As 21st Century Fox works to sell off a large percentage of its empire to Disney in a $52.4 billion deal, although a $60 billion offer looms from Comcast, the expectation is for Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch to further invest in live content with a focus on sports. That plan came to fruition on Monday as Fox nears an agreement with WWE to air SmackDown Live beginning in October 2019.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the new deal is expected to be a five-year agreement totaling over $1 billion, almost three-times the amount NBCUniversal previously paid for the package. As the WWE agreement is being finalized, Fox’s UFC television package is set to expire at the end of this calendar year. The current contract had Fox paying the UFC $115 million annually.
The Endeavor owned MMA league was reportedly hoping for a new media rights deal in the realm of $400 million per year and they’re close to halfway there after inking $150 million annually from ESPN+. Late last year ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported Fox offered $200 million for a UFC television package, whether or not that included a digital agreement similar to what ESPN+ just received is unknown.
With Fox spending over $200 million a year on SmackDown almost immediately after ESPN+ agreed to a digital deal with the UFC, some view it as Fox replacing their previous UFC television package with WWE coverage. However, last month it was reported ESPN and Fox worked together to enter a joint bid for the UFC rights TV deal and ESPN+ acquiring a digital package could be viewed as part of a larger plan.
The WWE agreement also comes on the heels of Fox’s $3 billion deal for the rights to Thursday Night Football. With Fox clearly putting a premium on live content and sports broadcast deals, there remains a strong possibility the $1 billion spent to acquire WWE’s SmackDown will not deter them from negotiating a new deal with the UFC.