An unpopular move could be on the way in terms of how WWE pay-per-views are presented to viewers. According to sources, WWE is in the process of negotiating a deal with ESPN which would allow them to purchase the rights to stream content on ESPN+.
That could mean WWE pay-per-views are no longer offered on the monthly subscription-based WWE Network.
WWE and ESPN negotiating content rights deal?
Wrestling Inc reported (via Wrestling Observer Newsletter) that the reported talks between WWE and ESPN involve “content airing on the ESPN+ service.”
It’s mentioned that this deal could be similar to what UFC has with ESPN right now. With that situation, UFC sold the rights to their pay-per-views to ESPN who presents them via the ESPN+ streaming platform.
With UFC, their pay-per-view events are now sold exclusively through ESPN+ to subscribers at a price of $59.99 each. ESPN also offered a deal for new subscribers to purchase a UFC pay-per-view and get a year of ESPN+ for $79.99, per a 2019 Sports Business Daily report.
This sort of model would allow WWE to make more money than they currently do by offering pay-per-views on the WWE Network. The network currently costs subscribers a flat rate of $9.99 per month with all pay-per-views included as part of the service. The service also includes a library of original content and previous content from WWE history. Fans can access it all on-demand.
Wrestling Inc. indicates a new content deal could work well as ESPN heavily promotes any products they own the rights to. That includes using their current programs to promote. It could bring more exposure to the overall product as well as for various WWE superstars.
WWE made a move to FOX last year and also has a WWE Backstage show on FS1. Due to this association, FOX has been heavily promoting the various programs and superstars, some of whom have appeared on FS1 sports talk shows and other FOX Sports events. ESPN would likely do more of the same if a deal is made with WWE.
WWE Network still offering PPVs for now
Based on the latest reports, no deal has been arranged between WWE and ESPN. That means fans with WWE Network subscriptions can continue to enjoy the pay-per-views on the streaming platform. That will include the upcoming Super ShowDown this month and should include the 2020 Elimination Chamber PPV in March.
There are no official reports of any deal coming anytime soon and Wrestling Observer didn’t have any indication of how far along talks are. As of right now, there are simply reported “talks” going on between WWE and ESPN.
Other streaming content platforms that WWE has reportedly talked to include DAZN and NBC’s upcoming Peacock streaming service.
There were previous reports that Amazon might be in talks to purchase content streaming rights from WWE. However, these rumors were cleared up.
The WWE Network officially launched in the United States in February of 2014. After a disappointing start, by January of the next year, they finally reached 1 million total subscribers. While they were up near the two million subscriber mark at some points, subscription numbers have fallen for the network.
As of October 2018, Dave Meltzer indicated that the company had over 1.6 million subscribers with nearly 1.2 of those from the United States and over 400,000 from outside the states. In a Big Lead report, they noted that a recent subscription count was down to 1.4 million as of an early February earnings release.
Lower interest in the product due to poor creative decisions could be a big part of the issue. With subscription numbers falling, it appears Vince McMahon and company are now looking to do what’s “best for business.”