Fox owner Rupert Murdoch reportedly told Stephanie McMahon, Paul "Triple H" Levesque and other WWE executives that NBCU was "embarrassed by your product" at a meeting to acquire the rights to SmackDown on May 17th at 21st Century Fox's Manhattan headquarters, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
In addition to Levesque and McMahon, WWE co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios were at the meeting, as well as CAA's Nick Khan, who was representing WWE. Other Fox executives present with Murdoch were Fox Networks CEO Peter Rice and Fox Sports executives Eric Shanks and Larry Jones. A photo was projected in the conference room of Ronda Rousey holding Triple H in a fireman's carry from WrestleMania 34, with Fox Sports and FS1 logos superimposed on it.
At the time of the meeting less than two weeks ago, The Hollywood Reporter noted that NBCU was expecting to keep the WWE television rights with a new 10-year deal worth $360 million (although it was not specified, clearly that figure is per year). NBCU's exclusive negotiating window expired on May 16th, and WWE and Fox agreed to a $1.025 billion five-year deal to move SmackDown to Friday nights on the broadcast network. Fox, which had finished the 2017-18 season down double digits among total viewers and the coveted adults 18-49 demo, is trying to expand their coverage of sports and other live events.
Murdoch apparently told WWE that Fox would fully embrace WWE and air SmackDown promos during their sports programming every night, as well as offer WWE a weekly studio show on FS1. Murdoch's eldest son, Lachlan, told McMahon during a call at the end of the meeting that the partnership "would herald the marriage of the Murdochs and the McMahons, rebel outsiders who had built media empires."
As noted, should the proposed deal be finalized as expected, SmackDown will move to Fox in October of 2019. RAW will remain on the USA Network for $265 million per year, putting the total value of the deal at $2.35 billion over five years. It was noted that NBCU currently pays $130 million per year for RAW and SmackDown (which is below the $150 million that JP Morgan estimated that NBCU is paying for the package).
Fox lost the television rights for UFC to ESPN, however a former Fox staffer told The Hollywood Reporter that they could not sell that brand.
"We could not sell UFC" at Fox, they said. "And wrestling is family friendly. If you have wrestling you can find cash. I think it's a big win for Fox; it's a great trade-off."
Doreen Hines contributed to this article.