ESPN Programming Boss Had ‘SmackDown’ Talks With WWE, But Says ‘We Couldn’t Find a Fit for It’

Upfronts 2019: It’s that pesky 52-weeks-live thing, Burke Magnus tells TheWrap

Last Updated: May 14, 2019 @ 7:18 AM

ESPN took a “hard look” at WWE’s “SmackDown Live” rights, Burke Magnus tells TheWrap, but the Disney-owned cable channel ultimately couldn’t make a live, 52-week show fit.

“We did talk to WWE during their process some months ago. Took a hard look at it, we’re obviously big fans of them. We just went into business with them on the XFL indirectly,” the executive vice president of ESPN’s programming and scheduling department told us on Tuesday. “But we couldn’t find a fit for it, primarily based on schedule.”

“As you know, those properties are 52 weeks a year live,” he continued. “And I’m proud to say we have a pretty good problem, which is that we can’t clear anything 52 weeks a year live. We have a pretty full portfolio of content as it is.”

Instead, Fox got the rights and switched the show to Fridays, which TheWrap exclusively reported last May. Fox ended up paying about $1 billion for a five-year deal bringing “SmackDown Live” to its broadcast channel.

We followed up by asking Magnus if there were any consideration of WWE implementing a “SmackDown” offseason to work within ESPN’s parameters.

“Not specifically that, but we looked at all kinds of conversations to try and make it fit. It just didn’t work,” he said. “We parted ways and they got a good deal with their new partners, continuing at NBC(Universal’s USA Network) and adding Fox. So all’s well that ends well for them — but we gave it a good try.”

Magnus added that their “SmackDown” talks were independent of the huge UFC deal ESPN ended up signing.

“The UFC deal was really done before that, we were already set in stone,” he said. “[‘SmackDown’] was going to be in addition to that.”

And no, ESPN did not have talks with All Elite Wrestling (AEW) for a possible wrestling TV show, Magnus told us.

“They did not come to us,” he said.

AEW is expected to announce a deal with Turner on Wednesday just ahead of WarnerMedia’s own upfront event. TheWrap exclusively reported the details of the Turner-AEW rollout. At the time of our report, plans called for a weekly AEW show to launch this fall on TNT.

Reid Nakamura contributed to this story.

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