Disney, ESPN Interested In Airing Weekly WWE Show

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Last week, we explored the value of WWE as a television property, and how its weekly national ratings routinely top the NBA.

WWE’s deals with Comcast (which airs Raw on USA Network) and Fox expire in October 2024. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Apple project to be among the other bidders. As does Disney.

ESPN President of Content Burke Magnus told The Athletic this week that Disney/ESPN is interested in a broadcast deal with WWE:

“I think it continues to be — I guess from a glass half-full perspective, I’d say I believe our companies — and this changed a couple of years ago, so this is not breaking news but I believe our point of view towards WWE as a potential distribution outlet for their events, I think we passed that a long time ago and I think we’re now in the bucket of, hey, if their rights are available and there’s a deal for us that works and a deal for them that works with us, I think it’s certainly a possibility.”

Keep in mind, WWE is in the process of merging with UFC to create a combat sports division under parent company Endeavor Group Holdings Inc. UFC already has a deal with Disney to exclusively broadcast the brand across ESPN, ABC, and ESPN+.

UFC has proven valuable to Disney, particularly by driving subscribers to ESPN+. While Endeavor plans to negotiate the rights deals for UFC and WWE separately, it could behoove the company to ink both brands to the same partner, specifically by way of cross-pollination.

That said, a deal will Disney wouldn’t necessarily mean the introduction of WWE on ESPN. A report from the New York Post earlier this summer detailed how Disney may instead air WWE on FX.

Images courtesy of Getty.

WWE Already Has A Home

For Disney to add WWE programming to one of its streaming services, Hulu or Disney+, it would have to wrest away control from Comcast’s Peacock.

Currently, Peacock exclusively streams all WWE premium live events (PLEs), like WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and the Royal Rumble. And we suspect Comcast to bid aggressively to keep WWE there, as its monthly airings on Peacock are one of the service’s few selling points in the combative fight for streaming superiority.

More likely, a deal with Disney would see WWE shift its Friday night property, SmackDown, away from Fox.

Raw is more important to Comcast than SmackDown is to Fox. Raw is the only product that keeps USA Network competitive amongst cable channels.

To Disney, SmackDown would suffice. It is no longer the B-show, where only secondary stars compete.

SmackDown has averaged an impressive 2.2 million so far this year despite airing on Fridays, a historically poor night for television viewing. Therefore, Disney could keep SmackDown on Friday nights or move it to another.

A deal for SmackDown may cost around $300 million a year, a $100 million increase. While a hefty fee, such a figure would still be a bargain.

WWE programming frequently ranks atop cable, does not feature an offseason, and outrates nearly all non-football sports properties.

For those reasons, a deal between WWE and Disney is, as Magnus says, a real possibility.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics..

Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.

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