Burke Magnus, who works as ESPN's Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling, spoke with The Wrap this week and revealed that the network took a "hard look" at the rights to WWE SmackDown, but they were unable to make a live, 52-week show fit into their programming line-up.
"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," Magnus said. "But we couldn't find a fit for it, primarily based on schedule."
He continued, "As you know, those properties are 52 weeks a year live, and I'm proud to say we have a pretty good problem, which is that we can't clear anything 52 weeks a year live. We have a pretty full portfolio of content as it is."
Magnus noted that they tried to make the ESPN - SmackDown deal work, but it just couldn't happen. He was asked if there was any consideration to WWE implementing a SmackDown off-season to work within ESPN's parameters.
"Not specifically that, but we looked at all kinds of conversations to try and make it fit. It just didn't work," Magnus said. "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."
Magnus also said the SmackDown deal would have been in addition to the huge UFC deal they ended up signing. "The UFC deal was really done before that, we were already set in stone. ['SmackDown'] was going to be in addition to that," he said.
On a related note, Magnus said ESPN did not have any TV deal talks with All Elite Wrestling. AEW is expected to be confirmed for WarnerMedia's Turner on Wednesday with a new weekly show launching this fall on TNT. AEW did not approach ESPN. "They did not come to us," Magnus said.