WWE chairman Vince McMahon made the decision Friday to return to live programming with Raw every Monday, NXT every Wednesday, and SmackDown every Friday from the Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
The decision to not do tapings all weekend as was previously scheduled came during the middle of the day while taping SmackDown as McMahon announced he was changing everything and that the show would be going as close to live as soon as possible.
While that was not the plan Thursday, it was something he was considering all along, hence why we were specifically told yesterday to make sure and say that plan was the current one.
Many in the company were shocked at the decision. Those close to the situation have defended it and that it was the correct economic decision even if every decision, and even running at all, has to be questioned right now.
Contracts with both NBC Universal and Fox call for a certain number of shows per year that can be taped. For Raw, that number is three which, at the start of the year, was earmarked for one show over Christmas week and two shows during European tours. In theory, that would leave them with 49 live Raws. Fox has a similar deal.
While nobody will say so publicly, the fear was that by violating the contract, it would give the networks the legal ability to withhold money or find a way to change the deals. With no house shows, the company, like all sports companies, is surviving largely based on television revenue, but the networks paying that are also taking in far less revenue than they projected at this point in time due to the pandemic.
It’s unclear whether the decision to return to live is an actual thing that the networks told McMahon to do in recent weeks based on declining ratings or if he is guarding against the possibility of them doing so.
Given that wrestling is the only sports property Fox has going right now and after building their main network around live sports in addition to FS1 needing programming, there doesn’t appear to be a chance Fox would want to use more taped shows vs. live to terminate the relationship. Additionally, USA Network badly needs WWE more than they ever have in the past, so WWE has leverage for both of their main TV partners in that regard.
One would think network partners would understand the unique aspect of the situation the world finds itself in. But the fear is that if they have to make cuts due to the advertising business being down so badly, WWE can’t afford to leave an opening for the networks to do so to them.
This also leads to many obvious questions of people flying into Florida multiple times per week and how long wrestling can remain under the radar so what happened Thursday in California with UFC doesn’t happen to them. The political situation in Florida when it comes to stay-at-home edicts sound the same, but in reality, they are very different based on the nature of each state’s politics.