Why 21st Century Fox’s CFO Is So Hyped for WWE’s ‘SmackDown Live’

Fox will air pro wrestling show on Fridays beginning Oct. 4, 2019

SmackDown Live Samoa Joe

At first blush, you wouldn’t expect a CFO of a major media company to talk about pro wrestling at an investor conference. But that’s exactly what happened Thursday morning at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference.

John Nallen, who serves as senior executive VP and CFO for 21st Century Fox, discussed the Fox broadcast network’s deal for the WWE’s “SmackDown Live” franchise, which shifts over from USA beginning in 2019.

“It’s a 50 to 52-week-a-year sport with no repeats. It’s a new novella every week,” said Nallen, comparing it to the other sports that Fox airs, including the NFL, college football and pro baseball. “For us to have that kind of appointment programming, that audience, every week of the year, is a really unique opportunity for us.”

The WWE and Fox agreed to a five-year deal, worth as much as $1 billion, that will see “Smackdown Live” air on Friday nights starting Oct. 4, 2019. This will, presumably, happen after Disney closes its deal to acquire most of the film and TV assets from 21st Century Fox, which is expected in the first half of next year.

Since the sale doesn’t include the Fox broadcast network, but does include its TV studio, Fox will be on a bit of an island without a pipeline of content from an in-house studio. Along with its new “Thursday Night Football” deal, “New Fox” will be betting on live sports to fill up much of their airwaves.

Nallen says that’s one of the biggest benefits of the “Smackdown Live” deal: “To lock up a Friday night and just not have to focus on programming it from an entertainment standpoint.” Though that may not be music to the ears of Tim Allen, since his “Last Man Standing,” along with “The Cool Kids” and “Hell’s Kitchen” are currently slated for Fridays this fall.

Should those series return for the 2019-2020 season, they’ll need to find a new night, it seems.

Another benefit, especially for a CFO, is that the WWE and NFL deals start right around the same time that many of Fox’s retransmission agreements with cable and satellite operators, where these companies pay Fox for the right to carry their TV channels, are set to expire.

“A very substantial number of our retrans deals come up in the next three to four years,” said Nallen.