Originally published at POLLOCK: Jump Ball - The Fight for Pro Wrestling's TV Rights
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JUMP BALL: THE FIGHT FOR PRO WRESTLING’S TV RIGHTS
It is hardly breaking news to state that the next set of domestic television rights is going to have a dramatic effect on the professional wrestling industry.
With WWE’s pending talks and AEW’s soon-to-follow, each company is gearing up for big renewals amidst a foggy landscape in the television industry and a push-and-pull battle between linear television stability and betting on the future of streaming.
The latter opens the bidders to giants like Apple and Amazon. While many will point to the example of Thursday Night Football on Amazon, there is only one franchise like the NFL, and any professional wrestling franchise moving core programming to a streamer comes with the risk of exposure loss, hopefully, offset by so much added revenue that it’s a worthwhile gamble.
Many analysts point to NBC Universal’s desire to hold onto its Monday night programming on the USA Network with WWE Raw, with less surety of Fox’s commitment to Friday Night SmackDown. For USA to lose Raw, it would significantly decrease its prime time average and the guarantee of having one of the top performing cable properties fifty-two weeks per year which is flexing growth at a time when many properties on cable are declining. With an average annual value of $265 million per year for Raw, WWE is going to be aiming high for a significant renewal that keeps WWE in the ‘upper echelon’ of sports rights and avoiding the dreaded ‘middle’ that Nick Khan has repeatedly stated will be squeezed out when push comes to shove for the broadcasters and where they allocate dollars.
This past Monday’s episode of Raw beat everything on cable except the NBA playoffs while posting a 10 percent increase in viewership from the same week in 2022 (also against the NBA playoffs) while also displaying a 22 percent increase in the 18-49 demographic and an astonishing 37 percent in the 18-34 demo, proving that Raw is not only up significantly but also, attracting younger viewers. Those numbers and words are music to the ears of the soon-to-be-named NewCo when setting out to demand a healthy increase.
One of the emerging angles in the WWE’s negotiations is the role that WBD (Warner Bros. Discovery) will play. Several have pointed out this option but the strongest came from reporter and media expert James Andrew Miller, who stated as a fact, he knew WBD has an interest in a slice of the WWE pie. For obvious reasons, makes all the sense that WWE would want as many seats filled at the negotiating table and a cherry on top if one of the options could harm their opposition, AEW.
This sounds like a far cry from reality but would be foolish to dismiss it.
Not to be lost in the discussion was last year’s reporting on the potential of NBC Universal purchasing WBD, which David Zaslav of WBD has denied, but would cause a massive schism in the television universe if such a transaction occurred down the road.
A major cloud over all these talks is the future of the NBA rights, which have two years remaining with its incumbents and will be the most aggressively sought-after rights by every broadcaster that can afford a seat at the table. WBD retaining all or some of the rights, or losing the NBA, directly affects their ability to increase or dial back spending on other properties, which must be front of mind when assessing the value of AEW. On one hand, AEW is making a pittance in comparison to other major sports and its Wednesday night performance of TBS would indicate they are dramatically undervalued. WBD’s willingness to expand the brand throughout its schedule must be confidence-inducing with AEW likely occupying five hours of original programming by June, with the expected debut of a new Saturday night program to join Dynamite and Rampage. The Saturday show has not officially been announced nor has a price tag been attached to it, but AEW going from $45 million in average annual value for its TV rights to $100 million is a game-changer for the nascent company, and still a great value for the audience it attracts.
The loss of the NBA could be an identity crisis for TNT, which has centered itself around the league. On one hand, it would seemingly make AEW more of a necessity to maintain a foothold on its cable lineup but would also open the discussion of what the cable strategy becomes with such a significant loss that the NBA represents.
NBC is another name frequently being spoken of, with regard to getting back into the NBA business and the possibility of games airing on the USA Network, in addition to NBC. It would suggest that both NBC Universal and WBD are going to enter talks with WWE and AEW with the idea of maintaining enough of a war chest to land the big jewel, the NBA.
Finally, there is an emerging trend and it’s one that played out in MMA and the same is happening in professional wrestling. The industry leader is pumping out so much programming that the lesser brands are striving to hold onto any market share with its fanbase unable to devote the hours necessary to support the smaller companies. In MMA, the UFC was roundly critiqued when it moved to Fox in 2012 and essentially became a weekly product that dominated the landscape. Today, they have lapped the competition multiple times over where the distance from UFC to Bellator, PFL, ONE Championship, and Invicta FC is so wide, you cannot even compare them.
