It looks like Vince McMahon may have found a way to bleed his ever-dwindling fanbase dry as rumor has it he may be working with a deal to stream WWE pay-per-views on ESPN.+ While the details are sketchy and this should be considered a rumor, it’s further evidence of Vinnie Mac’s short-sighted business practices.
The February 24, 2019 Wrestling Observer Newsletter reports that there have been talks between the WWE and ESPN (which based on Vince’s past talk of selling the streaming rights to WWE pay-per-views) is likely what the talks are all about. As noted in the Observer, such a potential deal could be something similar to what the UFC has with ESPN,+ an arrangement where fans pay $4.95 for ESPN+ and then pay $64.99 for each UFC pay-per-view.
The deal would be attractive for Vinnie Mac as he could get a lump sum for the streaming rights which are likely going to be more than the company sees with the $9.95 a month WWE Network. However, any deal is not without potential consequences.
The WWE could see a significant number of fans simply stop watching the pay-per-views. With the WWE product’s ratings, live event ticket sales, and merchandise sales down, what makes the WWE think there’s interest in paying $64.99 for a pay-per-view that fans now pay $9.95 a month for (and keep in mind that the WWE Network’s growth has been negligible at best)?
While ESPN would be motivated to promote the WWE pay-per-views as much as possible, the burden of promoting them ultimately lies with the WWE through building angles that lead to matches people will pay $64.99 for. Other than WrestleMania, it’s difficult to imagine anyone but the most hardcore of WWE fans paying that kind of money to see.
This deal could be good for the WWE in the short run as it gets it a hefty paycheck upfront from ESPN. As desperate for content as ESPN may be, it would be wise to keep any deal with the WWE a short-term one or insert an opt-out clause in the event the pay-per-views don’t sell at the numbers expected. to make the deal worth their investment.
Ultimately, the WWE could find itself hot-shotting itself into even shakier financial condition as it strip-mines its ever-shrinking fanbase for short-term goals. However, that’s never stopped Vince McMahon before and it’s likely he’s going to stop now, regardless of the consequences.