The renewals of WWE Raw and AEW rights are set to become two of the most pivotal stories in professional wrestling in the upcoming year.
Right from the outset, industry experts had speculated about potential suitors for WWE Raw, including NBCU (USA), Disney (FX), Amazon Prime, and WBD. However, it was widely believed that WBD’s affiliation with AEW made them a longshot, with reports circulating that WBD had dropped out of contention as of October.
The signing of CM Punk seems to have breathed new life into the negotiations, as Endeavor’s Mark Shapiro, along with Nick Khan and Paul Levesque, held a meeting with WBD recently. One report suggests that Punk played significant role in the pitch, with the idea of him becoming a regular fixture on the Raw brand. The proposal also included strategies to boost merchandise sales, social media engagement, and recent show ratings.
This turn of events has thrown the situation wide open, significantly affecting AEW, which has been engaged in discussions with WBD on various deals beyond just television rights, including potential streaming options. Additionally, WBD receives a share of AEW’s streaming PPV revenue through Bleacher Report.
Though not officially confirmed, there is speculation that WBD may have ownership stakes in AEW. Tony Khan has never denied this possibility, only stating that he retains 100 percent of the voting and decision-making power.
Unlike WWE’s previous ownership under Vince McMahon, which sought brand exclusivity, it’s unclear if WBD would want two wrestling franchises. The recent UFC contract with ESPN, also negotiated by Endeavor, allowed for competition from rival promotions like PFL, which renewed its deal with ESPN and ESPN+. The CW’s deal for NXT did not demand exclusivity in the wrestling genre. The landscape is shifting, and the wrestling industry is evolving.
Tony Khan has always emphasized his loyalty to WBD, even indicating that he would stick with them in negotiations, even if another entity offered slightly more money. After the acquisition of ROH, he exclusively considered WBD stations for its distribution. However, CW had previously expressed interest in ROH. Khan had the legal ability to sell ROH television rights outside the WBD family but chose not to out of loyalty.
Predicting the outcomes of these negotiations is challenging. SmackDown’s move to USA Network in October was expected, while NXT’s move to CW was a surprise. Levesque’s absence from Raw earlier due to a meeting with another potential suitor suggests serious discussions were taking place.
In the past, similar situations arose in the UFC’s negotiations, with everyone expecting a deal with NBC until it unexpectedly landed with Fox. Vince McMahon’s WWE deal with USA, which considered MMA close enough to pro wrestling, played a role in this shift.
The fate of Raw remains uncertain until the official announcement. Other factors to consider include the channels WWE programming will be on and the show schedules. SmackDown on Friday may not be ideal due to lower viewership on Fridays compared to other days. AEW would also prefer not to compete directly with Raw or SmackDown.
There’s also speculation about moving Raw from Monday, although it’s a long-standing tradition. It often faces challenges during the NFL season.
WBD’s involvement in Raw negotiations is the most intriguing, given its potential repercussions. Initially, it seemed unlikely, but now, it’s a prominent talking point among analysts.
WBD has recently added new show, resulting in a rights increase, and signed an exclusive contract with AEW. They’ve been lenient with live shows running longer, and while not reaching Raw’s numbers, Dynamite consistently ranks high in cable entertainment rankings.
CM Punk’s addition has boosted Raw’s ratings potential, but the long-term impact remains uncertain. WWE aims for a substantial increase in Raw rights fees, while AEW Dynamite offers a cost-effective option for advertisers.
Another key point is that a recent study found that the median income of Dynamite viewers is the highest among all wrestling shows in the United States, making it potentially more valuable to advertisers.
In conclusion, the wrestling industry is currently in a state of flux, with many variables at play. Factors like show schedules and the value of having a top-rated non-sports show in a network’s portfolio must be considered. While WWE seeks a significant increase in Raw rights, AEW Dynamite remains a cost-effective alternative for advertisers.
Regarding rumors of WWE’s deal with Warner Bros. Discovery, it may impact AEW’s future on TNT or TBS. The situation is currently unclear, and only time will reveal the ultimate outcome.
How do you think the negotiations for WWE Raw and AEW rights will ultimately play out, and what potential impact could these deals have on the wrestling industry as a whole? Leave us a comment below.