Just days after reports swirled that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was looking for a new home for SmackDown, Fox is closing a huge deal worth $1 billion over five years, to bring the weekly wrestling series to the network. The new deal is reportedly "nearing completion," which will pay the WWE reportedly $205 million a year, three times more than what NBCUniversal is paying WWE to air SmackDown on its current home, the USA Network. Fox is expected to start airing new episodes of SmackDown in October 2019 on Friday nights, likely occupying the same 8 PM to 10 PM time slot it currently occupies on Tuesday nights on USA.
The potential move of SmackDown away from the USA Network and NBCUniversal surfaced on Thursday, when it was revealed that NBCUniversal is now focusing its efforts on retaining the other major weekly series, WWE Raw. Since both shows' deals are up soon, NBCUniversal decided to commit to retaining Raw, with the deal expected to close at roughly three times more than Raw's current value. The initial report from Thursday mentioned Fox as a speculated home for SmackDown, and now it seems to have come to fruition.
Sources claim that the WWE actually received an offer that was higher than what Fox was offering, from an unspecified party, and there was an "enthusiastic response" to SmackDown being shopped around by other parties. The WWE reportedly chose Fox because executives embraced Fox's commitment to promote SmackDown throughout its sports programming, which includes Major League Baseball and NFL games. Fox is already paying a whopping $1 billion per year for their NFL Sunday package that runs through 2022, and they recently shelled out $3 billion for five seasons of Thursday Night Football as well.
WWE launched SmackDown brand in April 1999, first debuting on UPN, until the network's merger with The WB, with SmackDown airing on The CW starting in 2006. The wrestling program then switched to MyNetworkTV in September 2008, before NBCUniversal picked up the SmackDown rights in 2010. The series moved to the SyFy network from 2010 to 2015, before moving to its current home on the USA Network, which has aired both Raw and SmackDown on the same network since early 2016.
A few months later in May 2016, it was announced that SmackDown would air live each week, although it remains unclear if Fox will air SmackDown episodes live on Friday nights, but it seems likely. This year, SmackDown has been averaging roughly 2.59 million viewers a week, just below the 3 million viewers that Raw pulls in on average each week. Bringing SmackDown to a major network will certainly help broaden awareness, and it will be interesting to see if this deal has any impact on Fox renewing its pact with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), whose deal with Fox also expires at the end of this year. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news on this massive deal earlier today.