Fox Chief Charlie Collier Compares WWE Ratings Risk to Network’s NFL Deal in the ’90s

TCA 2019: Former AMC chief recalls to TheWrap his days losing to USA Network, where “SmackDown” is wrapping up its long run

smackdown nfl on fox

Fox spent roughly a billion dollars bringing pro-wrestling series “SmackDown Live” to its broadcast network for the next five years — but that was before TV ratings for WWE programming really started to decline. With all that money and time invested, and Nielsen numbers not exactly trending in the *right* direction, TheWrap asked Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier something we’ve been asked by lots of WWE fans lately: Are there protections in place should “SmackDown Live” not set the world on fire this fall and going forward?

“I’m a guy that came out of cable, and for the last few decades in cable, what’s driven the No. 1 network has been wrestling,” Collier responded at the Television Critics Association press tour. “And so for us to have a consistent presence is thrilling.”

He was referring to USA Network there. The NBCUniversal-owned cable channel will keep WWE flagship series “Monday Night Raw” on a longterm basis. “SmackDown,” which has aired Tuesdays on USA, will move to Fox — and Fridays — this October, as exclusively reported by TheWrap. We also first reported that “SmackDown” will remain live.

“In terms of protections– this is a company that historically really leaned into NFL at a time where I think no one thought Fox could do so, and they’ve turned out to become the leading purveyor of the NFL,” Collier continued. “And we’re leaning into WWE with just as much enthusiasm.”

The NFL came to Fox in 1994. The broadcast network not only still has rights to (mostly NFC) Sunday afternoon games, it also acquired “Thursday Night Football” last year. With a $3 billion price tag, that deal was an even-more pricey one.

That’s when this reporter asked Collier to clarify on if that means Fox is in this for the full five years, through thick or thin viewership.

“Yeah,” he responded. Collier then told us to check with Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks for more “contractual” details.

TheWrap reached out to Fox Sports to ask for a comment or time with Shanks, though we did not immediately hear back.

For the record, TV ratings for USA’s “Raw” have rebounded a bit lately, including for its recent “Raw Reunion” special. Longer-term, however, both “Raw” and “SmackDown” have been struggling. There was a time where Nielsen ratings declines for “SmackDown” were masked a bit by virtue of it going from tape-delayed to live back in 2016.