Eric Bischoff Explains How WWE SmackDown Didn't Meet Expectations On Fox

"WWE SmackDown" will be leaving Fox next year to return to the USA Network as a new five-year deal with NBCUniversal was announced on Thursday. Former Senior Vice President of WCW Eric Bischoff offered his two cents on the move on his "Strictly Business" podcast, saying there were multiple missteps when it came to managing expectations of viewer numbers. Bishoff was around for the beginning of "SmackDown" on Fox and said he thinks those expectations were "so high."

"I can't remember exactly who told me or where I heard this, but within the context of a smaller group meeting, very high level, the numbers that people were talking about, internally, not publicly, were between five and six million viewers. Per week. That was the expectation," Bischoff said. "And we came in, the initial rating for the show, I think came in about 3.8 or 3.9 million. So I think there was an immediate disappointment based on the expectations."

In the months following the debut on Fox, Bischoff said the show lost between 30 to 40 percent of those viewers.

'SmackDown' 'Didn't Kick Enough A**'

Weekly professional wrestling on a major broadcast network was a novel concept, according to Bischoff, and proved tricky to pull off the expected number of viewers, despite both WWE and Fox's best efforts to promote the show on all adjacent programming. Bischoff said the main misstep was that based on expectations, "SmackDown" just didn't deliver the audience the financial model was built upon during the deal. That's where Bischoff said he believed both WWE and Fox misjudged each other when negotiating on a price, as well as viewership.

"If we're doing X amount of viewers in cable, you kidding me? Fox, based on their current positioning within the marketplace in that period of time, should do at least twice that much or 50 percent or whatever number they came up with in projection," he said.

Despite the apparent missteps, Bischoff said in talks he was pertinent to, there was a lot of interest in extending the deal beyond the initial contract agreement, even when "SmackDown's" premiere didn't pull the numbers expected. Bischoff said the deal didn't come to pass for a number of reasons. He said the impact of streaming and the general state of television in 2023 impacted things, as the data negotiations were based on was only realistic and sound in 2017 or 2018.

"Television has continued to deteriorate in the last five years, despite the fact WWE has done a great job, SmackDown' has done a great job for Fox on Friday nights. It kicked a**. It just didn't kick enough a** to justify the cost. And that's just life," Bischoff explained.

'If You Can't Make WWE Work...'

Despite losing "SmackDown" due to whatever missteps on either part of the agreement, Bischoff doesn't think the channel will be keen on picking up any other wrestling company's show. He said he can't imagine that Fox is going to take a look at getting any AEW shows after WWE and "SmackDown" didn't work out. He called it "fantasy wrestling booking" on the podcast.

"I think that if Fox made up their mind that wrestling just wasn't viable enough for them... look, if you can't make WWE work, you're not going to make anything work. That simple," Bischoff said.

In the same podcast, Bischoff said he believes "SmackDown" will expand to three hours, like "WWE Raw" on USA Network on Monday nights. He said it made sense, as the network has the experience. "SmackDown" will move channels on Friday nights starting in October 2024.