If you didn’t get a chance to read last week’s debut of The Cool Check In, we put it up in narrated form in the free Fight Game Media Network podcast feed. You can listen below.
This week was a heavy week for WWE business. On Thursday, they announced talent cuts on top of WWE office cuts last week. They also announced a new home for WWE SmackDown, which on the face, is a step down from their old home.
WWE SmackDown heads back to the USA Network
Nick Khan had previously stated that he expected WWE’s right’s fees to be 1.5X of their last deal. Mark Shapiro took a slight step back on Matt Belloni’s podcast by saying they expected 1.4-1.5X. With SmackDown’s new deal with USA, it’s about 1.4X and the market reacted negatively. Now, they could still get to 1.5X if there’s a major increase in right’s fees for WWE RAW.
Seeing as major sports are trying to get back to broadcast television rather than solely relying on cable these days because of cord cutting, I was probably a little too hopeful that if SmackDown moved, it would be to somewhere that had just as many eyeballs, such as ABC or NBC proper. But that was probably a bit of a pipe dream for the same reason that FOX didn’t re-up them; pro wrestling doesn’t make enough money in ad rates. On cable, it’s less of an issue, but at the same time, SmackDown just cut their possible eyeballs in half and who knows, it may be even worse this time next year when the switch happens.
I also think the NBC prime time live specials aren’t that big of a deal simply because there’s so much wrestling on television these days. Saturday Night’s Main Event stopped being a big deal when all the best matches and angles were on RAW. Same with Clash of the Champions and WCW Nitro. They may be able to call in the big guns for prime time specials, such as The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin, or any possible celebrities that they’re currently working with, but it can’t mean too much considering they were just on broadcast television in prime time for SmackDown’s last run. And we saw what those numbers were when they called in the big guns. Good, but not college football or NFL good.
There is some intrigue in the day of the week USA plans to run SmackDown. Friday night his a bad night for television in general and especially on cable for as much money as NBC Universal is paying for SmackDown. If RAW stays on Monday wherever it goes, SmackDown would be limited to Tuesday through Thursday. Tuesday might be the overall best bet for eyeballs. You could always move NXT to Thursday. But would WWE attempt to cut AEW’s legs off again by moving SmackDown to Wednesday? AEW could always move themselves. But is NBC willing to take a rating’s hit just to fight WWE’s war? I would hope not.
By the way, if it sounds like I’m against cable, that’s not it at all. It’s just not the type of deal most expected and feels like a step backward. But there’s another interesting caveat to this that I’ve only seen Ben Thompson from Stratechery bring up. In a recent newsletter, when discussing MAX’s new B/R Sports tier, he wrote:
Keep in mind that the real moneymaker for Fox is retransmission fees (for Fox) and affiliate fees (primarily for Fox News); retransmission fees don’t exist if viewers use an antenna, and Fox News is the epitome of a channel that captures affiliate fees from the entire bundle base because its fans will change their TV service to get it. Of course Charter just showed the increased fragility of that strategy, but the broader point is that keeping the bundle viable is still Fox’s number one priority; if ESPN isn’t going to lend a hand then it may fall on Murdoch to make a big sports deal that doesn’t make sense individually but is good for the company as a whole, just like his father did with the NFL thirty years ago.
ESPN makes the most money from cable affiliates per subscriber, but Fox is second with Fox News. If Fox couldn’t keep WWE themselves, having them go back fully on cable improves the cable bundle which Fox benefits from greatly. Maybe that was part of Fox’s calculus in not keeping WWE.
(Thompson was talking about Lachlan Murdoch going after NBA rights in the reference above.)
Lastly, this was from Lucas Shaw’s Screentime newsletter:
WWE sells three packages at the moment: Raw, SmackDown and streaming. Raw is seen as the strongest of the bunch, and Comcast has decided to drop Raw for SmackDown. Fox, which had SmackDown, appears to be stepping away from WWE.
TKO is controlled by the big talent agency Endeavor Group, whose shares also retreated. But Endeavor isn’t worried. Management believes there are plenty of buyers for Raw, including Disney, Amazon, Warner Bros. Discovery and maybe even Comcast or Paramount.
My guess is that RAW and NXT are being sold or bundled together. But the fact that Warner Bros. Discovery is still listed among possible buyers has to be at least a little frustrating for AEW and Tony Khan.
Julia Hart’s character is intriguing
House of Black isn’t doing much now that they don’t have the trios titles anymore. Well, except for Julia Hart. She has a match on Sunday against TBS Champion Kris Statlander at the first ever WrestleDream.
With some foresight, Hart should’ve had this title shot more toward the end of the year, rather than this weekend. She has a lot of things going for her right now; her presence finally feels special and her mannerisms are patient, yet forceful and meaningful. But when she gets in the ring with Statlander, my fear is that everything she’s doing well right now kind of goes out the window. Statlander’s style doesn’t necessarily bode well for the current slow style Hart wrestles.
But also, Hart shouldn’t just be another number. Her character is still in the early stages and based off how improved it is, it should be cared for, not fed to the champ right now. She should be wrestling every Wednesday against a babyface who is beneath her and winning in deliberate fashion. Then, when she faces the champ, there’s some intrigue that she might have a chance to win. Some hardcore AEW fans might have an issue with that statement and say she hasn’t lost in a long time and the announcers are actually bringing this up now. What I’d say back is that they weren’t actively pushing her until now. Her previous wins were kind of meaningless to the big picture. She should’ve been wrestling on Dynamite weekly if the goal was for her to get this title shot.
While Toni Storm, Britt Baker, and the Outcasts are set near the top of the card, my eyes are on what Hart can do to take it to the next level.
Rampage is watchable?
I’ll be honest here and say that I didn’t mind when AEW Rampage was skippable because it just meant one less hour of wrestling for me to pay attention to. It’s weird because I watch wrestling now so differently than when I was younger. I see almost everything as a piece of content that I have to absorb, comprehend, and have an opinion about in a very small time frame. I would consider it similar to a beat writer for a specific sport who might be writing his or her story while the game is still going on. That person isn’t necessarily watching the game for enjoyment. They’re watching it for perspective and to form an opinion.
And when Rampage was pretty much just enhancement matches with no real connection to AEW Dynamite, I wouldn’t even bother because I didn’t need to have an opinion about it. But that might be changing.
For the last two weeks, it seems that Rampage now has some connective tissue to both AEW Dynamite and AEW Collision. I think it’s better for the overall company to have three shows that are meaningful to the audience when it comes to stories. However, the idea that five hours of first run TV is must-watch is intimidating. Some liked the fact that Rampage was kind of on its own island because if they missed it, no biggie. Now, if you miss it, you may miss something.
If it helps the continuity of the shows and helps set up meaningful stipulations for matches, I’m all for having Rampage back to being a meaningful and watchable show.