Details emerge on how WWE, UFC TV deals came together

The Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand provided inside details on the recently completed WWE and UFC TV deals that saw the companies lock in more than $4 billion in rights fees over the next five years.

Here’s some of the key details from the article (subscription needed):

– The initial $450 million media rights value number that floated around the UFC rights came from a bid book and was an issue with prospective bidders. WME-IMG (no endeavor) said the number was essentially a placeholder and had to devise a strategy to overcome that and get some players in the mix.

– Due to what they believed could be a $400 million/year investment, Fox executives had resigned themselves to three options with the UFC: $200 million for less content, a split package with another network, or a complete exit.

– The reason Ari Emanuel of Endeavor was removed from the WWE TV rights negotations, despite being asked by Vince McMahon to head them up, was due to Fox Sports’ Eric Shanks telling McMahon it was a conflict of interest to have Emanuel negotiate both deals. CAA, a rival firm, was hired instead, which irked Emanuel.

– WWE leadership met with ESPN four times from December 2017 through the spring of 2018, but giving 52 weeks to a product wasn’t viable, nor was putting WWE content on ESPN+ due to the WWE Network.

– After UFC signed with the deal with ESPN for the initial $150 million package, a meeting with Emanuel, Endeavor’s Mark Shapiro, and Disney CEO Bob Iger brought about the other half of the deal. During a meeting Emanuel and Shapiro had with Viacom, the two got the word via text that ESPN wanted the entire package for $300 million. Interestingly, Viacom owns Bellator MMA.

– CAA presented NBCUniversal with a $265 million/year offer for Raw and $200 million/year for SmackDown. After the exclusive negotiation window passed and NBCU chose to retain Raw but let SmackDown go, Fox and WWE had essentially negotiated the SmackDown deal the next day.

– Turner Sports showed interest in both WWE and UFC, but due to their ongoing litigation with the Department of Justice over their prospective $84 billion merger with AT&T, they weren’t a real player in either.

– Having new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro in the mix instead of former president John Skipper helped make a deal possible as the latter wasn’t a fan of the UFC.

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