In pro wrestling, AEW has not fallen to the level of the latter MMA companies, but it is a giant gap when assessing the revenues of both companies. In this instance, the distribution of content between WWE and AEW has separated them from the rest of the wrestling industry, and long term, it suggests that it’s going to be harder than ever for New Japan, GCW, Stardom, IMPACT, MLW, and others to gain any meaningful foothold and capture mass audience attention.
There are currently seven hours of original programming from WWE just counting Raw, NXT & SmackDown and ignoring its 2-4-hour block on A&E every Sunday, Main Event, Level Up, and a monthly PLE. AEW is producing nearly daily content between Elevation, Dark, Dynamite, ROH, Rampage, the expected Saturday night program, and All Access. This comes as WWE is on a hot swing and you’re hopeful of fans adding a new night of the week to their already bloated diet of weekly professional wrestling.
Since Raw expanded to three hours in 2012, this has been a delicate dance. How much money is worth the inevitable fan burnout from too much product? Yes, cable homes have dramatically decreased in the past decade but the loss of viewership for Raw was certainly accelerated with the addition of the third hour, which no one argues has been positive regarding the intake of a show, the only positive is the financial one and it is key. AEW is playing that game and based on the handling of Rampage nearly two years in, it has struggled to create a must-see, compelling program outside of its Wednesday night flagship show. Saturday will be a big test and is a tough night to attract a weekly audience in prime time, although UFC has proven it can be done.
The landscape continues to suggest a limitation on soaring rights fees but that is a narrative yet to be proven despite annual fears of the bubble bursting.
WWE has doubled down with its recent merger giving them an all-star lineup of negotiators and added muscle from Endeavor. AEW will engage in the most significant business dealings of its future to retain as strong a foothold on its #2 placement and take the company to the next financial stratosphere and cement its future.
Questions to ponder:
– If Fox doesn’t aggressively bid for SmackDown, does this becomes a streaming or linear play for WWE?
– When cable homes are shrinking, what value does WWE place on a network home for SmackDown?
– Would SmackDown be the option on the table for a WBD offer, and how would an exclusivity demand be received on the WBD end?
– How real are the streaming options for any WWE/AEW products?
– The NBA effect on WBD, NBC Universal, and other bidders (including the streamers) when it comes to spending
– How vital NBC Universal views the WWE Network rights, which expire in early 2026
– The potential packaging of WWE and UFC’s streaming rights, which expire around the same time
– Ari Emanuel’s involvement in the above talks
**Stardom will stage the largest show of the company’s twelve-year history this Sunday. Yokohama Arena will host All-Star Dream Queendom, which will air on pay-per-view through the Pia site beginning late Saturday/early Sunday morning at 2 a.m. ET and costs approximately $33 U.S. It is a loaded card with the climax of multiple stories and includes the latest IWGP Women’s title defense by Mercedes Mone in her first match on a proper Stardom card.
*World of Stardom Championship: Giulia © vs. Tam Nakano
*Wonder of Stardom Championship: Saya Kamitani © vs. Mina Shirakawa
*IWGP Women’s Championship: Mercedes Mone © vs. Mayu Iwatani
*Syuri vs. Chihiro Hashimoto
*Artist of Stardom Championship: Risa Sera, Suzu Suzuki & Kurumi Hiragi vs. KAIRI, Natsupoi & Saori Anou
*Goddesses of Stardom Championship: Yuu & Nanae Takahashi © vs. MIRAI & Ami Sohrei
*Himeka vs. Maika
*Starlight Kid & Mei Seira vs. AZM & Mei Suruga
*Thekla, Mariah May, Xena & Jessie vs. Natsuko Tora, Momo Watanabe, Saki Kashima & Ruaka
*Hazuki & Fuwa-chan vs. Miyu Amasaki & Utami Hayashishita
Bruce Lord & Karen Peterson preview Stardom’s pay-per-view event on Sunday:
**WWE stock has another gigantic day with a three percent increase and closing at $109.35. The latest record high places the WWE market cap at $8.14 billion. The stock has grown by approximately $20 per share since the merger was announced earlier this month.
