On Tuesday, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) made public and official what had already been reported as news for a while now. Beginning on Friday, October 4, 2019, WWE’s SmackDown Live television program will be broadcast on the Fox broadcast network as part of WWE’s new five year television contract with Fox Sports.
This is, for the time being, good news for the Big East.
SmackDown Live will air live on Fox every Friday night of the year for the duration of the contract. This is beneficial for a pair of reasons. First of all, SmackDown won’t be taking real estate away from the Big East. Friday is usually a dead zone when it comes to college hoops, with most teams liking to play games on Saturdays. Even if there’s the occasional Friday game (Marquette had one this past season), Fox Sports probably wasn’t going to be putting it on big broadcast Fox anyway.
Those Saturday games is where SmackDown may be most beneficial for the Big East. After all, if Fox Sports is airing two hours of live programming on big broadcast Fox on Friday night, you’d better believe that they’re going to be advertising their Fox and FS1 live programming that’s going to be aired on Saturday afternoon and night. Cageside Seats, our SB Nation sister site for all things professional wrestling, has been keeping tabs on SmackDown’s ratings going back to (at least) December. Over the past six-plus months, somewhere between two and three million people were watching the show on the USA network on cable. While the most recent episode saw the lowest ratings of the year at just over two million viewers, that’s still more people than the number that watched this past March’s Big East tournament championship game, which was 1.5 million people on big broadcast Fox. The average viewership this past season, including the entirety of the conference tournament? A Fox Sports era record high of 192,000 viewers per game. It seems like a no-brainer that waving a “MARKUS HOWARD! QUENTIN GOODIN! IT’S THE BIG EAST ON FS1!” flag at more than 10 times as many people as last season’s average the night before a Marquette-Xavier game will be incredibly beneficial to the overall attention being paid to the league. If we presume that SmackDown will end up getting more eyeballs merely by being on broadcast Fox instead of cable USA, then that’s even more people getting dosed with advertising for the Big East. Even better.
For now, the only official thing we know about WWE’s contract with Fox Sports is that it puts SmackDown Live on Fox. It stands to reason that this contract will bring more programming along with it by the time it gets started in 15 months. It’s a safe bet that the most likely landing place for any additional programming through Fox Sports will be FS1. Depending on what that ends up being, it could end up impacting the Big East’s broadcast windows. Could we see NXT, WWE’s developmental brand, end up with an hour of Wednesday night time on FS1? Definitely seems possible. Could we see NXT’s TakeOver specials make their way to Saturday nights on FS1? Also possible. It would depend on how much WWE wants to attack the value of their own streaming service, as both NXT and the TakeOver specials are exclusive to the WWE Network right now. Fox Sports would most likely be interested, as ESPN has purchased the full and total broadcasting rights to UFC events. That frees up an awful lot of programming time on Fox Sports’ various avenues, as we discussed when ESPN’s original deal with the MMA promotion was announced.
Again, the Fox/WWE contract doesn’t kick in until October of 2019. There’s a lot of real estate between now and then for things to shift. For now, though, things are looking up in terms of exposure for the Big East, and I’d be lying to you if I wasn’t looking forward to the potential for crossover marketing between WWE and the conference that Marquette calls home.
Anyone up for Daniel Bryan making a surprise appearance at a game?