According to Burke Magnus, who works as ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling, WWE and ESPN had spoken in respect to ESPN landing the rights to air SmackDown Live instead of FOX.
During an interview with The Wrap this week it was revealed ESPN took a “hard look” at the rights to WWE SmackDown, but the need to have a live, 52-week show is what eventually became the hurdle they couldn’t hop over. ESPN just had too much content to commit to a live spot every week for an entire year.
“We did talk to WWE during their process some months ago. Took a hard look at it, we’re obviously big fans of them. We just went into business with them on the XFL indirectly. But we couldn’t find a fit for it, primarily based on schedule.”
What Did ESPN Offer WWE?
ESPN was interested but he said they have a good problem with too much content and not enough space. “We have a pretty full portfolio of content as it is.” Magnus noted that they asked if WWE would consider implementing a SmackDown off-season to work within ESPN’s parameters. WWE declined.
That wasn’t the only thing ESPN tried but, in the end, WWE was able to find a better fit with FOX. “We parted ways and they got a good deal with their new partners, continuing at NBC(Universal’s USA Network) and adding Fox. So all’s well that ends well for them — but we gave it a good try.”
It would have been interesting if ESPN and WWE worked it out, especially considering the whispers of how much FOX is wanting WWE to change things up to suit their wishes. The deal between the two is already rumored to be leading to an eventual elimination of the brand split.