World Wrestling Entertainment fans may not love every storyline and feud presented by the company in the spring of 2018, but all had better realize that Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and others have few reasons to make major changes to shows such as Raw and SmackDown following the company’s new media rights deals. According to multiple reports, the WWE is set to earn over $2 billion, in total, for Raw to remain on USA Network and SmackDown to make the move to over-the-air Fox. Per Marisa Guthrie of the Hollywood Reporter, Fox paid over $1 billion for the rights to SmackDown over the next five years. This will have SmackDown move from USA to Fox in the fall of 2019, most likely in October of that year once the network’s new television schedule launches. So much remains unknown about the future of both Raw and SmackDown and about the WWE product, in general, largely because a lot can and will occur in the promotion, the sports world and the television industry between the summer of 2018 and October 2019. Because of all of this uncertainty, a plethora of rumors and speculation have arisen among fans and even journalists about what may take place once SmackDown officially moves to Fox.
The nature of these rumors are likely to change and evolve as we draw closer to October 2019, and reporters obtain a better grasp of what may or may be for SmackDown ahead of its first episode on Fox. Obviously, changes are going to come to different aspects of the show, such as how it is presented both on television and to in-person audiences. What night will SmackDown air come 2019? Will other programs and events that either don’t exist as of the tying of this sentence or that currently air on the WWE Network air on Fox properties? Perhaps the most important rumors regard what could occur if this deal goes disastrously for all involved. WWE will cash-in, of course, but Fox could make changes to where, when and how SmackDown airs if the show fails to draw-in an expected amount of viewers by the spring of 2020. We know, for sure, that any concerns about the WWE potentially going out of business at any point in the foreseeable future have flown out the figurative window. Who could have guessed during the “Attitude Era” that SmackDown would become the top draw and No. 1 program produced by the WWE on a weekly basis?
15 SmackDown Becomes the “A” Show
Perhaps the most obvious rumored scenario to expect once SmackDown moves to Fox is that the blue brand will become the so-called “A” show and replace Raw as the top WWE brand. This is not just because of the amount of money Fox has spent on the show. SmackDown will air on over-the-air Fox, meaning the show will be in front of more eyes and, theoretically, should be watched by more people than watch Raw starting in 2019. Of course, there is no guarantee SmackDown is going to produce ratings similar that for weekly editions of Sunday Night Football.
For starters, history has shown that wrestling fans and customers, like other television viewers, are creatures of habit who save hours of their time each Monday for wrestling content. It also cannot be forgotten that, as of June 2018, Raw and SmackDown are two separate entities with different stars. There are definitely some WWE fans out there who already view SmackDown as their “A” show. What will the WWE do to promote SmackDown as the can’t-miss program ahead of Raw? Furthermore, what demands, if any, can Fox make for the WWE regarding SmackDown in October 2019? This shift will be fascinating to watch in the spring and summer of 2019.
14 Signing More Independent Stars
The WWE, specifically Triple H (or “Uncle Paul” in the NXT Universe), has been far more open about signing independent wrestling stars than Vince McMahon and others were even a decade ago. Diehard wrestling fans probably do not have to think hard to remember a time when Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka and even AJ Styles would have never received more than a look from WWE scouts. Triple H has done well to rebuild NXT following main-roster call-ups, but Fox is probably going to want even more stars who have built reputations for SmackDown in October 2019.
The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Cody and other indie darlings may be having fun wrestling for Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and other promotions, but the WWE could soon make them all offers they can’t refuse.
Imagine the Bullet Club debuting on SmackDown in January 2020, at the latest, and feuding with other factions that are either already in the WWE or that could be signed by the promotion. We could be closer than ever before to those fantasy matches becoming reality. Look for the WWE to continue raiding the independents over the next 12 months.
13 WWE Remains PG
WWE fans holding onto the hope that the company will move away from the supposed “PG Era” and go back to a TV-14 format and programming that was seen during the late 1990s need to put those dreams to bed. Vince McMahon taking the WWE to a PG format was more about advertisers than about what was desired by executives working for NBC Universal at the time.
Per the previously mentioned Hollywood Reporter story, one reason some within Fox coveted wrestling programming over UFC shows was that the WWE was “family friendly.”
That's something that cannot always be said about mixed martial arts shows that often feature bad language and fighters bloodied inside of a cage. It’s understandable WWE fans who grew up watching the promotion during the Attitude Era remember those shows fondly. Nostalgia works like that. Go back and watch the majority of those programs, and you may find yourself downright shocked with how much they don’t hold up 20 years later. NXT is a PG show, and plenty of WWE fans enjoy it just fine. PG not only is not a problem for WWE writers. It is, apparently, one big reason the WWE just made over $2 billion on television contracts. WWE will remain PG past 2020.
12 The Authority Moves to SmackDown
With SmackDown supposedly on the verge of becoming the “A” show in 2019 ahead of the program’s move to Fox, one has to assume that it will only be a matter of time before Stephanie McMahon, Triple H and, possibly, other members of The Authority become mainstays on SmackDown. This is not just pessimistic thinking among those who have grown tired of the idea of the WWE once again going back to using the heel authority figure for one or both of the main roster brands.
Throughout the winter and spring months, wrestling journalists such as Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez speculated that part of the reason Ronda Rousey battled alongside Kurt Angle to face Stephanie and Triple H at WrestleMania 34 is because the WWE wants to get the daughter of Vince McMahon over as a star on her own.