**Friday Night SmackDown is at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio tonight with nearly 8,900 tickets distributed as WWE’s live event business continues to soar. The following matches have been advertised including two title matches:
*No Disqualification: Solo Sikoa vs. Matt Riddle
*Intercontinental Championship: Gunther © vs. Xavier Woods
*Women’s Tag Team Championships: Raquel Rodriguez & Liv Morgan © vs. Chelsea Green & Sonya Deville
*Braun Strowman & Ricochet vs. Viking Raiders
*Rey Mysterio & Braun Strowman vs. Finn Balor & Damian Priest
**Due to the NBA playoffs, AEW Rampage airs on Saturday night at 10 p.m. ET on TNT. The show was taped in Pittsburgh this week with the following scheduled to air:
*Jon Moxley vs. Christopher Daniels
*El Hijo del Vikingo vs. Dralistico
*FTR, Jeff Jarrett & Jay Lethal vs. Tony Nese, Josh Woods, Ari Daivari & Slim J
*Kiera Hogan vs. Julia Hart
*Jade Cargill to appear
*The Hardys, Hook & Isiah Kassidy speak
**Aaron Henare spoke with PWmania.com and noted he has been under contract with New Japan since September 2016:
I’ve been fully contracted since 2016 and September since my debut. So I’m pretty glad that the company’s it’s a bit different to how you do it in the West. If companies are taking a loss, or for example, COVID. They don’t fire people in Japan. It’s like very rare that they fire people because to them is a corporate responsibility for them to take care of everybody that works for them. So you’ve probably seen that nobody in Japan, no wrestlers have lost their job because of the pandemic despite company losses. And I’m pretty grateful for that. But it’s also coming through the system. I was protected in that way because they came through the Dojo. I did the young boy stuff. I do all the hard yards. I’m protected in that regard. But right now I got three more years on my contract, which is pretty good.
Henare also spoke about Jay White leaving New Japan and joining AEW:
I was surprised to be honest. Because he was he’s someone that I mean, he’s a Kiwi boy, people forget because he acts like an American. But he’s someone that I look forward to we actually had a match in 2015. And ever since then, I looked up to him as a dude, as someone leading the way as a Kiwi. So yeah, it was really out of left field that he left and went to AEW, people were talking about, is he going to AEW? Or is he going to WWE? It’s his journey so I can’t really take anything away from his journey. Because what seems good for me, might not be good for him and where he’s at. But I mean, he had accomplished everything in New Japan, where I’ve still got a lot to accomplish in New Japan. But it’s sort of like, I heard the story of why Nakamura left New Japan. And it’s because he had already accomplished everything here, that he was looking for different horizons to try and accomplish things there. And that’s what I see with Jay. I got no hard feelings to him. I respect the sh*t out of him as a Kiwi boy. Did he have more opportunities? Yes. Did he work hard? Yes. It seems like he’s the captain of his ship. So he sails it the way he sees fit just the same way, I’m sailing to see how I see fit.
**GCW is at Center Stage in Atlanta with ‘Into the Light’ streaming at 8 p.m. ET. The FITE+ card will feature El Hijo del Vikingo vs. Komander, Allison Danger vs. Billie Starkz, Speedball Mike Bailey vs. Alex Zayne, Nick Wayne & Jordan Oliver vs. Anthony Henry & JD Drake, Bryan Keith vs. TBA, Jack Cartwheel, Arez & Gringo Loco vs. Effy, Allie Katch & Dark Sheik, Matt Cardona & Steph De Lander vs. Los Macizos, Cole Radrick vs. Shigehiro Irie, and Blake Christian vs. Mike Jackson. It is a very strong card from GCW and the promotion goes to Orlando on Saturday night with Masha Slamovich defending the GCW title against Sawyer Wreck.
**WWE has a live event in Ft. Wayne, Indiana on Saturday and Toledo, Ohio on Sunday. Saturday’s card is advertising Cody Rhodes vs. Solo Sikoa and Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn vs. The Usos. Sunday’s card is advertising Rhodes and Zayn as the top stars on the show.
**Monday’s episode of Raw at the Allstate Arena in Chicago is sold out with over 12,300 tickets out for that show. Bad Bunny will be on the show presumably to shoot an angle for Backlash.
