Magazine article Variety

WWE Goes to the Mat over New Rights Pacts

Magazine article Variety

WWE Goes to the Mat over New Rights Pacts

Article excerpt

A 'RAW* DEAL?

Prolific wrestling brand aims to make a sports-league-sized splash by shopping all its shows at once

If USA Network wants to retain its biggest hit, "Monday Night Raw," it's gonna have to pay.

Next month, for the first time, WWE will shop the rights to "Raw" and all of its other shows at the same time. Its weekly series include Syfy's "Friday Night SmackDown," "Main Event" on ION Television, the GW's "Saturday Morning Slam" and reality show "Total Divas" on E!

The goal is to significantly increase the $139.5 million in TV licensing fees that WWE earns each year for its shows, and attempt to get closer to the kind of rich network deals that sports organizations like the NBA, NHL and NASCAR, as well as soccer, command.

In the past, deals for WWE's series were brokered individually on a staggered timeline, usually every three to four years or so. But WWE has spent nearly two years quietly lining up rights to expire simultaneously in an effort to secure higher fees and appease shareholders who have grown increasingly frustrated that the company's TV deals are not worth more at a time when live "event" programming is more valuable than ever.

By offering up all its shows at once, "We're letting the marketplace determine if it's interested in all or pieces," says Michelle Wilson, WWE's chief revenue and marketing officer. The company also is tackling a self-inflicted perception problem. For years, it's touted its over-the-top characters and soap opera storylines ahead of the live aspect of the year-round action in the ring.

"We've had to evolve our thinking," Wilson says. "We are clearly entertainment-based, but if you think about the characteristics of our brand, it's live action, and that's sports. We want to be compensated for a live audience, since live content is getting a very significant premium in the marketplace."

The company cites NASCAR's impressive dealmaking this summer as an example: The racing league secured a new 10-year deal with NBC and Fox worth $820 million a year. WWE argues that "Raw" and "SmackDown" alone are just as attractive, with a rabid fanbase that's helped build networks, and its series are diverse in ethnicity and age.

Combined, the shows air 156 episodes a year that average a 2.2 household rating. NASCAR airs 154 races and averages a 1.38 household rating among viewers, who are 92% white and over 50. WWE's audience is far more diverse and broken out fairly evenly among age groups. …

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