TKO Group Holdings, the merged company with UFC and WWE, announced Tuesday that WWE’s Monday Night Raw, the flagship program for the professional wrestling outfit, will be moving to Netflix starting in 2025 in a deal reportedly worth $5 billion over 10 years.
The new deal shifts Raw off linear television for the first time since the program launched 31 years ago. According to several reports, the deal is worth $500 million per year, with Netflix maintaining the right to exit the contract after five years or extend for another 10 years if the partnership is successful.
The previous deal with WWE and NBCUniversal for Raw to air on the USA Network was worth around $250 million per year. The new broadcast rights deal, which officially kicks off in January 2025, will double that value per year.
TKO stock jumped 15 percent in trading after news about the deal between WWE and Netflix first broke.
The current deal for Raw runs through October 2024 so it’s unknown where the program will air between then and January 2025 when the new deal begins. Netflix will also gain control of all WWE programming outside of the United States, which includes shows like Smackdown and NXT, as well as major events like WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble.
“This deal is transformative,” TKO president and COO Mark Shapiro said in a statement. “It marries the can’t-miss WWE product with Netflix’s extraordinary global reach and locks in significant and predictable economics for many years. Our partnership fundamentally alters and strengthens the media landscape, dramatically expands the reach of WWE, and brings weekly live appointment viewing to Netflix.”
Over the past few months, TKO completed negotiations on several broadcast deals for WWE including Smackdown moving to the USA Network in a deal reportedly worth $1.4 billion over five years and shifting NXT to the CW for five years at approximately $20 to $25 million per year.
Nothing comes close to the move to Netflix, however, especially as the streaming wars continue to heat up with more and more networks shifting programming to outlets such as Amazon, Apple TV, and Hulu. Netflix has largely avoided getting into live programming outside of a few random programs, such as a comedy special hosted by Chris Rock and the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards.
So what exactly does all this have to do with the UFC?
Well, first and foremost, the UFC now takes center stage for TKO for a new broadcast rights deal, with the promotion’s current deal with ESPN running through 2025. Negotiations on that deal are expected to begin over the next few months, with TKO executives likely sitting down with ESPN before potentially fielding offers from other potential suitors.
The UFC broadcast rights have been a huge part of the growth for ESPN+ — the premium streaming service connected to the sports outlet — with subscriber numbers hitting 26 million this past November. As part of an extended deal with the UFC, ESPN also controls the rights to pay-per-view broadcasts, which is another massive driver of revenue to the network.
In other words, the UFC remains a very valuable asset to ESPN, but will the owners at Disney put up enough capital to keep the promotion beyond 2025?
Disney CEO Bob Iger has spoken often about the future of ESPN, which includes plans to take on partners for the network. Reports surfaced recently that the NFL was in talks with Disney on a deal that would include the football league taking on a small ownership role with ESPN.
It’s entirely possible Endeavor, the parent company to TKO, could seek something similar in order to stay with ESPN.
But this deal to move WWE Raw to Netflix gives some indication of what could possibly happen over the next year.
The UFC’s last broadcast rights deal with ESPN was reportedly worth around $1.5 billion over seven years. It’s expected that the next deal will dwarf that number. At least one Wall Street analyst has predicted a new UFC deal will likely double in value to around $3 billion.
Netflix isn’t just testing the waters with the WWE deal. The publicly traded company is investing a huge sum of money on a proven ratings draw with Monday Night Raw under at least a five-year deal, or potentially extending that out to 20 years if everything goes well.
Amazon locked up the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package for 10 years at a whopping $1 billion per season.
Apple TV has also gotten into the live sports business after inking a 10-year, $2.5 billion deal with Major League Soccer, among other additions to the growing streaming service.
Netflix currently touts more than 247 million paying subscribers, but despite past hesitance to get involved in broadcast rights deals for live sports, the contract inked with WWE obviously changes those plans. There’s a chance that now that a deal between Netflix and WWE has been brokered, TKO executives may revisit that idea again for the UFC.
That said, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos claimed during an earnings call on Tuesday that the deal with WWE won’t necessarily change the company’s strategy moving forward, at least where major sports rights deals are concerned.
“WWE is sports entertainment, so it’s really as close to our core as you can get of that sport storytelling, and in terms of the deal itself, it has options and it has the protections that we seek in our general licensing deals and with economics that we’re super happy with globally,” Sarandos said. “I would not look at this as a signal of any other change or any change to our sports strategy.”
Of course, the UFC being owned by the same company as WWE could still initiate a conversation with Netflix, especially as the streaming service hinted at a potential price increase for subscribers in the near future. A UFC deal — as big as it could be — still won’t equal the price leagues like the NFL or NBA command so that’s also a possible factor.
Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV, and other streamers have thrown around huge sums of money to land deals like this, and there’s a chance the bidding could even shut out a network as large as ESPN. If Netflix is willing to put down $500 million per year for WWE Raw, how much would it pay to get the UFC, another proven draw with year-round programming?
TKO executives have also hinted that a split package similar to the NFL or NBA could be in the works for the UFC. That means ESPN could maintain some of the broadcast rights but the UFC could also strike a deal to move some programming to Netflix, Amazon, or another streaming network.
With every major WWE program moving to a new network in 2025, it’s tough to know for certain if the UFC will just stay with the status quo at ESPN, especially with other interested bidders. The WWE-Netflix deal definitely sets the stage for some incredibly important negotiations kicking off for the UFC later this year.