With Royal Rumble less than a week away, and a relatively quiet weekend on the wrestling front otherwise, Monday was shaping up to be a relatively dull trek towards Raw’s usual primetime kickoff.
Naturally enough, that was shattered like a sheet of Stone Cold’s entrance glass very early Monday when WWE and NBC Universal announced a 5-year, billion dollar deal that secures NBC the exclusive rights to stream some composition of the preexisting WWE Network on NBC’s Peacock streaming service inside the United States.
For what was shaping up to be a run-of-the-mill Monday, that “senile,” “out-of-touch,” “old man” pulled another ace out of his expensive sleeves to inject another hunk of cash into — whether naysayers like it or not — the largest wrestling company in the world. In case anyone missed the news (somehow) or never saw the press release, here’s a breakdown from the release of what’s to be expected when the new agreement takes effect:
- “All live pay-per-view events including WrestleMania and SummerSlam; Fastlane will be the first WWE pay-per-view to stream on Peacock on Sunday, March 21.
- Original series like Steve Austin Broken Skull Sessions, Undertaker: The Last Ride and the all-new WWE Icons;
- In-ring shows like NXT, NXT UK and WWE 205 Live, as well as replays of Raw and SmackDown;
- WWE Network archives, including every WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-view event in history;
- Groundbreaking documentaries, including WWE 24, WWE Untold, and WWE 365;
- And, starting in 2022, one signature documentary annually.”
As someone who doesn’t have the Network for a litany of telecommunications-law-related reasons (thanks, Canada), that seems to essentially be everything currently on the network, with the exception of NXT, a show with a fair amount of speculation around it at the moment, seemingly the omission of some legacy content like AWA, and the inclusion of an annual documentary beginning next year.
The real selling point for the network has been its expansive library of content, PPVs and in recent years its Untold and 24 documentaries, and with a total number of subscribers hanging between 1-2 million at $9.99US ($12.75CDN) that’s been a good deal whether you’re using your standard cable package, streaming directly from WWE, or using a VPN.
I spent a fair amount of time on Twitter yesterday observing general reactions, ranging from “the deal is fantastic for everyone” to “this is stupid, it’s rewarding bad behaviour,” and so forth. I fall somewhere in between.
Foremost, it’s ignorant to not see the benefits in this deal for WWE specifically, and NBC through the simple addition of thousands of hours of fresh content for its fledgling service. Monetarily, obviously, they’ll a) recoup their costs eventually and b) it may come sooner than you’d think.
Let’s assume for a second that anyone currently subscribing to the Network in the U.S. shifts over and stays on the service to not just watch WWE but any one of NBC’s shows (Office, Parks and Rec, Heroes, etc.), presuming those former Network subscribers stay at the $4.99 level, multiplied by let’s presume a million and suddenly Peacock is bringing in an extra $5M per month. Track it over a year and suddenly those former Network subscribers have brought in just under $60M for NBC in a single year. Extrapolate that over the duration of the deal and suddenly it’s a shade under $300M.
But for a moment let’s assume I’m not alone in absolutely hating advertisements on streaming platforms (Prime, YouTube, etc.) and would be OK continuing to pay $9.99US per month. Peacock then pulls in under $119,880,000 per year, and just under $600M by the end of the deal. This is all presuming the WWE Network’s lowest recent averages in the last few years. But if we take WWE’s Q3 report listing of 1.6 million subscribers (free tier included, regardless), over the course of the five year deal NBC would make about $479M on the low end, and just over $959M on the high end presuming each current subscriber stays on in the U.S. If subscriptions increase, then it’s easy for NBC to make it’s money back on the deal. This isn’t even taking any ad revenue into account from the $4.99 tier.
What WWE gives NBC is a destination property to guide viewers toward the lagging platform, but more importantly for as much as AEW positions itself as looking to snipe all the “lapsed fans” this move puts the WWE product in an easy-to-access spot for millions more than who watch weekly programming on USA, Fox or TNT networks. At present, even though its base is lower compared to Netflix or even Disney+, Peacock’s current 22-25 million users could consist of a wide swathe of people, including lapsed wrestling fans, who fell out of love with the medium for any number of reasons over the past two decades. And having such a breadth of content available is enticing, and then as a consequence you have access to old episodes of current shows and pay-per-views. It’s summarily a tremendous opportunity for WWE to grow its fan base via Peacock; even if it just doubles its current subscriber base, that’s another 1.6 million that might want to watch the weekly shows, buy some shirts or action figures, and want to continue reliving the moments that defined their early wrestling experiences.
