WWE's 'SmackDown Live' to leap from USA Network to Fox Sports

WWE's 'SmackDown Live' to leap from USA Network to Fox Sports; International expansion and mainstream respect and recognition continues to climb - 26th June 2018


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A young Vince McMahon in the production area. Circa 1984. Credit: WWE

by Greg Tingle

"WWE Smackdown Live" is to find a new home, with the longtime USA Network wrestling series planning a leap to Rupert Murdoch's Fox in 2019.

Fox Tuesday announced a five-year deal with WWE, the huge sports entertainment powerhouse, for "SmackDown" as a weekly, two-hour live event that will run 52 weeks a year starting Oct. 4, 2019.

"SmackDown," which has been running for nearly 20 years, has called USA Network home since 2016. The jump to Fox will give the program a larger broadcast television home and result in a huge win - win - win for all concerned. USA will continue to broadcast WWE's flagship "RAW," which premiered on the cable network in 1993. For 2018, "Raw" is averaging 3.6 million viewers, while "Smackdown" has been drawing 2.9 million.

Many insiders expect that the 'SmackDown' move to FOX will boost its ratings, but also its mainstream recognition, as well as fit into the WWE"s continued global expansion which includes more mega events in not only its native United States, but also Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. The WWE will broadcast live from Melbourne, Australia on October 6 at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The "SmackDown" deal is part of Fox network restructuring in anticipation of splitting off from most of 21st Century Fox, which Disney and Comcast each are seeking to acquire. One of the focuses of the new Fox is on sports, including a "Thursday Night Football" deal. "SmackDown" also would appeal to male viewers, making it a good fit with some other shows, including the recently revived Tim Allen comedy, "Last Man Standing." WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has also commenced a marketing and media campaign for his XFL football league in 2020, and it would be expected that McMahon would pitch FOX on this project also, if he hasn't already.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon sees synergy, calling the partnership "the perfect match," in a statement. “Moving 'SmackDown Live' to broadcast TV and having the ability to leverage Fox’s extensive portfolio of world-class sporting events will expand the reach of our flagship programming.”

Fox Sports president Eric Shanks lauded the deal in a statement: “We are huge fans and know that together Fox Sports will be the leader in live events for the foreseeable future.”

At this stage it appears that together the WWE and Fox partnership will be looking to put lay the SmackDown on any potential competition.

Dwyane 'The Rock' Johnson has often used the world 'SmackDown' in his pro wrestling promotions. Other WWE Superstars that have appeared on SmackDown over the years include John Cena, Undertaker, Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Bella Twins and the semi-retired Hulk Hogan, who millions of fans have been lobbying to see return to an on camera role in the WWE.

The WWE, not content to rest on their laurels, has been recruiting new talent on a frequent basis, not only from its feeder system, WWE NXT, but also from WWE tryouts in America including colleagues. Recently making contact and quite the impression with WWE was Jacob Kasper, an NCAA All-American. Recruiting is sometimes referred to as "raiding" when done in the context of signing wrestlers from wrestling promotions such as New Japan-Pro Wrestling, however the reality is these days in the current era, its usually a harmonious and very positive occurrence when the WWE comes a knocking looking to find it's Next Big Thing, as they did with pro wrestling - MMA fighter Brock Lesnar back in 2000, eventually appearing on the WWE's main roster in 2002. Industry buzz is that WWE remains keen on New Japan's Kenny Omega as well as 'The Young Bucks', and a formal offer of a WWE contract is expected to be made next year, giving their talent to ride out their contractual commitments to New Japan. Omega and his New Japan associates recently battled WWE's 'New Day' at at E3 Expo playing the iconic Street Fighter video game.

Something tell us that that jump across to Fox will make WWE an even more appealing place for sports entertainers (wrestlers) to make their careers, and the WWE brand should enjoy a stellar boost in business.

Verdict: WWE 'SmackDown' is best for business, as Triple H and his wife, Stephanie McMahon, would say. WWE head honcho Vince McMahon and others were also pleased that Rupert's Fox has shown such strong respect for their unique form of entertainment and wrestling fans across the global have reacted positively to the news, which is a major business and entertainment world development. WWE often talks about "putting smiles on people's faces". Certainly at present many within the WWE and Fox family have big smiles on their faces, and all parties should be grinning for a long time to come. In wrestling business terms, WrestleMania has come early for for the WWE executives and their loyal fans.

Bruno Sammartino. Long time WWWF Champion in centre. The WWE has come along way since the days of "smoke filled arenas", as Vince McMahon put it.


Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. The hottest start in Hollywood, credits much of his success to the WWE.