With Rousey At The Helm, FOX Eyeing Replacing UFC With The WWE

It’s no secret, the UFC’s deal with FOX is up at the end of this year, and as of late, they’ve failed to live up to expectations in the ratings department.

On the other side, WWE’s T.V. staple of Monday Night Raw, garners an average of 3 Million viewers per week, far more than the UFC’s average on a network that reaches far less homes.

The WWE’s network deal with USA is all due for a renewal, and according to reports FOX is interested.

Sportingnews.com breaks it down:

Picture new World Wrestling Entertainment star Rowdy Ronda Rousey strutting her stuff on Fox Broadcasting’s version of “Monday Night Raw.” It’s a distinct possibility with Fox Sports preparing a major push to take WWE TV rights away from USA Network, sources tell Sporting News.

The carrot? Fox is dangling the opportunity to air “WWE Raw” on the Fox broadcast channel, with Tuesday night “SmackDown Live” going to its FS1 sports cable channel.

Fox is on a roll, having recently won the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” TV rights. The offer to potentially put the WWE’s flagship show on a broadcast network seen in 115 million U.S. homes could be very appealing to both companies.

“Raw” consistently draws over three million average viewers. It would form a nice one-two punch on Fox with “Thursday Night Football,” which averaged 14 million viewers in 2017.

WWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Raw” in January. The three-hour show has aired on NBCUniversal’s USA Network since 2005. With the WWE’s exclusive negotiating period with USA set to expire this spring, Fox is waiting in the wings.

WWE spokeswoman Annie Kruger declined to comment about Fox and the USA Network except to say the company plans to announce its U.S. TV partner between May and September of this year. WWE’s contract with USA officially expires Sept. 30, 2019.

The big question: what happens to Fox’s TV deal with the UFC, which expires this year. If Fox lands WWE, look for the network to likely end its relationship with the UFC, said sources.

“[Fox] is definitely trying to get [the WWE]. They’ll pass on UFC, then use ‘Raw’ for [Fox Broadcasting] and FS1 content,” said a source.

Both the WWE and UFC are seeking up to $400 million a year for their TV rights. But Fox is more likely to fork over that kind of money for WWE than for UFC said sources. Fox currently pays around $120 million a year for UFC TV rights.

The UFC met with ESPN, Turner Sports, CBS and NBC last year to try to drum up interest, according to John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal. But none seemed interested in paying the $450 million annual average sought by Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel, who represents the UFC in TV negotiations.

Fox recently put an offer of $200 million annually on the table, according to SBJ. With Amazon picking up rights to UFC pay-per-view events, UFC might get more money from various tech giants that are taking more steps into sports programming.

Meanwhile, talent from Fox and WWE are publicly pawing at each other.

Fox’s Colin Cowherd has been contemptuous of pro wrestling for years, deriding WWE fans as “booger eaters.” But Cowherd is also the most plugged-in with the thinking of Fox bosses. What do you know? Cowherd has had a change of heart about WWE.

The host of “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” proudly tweeted a picture of himself attending “SmackDown Live” at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Tuesday night. The WWE gave Cowherd the VIP treatment, seating him in the front row. WWE standout John Cena even came over to kibitz with Cowherd and other VIPs. Cowherd gushed about “SmackDown” on his show Wednesday.

“It was like a Van Halen concert in the ’80s,” Cowherd said. “Lot of fireworks, lot of noise, lot of performers, lot of crazy fans. It was a lot of fun.”

Cowherd had company from Fox at “SmackDown.” Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated tweeted Fox Sports chief Eric Shanks and producer Jacob Ullman also were in attendance at “SmackDown.”

When a professional weathervane like Cowherd pulls a U-turn it’s significant, say sources. The countdown is on. Fox could be the next home of the WWE.