Novelty is a powerful force in digital services, and so Peacock and WWE are a good fit together that should leave both prosperous by the end of the 5-year term. Beyond that, who knows what future dealings will look like.
The one wrinkle in all of this is how it’s going to affect international fans long term, and at least for now it seems like international users are unaffected. That unfortunately still hits cordcutters (i.e. me). While I can’t speak for fans outside Canada, it seems Corus Entertainment owns the streaming rights to Peacock in Canada, which is carried through StackTV, which is carried on Amazon Prime (you can see the financial black hole developing here). Leaving international users out of the equation because it doesn’t matter for the deal’s sake, looking specifically at WWE fans in the United States, it’s a good deal for NBC, WWE and the fans that consume the content.
I completely disagree with detractors of the agreement as it is a good deal for all parties, yet where I grow concerned as I do each time WWE inks another logic-defying billion dollar deal is the health of the product itself over the long term. Where critics make their stand is the notion that with the product’s quality as it is, sometimes the argument is made that WWE is rewarded for “bad behaviour” and is being deincentivized away from improving the overall quality of their programming, taking last night’s head-scratching Raw as an example.
To a degree I agree, coming from a place where I don’t agree with the idea that any one promotion is free from criticism, every one has missteps and so in that I believe being vocal and critical is necessary for the sake of wanting the product to improve. And while we’ve seen boundless leaps forward in terms of quality on Smackdown with Roman/Heyman and Sasha Banks leading the charge, and while NXT has been keeping a consistent base of fans opposite AEW for some time, Raw is lingering anywhere between 1.5 and 1.8-2 million most Mondays. Just a handful of years ago the shows were healthily above 3 million. Beyond that even more so.
Ask anyone why they think that is and I’m sure answers or opinions will vary, but with even a hint of momentum on Fridays and NXT’s consistency, now is the time to push forward and really right their ship. For a company that’s been in the game for as long as it has, that I’ve personally watched for 34 years and maybe even before I could fully form memories, there’s no excuse for Raw to appear as disorganized as it does all-too-often, or why NXT isn’t crushing AEW every week with WWE branding firmly attached to it complete with all the advertising and promotional fixings. Even if that dynamic is coming to an end, WWE owes it to itself, NBC and fans to seriously buckle down and provide those smiles or moments they always seem like they’re obsessed with.
Additionally, this is a great opportunity to explore alternate options for live events. Even once COVID-19 dissipates, I don’t think anyone believes WWE will be moving back to their Live Event model, especially as it’s reported they’ve barely broken even on recent tours. Looking at the huge collection of licenses WWE owns, they have the power to use old event names for more than slapping a WCW PPV name on an NXT show to spike their rating.
What I’m getting at is, simply put, hold live shows more frequently but turn them into Network specials that would air on Peacock. Shows like that annual Madison Square Garden show that had been held every Boxing Day I can ever recall. How about having a Great American Bash on or near every July 4th, or taking NXT’s Halloween Havoc concept and giving that more space on Peacock? Or perhaps, since they’ve held this in the past and rightfully have no intention of handing it over to Cody Rhodes and AEW, make Starrcade an annual special live event (not what they’ve done in the past). Starrcade especially means a lot to old WCW fans, or even just fans who grew up watching through the Monday Night Wars and remember that Sting-Hogan build to Starrcade ’97. Bring it back and make it mean something, make it a destination event for streamers on this new platform with millions of new potential viewers to the product. Inject a sense of nostalgia and excitement.
The crux of this is simple: WWE viewership has never been lower, but there’s no reason it has to stay that way. The danger in these deals is it does tell them that they’ll always have a home regardless, but that shouldn’t be enough for Vince McMahon who is the most business-savvy cutthroat icon in wrestling’s lexicon. The opportunity for growth begins March 18th, and for the sake of their future I want them to hit the ground running with their best feet forward on all three main shows. While the world may not be watching, an extra 20-23 million people could be.
That’s potentially their future.