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How WWE Smackdown can improve its ratings on FOX

Despite a massive TV contract in 2019, WWE Smackdown has been a disappointment on the FOX network
Despite a massive TV contract in 2019, WWE Smackdown has been a disappointment on the FOX network
Ryan K Boman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 14 Feb 2021
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WWE Smackdown on FOX may be the best definition of the phrase, 'Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing'.

Smackdown is arguably WWE's most consistent and watchable show week in and week out. But it has been hampered by huge expectations, especially after the promotion inked a monstrous contract with the FOX network nearly two years ago. The ground-breaking agreement was heralded as a huge victory for WWE, especially since they landed a similar deal with the USA Network to produce Monday Night RAW around the same time.

When the ink was finally dry, the deal would be worth a whopping $1.1 billion over five years, giving FOX the broadcast rights of WWE Smackdown from October 2019.

There was much more to this major move than just the moolah. All the cash in the world couldn't buy the 'cache' that WWE would inherit by moving Smackdown to a prime-time spot on network television. It would be their first foray into this area since they aired The Main Event on NBC back in the late 80's, and it also provided the sweet reward that Vince McMahon always craves: Mainstream acoftance for his sports entertainment product.

FOX understandably wanted some bang for their buck, and early reports indicated that they were hoping to average around three million viewers per week in the 8 PM Eastern time slot.

All is not well in the FOX Camp

The debut episode of Smackdown on Fox hit a home run with over 4 million viewers in its initial telecast. Since then, however, the program has only averaged around 2.2 million per week, far below what the network executives have been expecting.

There have been other disappointments in this whole FOX-WWE marriage as well. WWE Backstage, the 'behind-the-scenes' talk show that aired on sister network FS1, was a ratings failure and was canceled within a year of airing. And WWE Smackdown has been moved to the lesser cable station for more favorable programming already, because FOX executives felt other shows took a higher priority than WWE's brand of entertainment.

WWE Smackdown has surpassed WWE RAW

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As a whole, the content of WWE Smackdown has been top-notch and it has clearly surpassed RAW as the number one show under the WWE banner. But by wading into the shark-infested waters of network television, the promotion may have been guilty of a major overstep.

Is WWE Smackdown a high-quality wrestling entertainment show? Of course. With the star power of great performers like Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins and others, it's easily the most watchable show that WWE currently produces.

However, when stacked up against standard network fare like reality shows and sitcoms, it falls way behind. In essence, Smackdown is almost proving the stereotype that pro wrestling doesn't belong in prime time.

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Of course, there's always time to remedy this problem with a surge in ratings and over all popularity. But despite its best efforts, the WWE Smackdown creative crew doesn't appear anywhere near solving the puzzle of achieving the numbers that FOX executives were originally shooting for. Averaging three million weekly viewers appears a huge mountain to climb amid the company's overall drop in popularity.

And while it's hard to blame WWE for taking the money they were offered, it's also difficult to blame FOX for being frustrated with not getting the proper return on their investment.

As it stands now, it looks as if WWE Smackdown will turn out to be a failed experiment for FOX. It also looks as if the show could be shuttled back to the world of cable TV when this enormous deal expires in a few years.

Published 14 Feb 2021, 09:16 IST
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