. As the costs for broadcasting major sports leagues like the NBA, NASCAR, and NCAA continue to climb, Meltzer argues that there may be less financial room for wrestling programs.
The NCAA Pac-12, for example, recently lost its attractiveness to ESPN+ and Amazon, after demanding a prohibitive asking price for its programming.
Budget Battle Ahead
Meltzer observes that wrestling could stand to benefit if networks lose or decide not to renew their deals with major leagues like NASCAR and the NBA.
This could potentially free up substantial budgets for wrestling shows. Interestingly, AEW’s upcoming media rights negotiations are closely tied to the NBA's financial expectations. Both are set to enter into discussions with Warner Bros Discovery, their parent network, around the same time.
Meltzer further points out that WWE's "SmackDown" carries more weight for the USA Network than AEW does for Warner Bros Discovery (WBD). While AEW's programming doesn't significantly influence TNT and TBS distribution fees, the USA Network is relying on the reacquisition of "SmackDown" to considerably bolster its own distribution revenue.
However, WBD continues to generate a steady flow of pay-per-view (PPV) business with AEW, and there are reports that WBD is encouraging AEW to increase its annual PPV offerings. As wrestling promotions like WWE and AEW vie for a piece of the ever-shrinking media rights pie, one thing is certain: the future of wrestling on television is tied to larger sports economics.
The next round of negotiations could shape not only wrestling's place in the sports landscape but also its overall financial health.