Beginning October 4, 2019, Fox will air a weekly, two-hour, live event 52 weeks a year.
Sources familiar with the talks said USA had the contractual right of first refusal for both nights of wrestling. SmackDown had been airing on the network only since January 2016, so it proved more appealing to focus on Raw as a single night. Both franchises remain durable in the ratings, despite all of the headwinds for programming of late, with Raw averaging 3.56 million live-plus-seven-day total viewers and SmackDown 2.89 million.
SmackDown‘s move, which was signaled a few weeks ago, fills an important gap for Fox. The broadcast network will remain behind as a building block of “New Fox” after the remaining 21st Century Fox assets are sold to either Disney or Comcast. Without a pipeline of programming from Twentieth Television, the network intends to focus on live events and sports. Earlier this year it acquired multi-year rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games for similar strategic reasons.
“We are thrilled to welcome WWE to the Fox Sports family and bring SmackDown Live to broadcast television,” said Eric Shanks, President, COO and Executive Producer of Fox Sports. “We are huge fans and know that together Fox Sports will be the leader in live events for the foreseeable future.”
Vince McMahon, WWE Chairman & CEO, called the circuit and Fox “a perfect match” and said the shift of SmackDown from cable to broadcast after nearly 20 years on the air would help expand its reach. He said Raw has been “synonymous with USA Network and we are excited about what the future holds for WWE’s flagship program.”
“Monday Night Raw and USA Network have dominated Monday nights during a truly historic run,” said Chris McCumber, President of Entertainment Networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “Our partnership with WWE is one of the strongest and most successful in the business, and together we’ll take Raw to even greater heights.”