**While it shouldn’t affect talents being drafted next Friday on SmackDown, the first night of the draft coincides with the mini-European tour that runs from April 26-29. WWE is advertising Raw performers Cody Rhodes, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Bianca Belair, Finn Balor, Austin Theory, and Bayley among the talent set for the shows. The four-city tour includes stops in Birmingham & Manchester, England; Belfast, Northern Ireland, and wraps in Paris, France. The crew flies back to the U.S. with Raw taking place in Ft. Worth, Texas on 5/1.
**AJPW’s Champion Carnival continues with tournament matches on Saturday in Niigata and Sunday in Miyagi. The A Block is led by Ryuki Honda (six points) followed by a four-way tie between Cyrus, Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi & T-Hawk (four points), Satoshi Kojima and Yoshitatsu (two points), and Jun Saito has zero points. In B Block, Rei Saito leads the group with six points followed by Suwama, Manabu Soya, Hokuto Omori & Yuma Anzai (four points), Shotaro Ashino & Shuji Ishikawa (two points), and Takao Omori with zero. The Carnival goes for another two weeks with the final on 5/7 at Ota Ward Gymnasium to determine who gets a Triple Crown shot against Yuji Nagata.
**ROH is holding two sets of tapings at Universal Studios in Orlando on Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7. The 5/6 taping is scheduled from 6-10 p.m. ET and the 5/7 taping will be from 4-7 p.m. Over the past few weeks, ROH has been taped on Wednesdays at the location of Dynamite. Tickets for the tapings are set at $20.
**AIW is running its ‘Damn’ event on Saturday night on FITE+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET and includes an appearance by Ron Simmons. The card features Matt Cardona vs. Joshua Bishop for the Absolute Championship, Dominic Garrini taking on Fred Rosser, Steph De Lander against Ziggy Ham, and an Intense Championship match with Derek Dillinger vs. Tom Lawlor vs. Chase Oliver vs. Shaw Mason among the top matches.
**Bill Apter spoke about his relationship with Andy Kaufman on the Haus of Wrestling. Outside of Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Hart, there would not have been a better choice to induct Kaufman into the WWE Hall of Fame than Apter.
**UFC 288 on 5/6 has gained a terrific welterweight fight between Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns, which will be a five-round fight. UFC president Dana White announced the news on Thursday night with the new fight taking the place of Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush, which has been moved to June due to an injury to Oliveira. Burns just fought on 4/8 at UFC 287 where he beat Jorge Masvidal by a unanimous decision and will return one month after that fight and potentially, go five rounds. Muhammad is unbeaten in his last nine fights and has gone through a gauntlet of welterweights with wins against Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson, Vicente Luque, and Sean Brady in his last four contests. Many were critical of the decision to name Colby Covington the next title contender for Leon Edwards when Covington hasn’t fought since March 2022 and Muhammad has such a sterling record. There is also history between Edwards and Muhammad, who fought in March 2021, and the fight was ruled a no-contest after an accidental eye poke by Edwards. The UFC 288 card is headlined by Aljamian Sterling defending the 135-pound title against the returning Henry Cejudo, who retired three years ago.
**The lightweight fight between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush will now take place on 6/10 at UFC 289 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The two were scheduled to fight on 5/6 but an injury to Oliveira forced the former champion off that card. The UFC 289 card will be headlined by a bantamweight title rematch between Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena in the rubber match.
**Bellator has been hit by several weight-cutting issues for Bellator 289 & 290 this weekend in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Three fighters missed weight for Bellator 289 tonight including one of the headliners. DeAnna Bennett missed the flyweight limit at 126.2 pounds and will be unable to win the 125-pound championship when she fights Liz Carmouche tonight. Both Cris Lencioni and Blake Smith missed the featherweight limit for their fight on the prelims with Lencioni weighing 152.4 pounds and Smith at 146.4. Their fight is still scheduled, although both will be fined a percentage o their purses.
Saturday’s card has lost a flyweight fight between Kyoji Horiguchi and Ray Borg due to “weight management issues” affecting Borg. The fight has been removed from the card with a catchweight fight between Yancy Medeiros and Charlie Leary bumped up from the prelims. The main card includes Raufeon Stots taking on Patchy Mix in the finals of the World Bantamweight Grand Prix, Ilima-Lei Macfarlane taking on Kana Watanabe, and the return of Aaron Pico after shoulder surgery as he takes on James Gonzalez in a featherweight fight.
Due to his latest weight-cutting issue, Dominance MMA has dropped Ray Borg. The management group cited Borg’s “unprofessionalism displayed this week” and apologized to Bellator, Kyoji Horiguchi, and American Top Team for the fight is off.
