Fightful Select (subscription required) has now provided full details on the relationship WWE and FOX.
Fightful is reporting that a FOX source has admitted that the WWE viewership was disappointing compared to expectations, but quickly noted that it was hard to gauge where the numbers would level out after the pandemic, and that it was impossible to predict what happened in 2020 when the initial deal was made. While the numbers were disappointing, both WWE and FOX noted that SmackDown was still the most watched wrestling show in the world.
One source at FOX said that the company was not happy promoting another company’s streaming service, with WWE’s pay-per-views airing on Peacock, but both WWE and FOX sources have stated that there is not an issue.
Fox and WWE pointed to the fact that WWE names were heavily featured on FOX, FOX Sports and other broadcasts to build up SummerSlam, which are prime programming real estate spots for Fox. One WWE source noted that if there were names at FOX that wanted pay-per-view content, they could have paid the premium that Peacock did for it.
The same FOX source that spoke with Fightful about the viewership numbers said that hearing that Rupert Murdoch, FOX owner, is likely to be portrayed in a less-than-flattering way in an upcoming scripted Vince McMahon series was a “childish move” that won’t help the relationship at all. Murdoch personally met with Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and other execs in May 2018 that USA Network was embarrassed and ashamed of their programming and that Fox would welcome them as they were. However, they since told Fightful of at least one direct conversation that Vince McMahon had with Rupert Murdoch in recent months, where that subject wasn’t said to be broached. Those asked in WWE said that concern hasn’t been raised to them, and that the relationship between the two families is one of “great respect.”
Multiple times over the last several months, those that Fightful were in contact with would request a hold on the story so that the situation could be evaluated after particularly big moments. Those ended up being the returns of John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch respectively. The contacts at FOX said that they felt WWE made the effort to go above and beyond to stack that roster since fans returned to live events.
WWE and FOX have also had several high-level meetings in the past few months. Fightful learned that the night before Summerslam, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and President Nick Khan had a meeting with Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks and head of production Brad Zager. Fightful was told that a dinner between the two sides at the Wynn in Las Vegas lasted around four hours, and said to be productive from the WWE end.
Vince McMahon and Nick Khan also decided on another move to further appease FOX. There was an episode of Raw that had been discussed for the Staples Center in Los Angeles. With FOX Sports being a Los Angeles based company, Khan and McMahon quickly killed the idea, and made the decision to instead have the first show in LA be an episode of Smackdown broadcast on the FOX Network, slated for December 10, which is likely to be announced shortly.