By Haydn Gleed, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@haydngleed)
The Telegraph reported this week that BT Sport will replace Sky Sports as the home for WWE programming in the UK. My first reaction was simple….ugh.
BT was formerly known as British Telecom and were the leading provider of landline services during the 20th Century. As we all know, personal landline services are rarely required in this day, so moving into 21st Century after a failed attempt at leading the cell phone market, the company turned to providing broadband services and, most importantly for what we are talking about, a digital television subscription platform.
Sky, on the other hand, built their subscription TV empire in the UK on presenting live sports. When the Premier League was formed in the mid ’90s, it was Sky Sports that brought more live soccer matches into the homes of millions more than ever before. Over the years, other sports have followed suit with cricket, rugby, formula one racing, and WWE all being taken from either obscurity or free television to be placed behind the pay wall.
For years, if you wanted to watch regular live sports you only had one option, become a Sky Sports subscriber and pay their high fees. When BT expanded into the digital television subscription market, they quickly showed their intentions to take a big piece of the lucrative pie that is the Premier League. So when Sky was deemed to be monopolizing the rights for the soccer coverage, BT threw their hat in the ring and have slowly been taking away more and more packages from Sky, including the highly sought after European Champions League TV rights.
The reason I’m giving you this mini-history lesson is to show that if BT Sport becomes the new home for WWE in the UK, I can understand WWE’s decision. It’s been quite evident for years based on what I’ve written above and the aggressive nature of BT Sport that they will pay big money. Between 2001 and 2013 when Sky had little competition, the Premier League rights rose from £1.2 billion to £1.773 billion. However, since BT Sport launched six years ago and were taking the rights of different sports away from Sky by jumping into huge bidding wars, those rights have gone up to £5.136 billion. I’m not saying that WWE is going to get anywhere near that amount, but it’s likely that WWE’s new deal with BT is likely very lucrative given what we know of BT’s past behavior.
If this move happens, it’s going to be a nightmare for UK WWE fans. They are going to be faced with a choice of having both Sky and BT, cancelling Sky Sports and going with BT, or keeping Sky Sports and missing out on WWE TV. None of those three options is particularly appealing. Take my current situation where I’m a Sky Sports customer and I already pay roughly $40 for the service. In order for me to get BT, I would have to pay a one off charge of $30 and then $40 extra per month. Okay, so I could cancel Sky Sports, but I’m a huge fan of cricket and Formula One so I would miss out on those sports, and despite BT aggressively going after soccer packages, Sky still holds the vast majority. So I’m left in a position which I’m sure most of the WWE TV watching public in the UK will be facing…..pay $40 extra a month for WWE weekly programming or hunt for the clips on YouTube.
Whether WWE knows it or not, by potentially taking a more lucrative deal they have put themselves in a very vulnerable position where they could lose not only current fans but also the next generation of fans. Because of the time that Raw and Smackdown air, I personally DVR the shows and watch them on my commute into work or when I get home at night and I’m sure I’m not alone with this setup. Similarly with the pay-per-views, I either watch them live on the WWE Network or watch them on delay the next day. This deal won’t change that. However, for a number of my friends with their kids, they wait until the Saturday morning recap show because not only is it more family friendly but it’s on at a convenient time for them watch with their kids. The recap show that airs on Sky One, meaning the recap show will likely be leaving the network once the new deal kicks in.
Enter AEW, which has already shown they have ties with ITV. The Double or Nothing event is being made available through ITV Box Office. There are already rumblings that this is not going to be a one off partnership. ITV is a free to air channel that anybody with a digital box from any company can get. It is traditionally one of the original “terrestrial” five channels before the digital boom. They are still seen as one of the big channels and draw viewers in the millions for some of their bigger shows. When World of Sport was revived, despite the product being terrible to watch, they still drew over 300,000 viewers, and early WOS shows did over 650,000 viewers. With WWE is behind the pay wall on Sky, WOS was actually the highest rated wrestling show in the UK for a time. Imagine AEW, ideally with a product that appeals to both young people and adults, that doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence and, most importantly, airing on free television rather than on a network behind a pay wall that is already behind another pay wall.
While WWE has yet to even announce the deal, I have no doubt in my mind that WWE scored a tremendous TV deal with BT Sport from a financial standpoint. I don’t blame them for that, but they may have shot themselves in the foot. While hardcore and diehard fans will pay to get BT Sport and continue to enjoy the WWE product, if AEW gets more exposure on ITV, WWE may ultimately end up regretting this business decision.
Agree or disagree? Let me know. Find me on twitter @haydngleed or via email email@example.com