The main card for Bellator 289 is at 10 p.m. ET tonight on Showtime in the U.S. and YouTube in Canada:
*Bellator Flyweight Championship: Liz Carmouche (18-7) vs. DeAnna Bennett (13-7-1) – If Carmouche loses, the title will become vacant
*Tim Johnson (15-9) vs. Said Sowma (8-4)
*Sara McMann (13-6) vs. Arlene Blencowe (15-9)
*Marcos Breno (15-2) vs. Danny Sabatello (13-2)
*Michael Lombardo (13-3) vs. Levan Chokheli (11-2)
**Saturday’s Bellator 290 main card begins at 11 p.m. ET on Showtime & YouTube in Canada.
**The UFC is back at the Apex on Saturday night with a Fight Night event. It is the usual format with a meaningful contender fight in the main event slot and several names mixed throughout the card with minimal stakes attached to the shoulder fights. It is an ESPN+ card beginning at 4 p.m. ET and the main card airing at 7 p.m. The main event sees heavyweights Curtis Blaydes and Sergei Pavlovich meet in a bout that could propel the winner near a future title fight. Pavlovich lost his UFC debut to Alistair Overeem but has since scored five first-round stoppages including recent wins over Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa. Pavlovich has gone 25 minutes in the past, but his longest fight in the UFC is only 4:21 (which was the Overeem loss). Blaydes has won seven of his previous eight fights and without Francis Ngannou occupying the UFC heavyweight division, Blaydes is probably the most interesting style for Jon Jones. Blaydes last fought in July but that fight lasted 15 seconds when Tom Aspinall injured his knee, so his last real fight was in March 2022 when he beat Chris Daukaus in the second round. The only two losses of Blaydes’ career have come against Ngannou and Derrick Lewis.
The heavyweight division is waiting on the pending announcement for Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic, which doesn’t have a date and will force the winner of this fight to wait unless a deal can’t be struck with Miocic and someone leapfrogs to fight Jones.
MAIN CARD (7 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
*Sergei Pavlovich (17-1) vs. Curtis Blaydes (17-3, 1 NC)
*Brad Tavares (19-7) vs. Bruno Silva (13-5-2)
*Bobby Green (29-14-1) vs. Jared Gordon (19-6)
*Iasmin Lucindo (13-5) vs. Brogan Walker (7-3)
*Jeremiah Wells (11-2-1) vs. Matthew Semelsberger (11-4)
PRELIMINARY CARD (4 p.m. ET on ESPN+)
*Ricky Glenn (22-6-2) vs. Christos Giagos (19-10)
*Rani Yahya (28-10-1) vs. Montel Jackson (12-2)
*Karol Rosa (16-4) vs. Norma Dumont (8-2)
*Mohammed Usman (8-2) vs. Junior Tafa (4-0)
*William Gomis (8-2) vs. Francis Marshall (7-0)
*Karine Silva (14-4) vs. Priscila Cachoeira (12-4)
*Danaa Batgerel (10-4) vs. Brady Hiestand (6-2)
REWIND-A-WAI #129: All Wheels Wrestling
John Pollock & Wai Ting review All Wheels Wrestling, a motorsports-themed pro wrestling pilot produced by TNA Wrestling and pitched to Speed Channel in 2011.
THE WELLNESS POLICY: Mental Health in Pro Wrestling
Wai Ting, Jordan Goodman and Neal Flanagan are joined by Carl Martin, licensed therapist and active professional wrestling manager, to talk about mental health care and culture in wrestling.
John Pollock & Wai Ting review AEW Dynamite with the announcement of a “Four Pillars” Tournament, Powerhouse Hobbs defending the TNT title against Wardlow, Dr. Britt Baker returning to Pittsburgh, and an appearance by The Elite.
John & Wai’s WWE Raw Review: The Bloodline & Judgment Day strike a deal, Trish Stratus explains, and Brock Lesnar answers Cody Rhodes challenge.
IMPACT REBELLION 2023 POST SHOW
John Pollock & John Siino review IMPACT Rebellion with Deonna Purrazzo winning the Knockouts Championship, and Steve Maclin is the new IMPACT champion.
This week on Wrestlenomics: Nick Khan’s interview on LightShed Live talking WWE’s merger with UFC, media rights, talent pay; and more.
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