WWE, with Ronda Rousey, could leave USA for FOX, UFC looking for TV home

Fresh off selling its regional sports affiliates and its secondary cable channels to Disney, FOX may be in the hunt to land WWE programming -- both for the FOX network channel and its FS1 national sports channel. 

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UFC’s recent deal with FOX, worth $168 million, is expiring. The MMA company wanted a deal closed in January, but is still waiting. WWE is open to negotiate with other companies outside Viacom (USA Network’s parent company) this spring. The pro wrestling company, the largest in the world, is looking to improve on the $160 million it received from USA Network following its last deal. 

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FOX, which has made no secret it would like to have WWE programming if not outright buy the company, may put John Cena, Dean Ambrose, Charlotte Flair, AJ Styles and Ronda Rousey against “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Voice.”

“WWE ratings are strong compared to the rest of television, especially cable,” journalist Dave Meltzer, of the Wrestling Observer, said. “For FS1 and their sports brands, it hurts that WWE isn’t actually sports. That’s a mental hurdle, but (WWE) draws more viewers than anything on FS1 other than NASCAR and baseball playoffs.” 

Ronda Rousey appeared at the last WWE Pay-Per-View, and on Monday’s edition of its Raw show after signing a deal with the company. Rousey is still considered the most popular female athlete in the world, even after retiring from UFC. She gives WWE a mainstream star to leverage in any deal.

WWE began dedicating more effort to training and featuring its womens performers the last several years. In its seedier days in the late 1990s and in the 2000s, women were mostly eye candy, even when wrestling. Today the women’s division is hotly contested and loaded with talent that can put on the same quality or better-quality matches than some of the male talent.

With Rousey, it gives that division star power the men’s division doesn’t have.

“The best thing for women’s MMA and pro wrestling was Rousey’s success in MMA,” Meltzer said. “UFC was drawing giant numbers with women because of her.

“If anything they have their Hulk Hogan, and the men have Roman Reigns.” 

WWE immediately inserted Rousey into a storyline feud with Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of owner Vince McMahon and a top executive. Her husband, wrestler Paul Levesque, is chief operating officer. He became one of the first COO’s to be put through a table during WWE’s last PPV.

The plusses for FOX are simple: What the network loses in hours of programming that UFC provides, it gains in viewers from WWE. WWE must also operate at a higher level against network competition, not cable. WWE hasn’t regularly been on prime time network television since the 1980s, and that was sporadically. The negatives: having to deliver, and being at the whim of a major network.

“They may change the date or time your show airs, or move it off the channel,” Meltzer said. “WWE would probably not do as well advertising wise. 

“It’s all in the negotiation. There’s no guarantees.”

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