The significant new ad deal was negotiated by FOX Sports Executive Vice President of Sports Sales, Seth Winter. Winter has worked with WWE since the 1980's when he sold inventory in the "Championship Wrestling" show on WOR-TV in New York.
Winter told AdAge that ad integrations will play a significant role in the Progressive - WWE partnership. He revealed that the in-show features that will define the "immersive sponsorship" will likely evolve over time.
Progressive isn't the only key brand that is backing WWE SmackDown when it moves to FOX next Friday night. Paramount, Pizza Hut, Boost Mobile and Snickers are also key brands involved in next Friday's launch. Paramount's sci-fi thriller "Gemini Man" with Will Smith and their "Playing with Fire" comedy are expected to get a lot of air time on SmackDown. "Playing with Fire" stars John Cena.
Winter also revealed that these sponsors will "have a significant presence in the show that goes beyond paid units."
It's no secret that FOX has heavily promoted the WWE product during recent NFL broadcasts. In the three weeks since the NFL season began, FOX's NFL coverage has served up around 140 million impressions for SmackDown promos, according to AdAge and iSpot.tv estimates. A larger promotional push will begin later this week when FOX's Thursday Night Football kicks off with the Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Green Bay Packers. WWE is set to receive another big push on next week's Thursday Night Football program, one night before the SmackDown premiere, as the Seattle Seahawks take on the Los Angeles Rams.
AdAge noted that FOX is doing everything possible to drive viewers to SmackDown on Friday nights for the big dollars. Last season saw FOX's Friday night line-up average a 0.8 rating in the money demographic, which translated to just over 1 million adult viewers in the 18-49 demographic per night. The going rate for a unit during "MasterChef" on FOX Friday nights was $73,463 per unit. Winter would not reveal the ratings guarantees that he has been offering to SmackDown advertisers. FOX did not disclose their average unit cost for SmackDown, but AdAge noted that a rate increase that's in line with a 25% boost in the timeslot's deliveries comes out to $92,000 per 30-second ad. Most of the SmackDown units were sold by FOX's entertainment sales team during the recent Upfronts, while Winter's team at FOX Sports negotiated the sponsorships mentioned above.
"The CPM we're getting for this show is reflective of a primetime CPM," Winter said. "While SmackDown advertisers have enjoyed a history of paying a cable CPM [on USA Network and precursor Syfy], ours is more reflective of a primetime broadcast CPM."
Winter revealed that demand for the new WWE ad package from FOX attracted 20 sponsors that previously never bought ad time on a pro wrestling show. Ad categories that have been "flocking" to SmackDown are movies, telecommunications, tech, insurance, and quick-serve restaurants. Eight of the top 20 SmackDown advertisers from the final season on the USA Network were from the "Quick-Serve Restaurant" category, and the bigger spenders were Domino's Pizza, Burger King, Little Caesars, Arby's, Popeyes, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Subway.
AdAge also noted that SmackDown has averaged a 0.6 rating for the past four months on the USA Network, and that this would be considered a failure at FOX. The network is available in almost 30 million more homes than the USA Network. Winter said he is not "terribly concerned" that SmackDown will have a hard time finding an audience on Friday nights, which usage among younger viewers is currently at an all-time low, and he "fully expects" WWE's blue brand show to enjoy demographic dominance on Friday nights.
Winter also believes that WWE's huge social media presence will go a long way in driving fans to the show. He said, "We want to seize the night. If you program for that demo, they will come."
It's possible that we will see fewer commercials during WWE SmackDown soon, as an "extra incentive" for younger wrestling fans who are down on traditional advertising. Winter said FOX "may look at reducing inventory loads" during blue brand broadcasts, possibly by 10-20%. Winter also revealed that the double-box commercial format, which is a staple of FOX's MLB and NFL broadcasts, likely won't find its way into SmackDown FOX broadcasts.
AdAge also spoke with John Brody, WWE's Executive Vice President of Global Sales. Brody said WWE's switch to PG programming has gone a long way toward attracting blue-chip advertisers.
"That pivot to more family-oriented programming allowed us to communicate with advertisers in a certain way that wasn't viable previously," Brody said. "Over the last several years we've really been working to evolve the connection we have with our partners, and since 2010 our sponsorships have quadrupled."
Brody credited WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon as one of the company's "most potent weapons" behind-the-scenes. McMahon recently began a series of informal sit-downs, which she calls "Lunch & Learns," as a way to further open the lines of communication between WWE and its advertisers. This gives the advertising sales team a better understanding of the objectives that brand partners look are looking to achieve with their spots on WWE programming.
AdAge noted how Stephanie worked a crowd of buyers and advertisers during FOX Sports' invite-only Upfront pitch in New York City back in April. Stephanie appeared on a panel with FOX Sports personalities Alex Rodriguez, Cris Carter, Terry Bradshaw, and Urban Meyer. After a sizzle reel with some of the top recent moments in sports, Stephanie explained how the WWE team plans to deliver similar moments when it moves to FOX Friday nights.
"With WWE we can script those big moments, because we're storytelling," she said at the event. "We can script the touchdown, we can script the buzzer beater. Audiences watch for different reasons and on different platforms, but no matter where they are, you need to entertain them. That's the game, right there. And we can make those moments happen, those memories that last a lifetime."
We've noted how WWE has confirmed several Hall of Famers and Legends for next Friday's big event, which will also be the SmackDown 20th Anniversary special, including Hulk Hogan, Sting, Ric Flair, Booker T, Lita, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Bill Goldberg, Trish Stratus, Mark Henry, and Jerry Lawler. The biggest name fans have been wondering about is The Rock.
AdAge revealed that "many other" special appearances are "being kept under wraps" for next Friday night and that The Rock may appear to promote his Jungle Cruise movie, which Disney will release on July 24, 2020.