Could WWE Network-Peacock Deal Set the Stage for Comcast Buying WWE?

“Why would you lease properties when you can own them? And you probably want to own them indefinitely,” Wrestlenomics’ Brandon Thurston says

comcast vince mcmahon
Getty Images

Will WWE Network folding into Peacock on March 18 open the door for NBCUniversal parent company Comcast to buy WWE in its entirety? It’s not out of the question. But the biggest obstacle to any acquisition will be Vince McMahon, the 75-year-old CEO and on-camera personality who owns 34% of WWE shares and about 79% of its voting stock. With linear-TV ratings (and live-event attendance, even when there were live events) dwindling and a general trend toward media consolidation, it has been within the realm of possibility that WWE could be acquired by an existing partner — like an NBCU, which prior to the five-year Peacock streaming deal already aired several WWE productions, or Fox, the home of “SmackDown.” The deal for WWE’s streaming content indisputably makes NBCUniversal the pro-wrestling company’s closest partner, but this could just be a savvy arms dealer’s move to sell ammunition (content) to the highest bidder in the middle of a (streaming) war. The WWE Network-Peacock deal spans five years and will cost Peacock about $1 billion, two individuals with knowledge of the agreement told TheWrap. Wrestlenomics’ Brandon Thurston and LightShed Partners’ Brandon Ross both believe it to be a more profitable setup for WWE than the NBCU — and benefits in an outright acquisition.
Adam Cole on 'WWE Friday Night SmackDown'
“Smackdown” remains on Fox for the next two years (Photo: WWE)
“It makes more sense” if Comcast acquires WWE as a whole, Thurston told TheWrap. “Why would you lease properties when you can own them? And you probably want to own them indefinitely?” Such an acquisition would be a good cost-cutting move, Ross said. Beyond the “synergies” buzzword, Ross believes NBCU (like Fox) will be better able to monetize WWE content than WWE has been itself. Plus, NBCU is far stronger on the technology-management side than WWE. That said, neither Thurston nor Ross are willing to bet on Comcast actually buying WWE or, rather, WWE actually selling to Comcast. You’ll get the distinction in a moment. “I don’t think it will happen, though, in Vince McMahon’s lifetime,” Thurston said. “I think what’s more valuable to Vince than any amount of money is his ability to control the creative universe.” A spokesperson for Comcast declined comment on this story. A spokesperson for WWE did not immediately respond to TheWrap. “Whether or not a deal between [Comcast and WWE] should happen, it’s 100% going to be fully up to what Vince wants. And I’m skeptical that Vince wants to give up control of the company to someone else,” Ross said. “He isn’t even willing to give up creative control of the product at a time when ratings are deeply struggling.” Thurston believes WWE needs new creative control for the main-roster product. And he thinks NBCU should want to buy the league and install its own team in storyline creation and marketing, among other key creative components. It’s not unprecedented: Former WWE competitor WCW was owned by Turner; Bellator MMA is currently owned by ViacomCBS. Thurston thinks there is “a good chance” new WWE competitor AEW, which like WCW airs on USA Network competitor channel TNT, goes down the same road: “It’s in your interest to own the content you’re putting out on TV,” he said. Ross also believes the next generation of McMahons, most prominently Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon and her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, also prefer to keep control of the company in-house. There is a kind of compromise option here, however, if both parties were so inclined. “You could acquire WWE to be a subsidiary of NBCU that exists and acts autonomously from the rest of the company, and make that clear to shareholders,” Ross said. But, again, Vince McMahon would have to sign off on that. Fat chance, unless he’s pressured into making a move based on a fiduciary duty that would place a fat check into the wallets of all WWE shareholders. Even without an acquisition, the streaming deal that brings WWE content, including its pay-per-views, to Peacock “deepens the partnership between WWE and NBCU and maybe further encourages a favorable deal for the next ‘Raw’ negotiations,” Thurston said. The same goes for the expiring “NXT”-on-USA deal. Yes, there is still lots to discuss between WWE’s and Comcast’s offices. Though today, it’s probably mostly about cross-promoting WWE programming with that other Peacock star, “The Office.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.