Making Stephanie one of the faces of its top brand, for better or for worse, seems like a logical step assuming that remains a goal for the company in the summer of 2019.
That may lead to another WWE main roster member making a permanent move from Raw to SmackDown in next year’s Superstar Shakeup or following the 2019 edition of SummerSlam. More on that later.
11 WrestleMania to FOX?
It was not all that long ago when even the thought of the WWE airing WrestleMania, it’s biggest show and most expensive pay-per-view of the year, on over-the-air television would have been considered a terrible decision. So much about the company’s business is going to change once these deals become official. WWE is going to make over $2 billion from these television contracts, and the company already offers WrestleMania live and for free on the WWE Network for new subscribers and also for subscribers who receive an email regarding an unpaid return to the streaming service for a set amount of time.
At this point, the WWE moving WrestleMania to Fox for a one-off experiment could be the best decision for the promotion and also for Fox.
The two sides could sell advertising space during a pre-event show and during the actual program, and there wouldn’t be too much of a worry about WrestleMania going past 11 pm ET on Fox affiliates on a Sunday. WWE has often advertised WrestleMania as its version of the Super Bowl. How many millions of casual viewers who otherwise ignore the WWE would either tune-in to WrestleMania or attend a ‘Mania party at a friend’s house or a bar?
10 Move to Friday
One of the biggest rumors that continues to surface in stories about SmackDown making the inevitable move to Fox involves the network switching the show from Tuesday evenings to Friday nights. This is significant for many reasons. One would think that Tuesday, a weeknight, would be a better slot for any show, let alone a pro wrestling product, than Fridays.
SmackDown has aired on Friday nights in the past, and it was seen as being in a “death slot” at that time.
ESPN routinely airs NBA doubleheaders that feature at least a couple of the more-popular teams and/or biggest stars in the league on Fridays, meaning SmackDown will not be without competition for viewers, particularly younger eyes who may be drawn to the NBA in the fall 2019 and winter of 2020.
Logic tells us that ratings for a SmackDown show that airs every Friday will drop during the summer months when kids are out of school, families take vacations and people spend more time outdoors. Nevertheless, WWE fans may want to get used to the idea of either watching television every Friday night or recording editions of SmackDown and then watching them over weekends. Fox executives have more than enough time to reconsider this, as the channel’s Fall 2019 schedule is not yet set in stone.
9 Ronda Rousey to SmackDown
Before we get to the last rumored scenario, one that would make this idea obsolete (no disrespect meant to Brother Nero), assume that the plan is for the WWE to continue the brand split and keep Raw and SmackDown separate from each other, outside of pay-per-view events, for the rest of the decade. Ronda Rousey making the jump from Raw to SmackDown not only makes sense. It’s practically a move the WWE has to make.
Fans who would rather see wrestlers such as the WWE’s version of the Four Horsewomen pushed ahead of Rousey in storylines need to understand that the former Ultimate Fighting Championship talent is a bigger star and household name than any other performer, probably even including Brock Lesnar, signed on the main roster.
Rousey draws attraction from media outlets, and keeping her strong up until the point where she is capable of becoming the face of SmackDown could, realistically, be the plan over the next year and a half.
Rousey needs plenty of work as an in-ring performer before she is capable of taking that type of role. Fortunately, she has time to develop, and she is also an incredible athlete with a history of cutting promos. If she proves to be a natural at pro wrestling, she could become SmackDown’s top star.
8 Move to Three Hours
Much like with those rumors consistently linking SmackDown with making the move to Friday nights in October 2019, there continues to be speculation that Fox will look to turn SmackDown into a three-hour show to mirror Raw. After all, Fox is paying literally $1 billion (plus) for the rights to SmackDown, meaning the network is going to want to get the absolute most out of this deal. Fox affiliates around the United States go to local news at 10 pm, which means the idea of those networks airing three hours of any pro wrestling product every Friday is not possible. Fox has more than just those networks, though.
A third hour of SmackDown could go to FS1 during the spring and summer months when Major League Baseball games aren’t being down on that channel.
FS1 does have college football throughout the fall, but a third hour, which could potentially be an updated version of Talking Smack, could air on either FS2 or a different Fox property. Whatever the plan may be, WWE fans who struggle watching three hours of Raw every week probably do not even want to think about three hours of SmackDown being added to their schedules. You have roughly a year and a half to get ready for it.
7 Cancellation Threats?
While earning a boatload of money from the deal that will see SmackDown move to Fox is wonderful business for the WWE, it’s not all guaranteed sunshine and roses for Vince McMahon, his writers and others within the company. Expectations will be high for SmackDown ratings directly out of the gates, and Fox could, potentially, have options regarding airing the show on a different network if the program flops on Friday nights. SmackDown could even, technically speaking, get canceled within a couple of seasons, although one has to assume that is a long-shot knowing how much Fox paid for the show and also knowing how many people watch programs that air on FS1 and FS2.
With all of that said, it has been rumored that Fox expects that SmackDown will draw more eyes on its network than what both the blue brand and Raw attract on the USA Network in the fall of 2018. That is a major ask for any program airing live on Friday nights, but the WWE still has plenty of “golden carrots” to keep Fox’s hopes alive if the show is even somewhat of a letdown in October 2019. The main roster could, and will, look a lot different one year from now.
6 Hulk Hogan Returns
While those of us who don’t work for the WWE don’t know, for sure, one has to assume that those rumors about Hulk Hogan returning to the company that emerged earlier this year did not go public on accident. By now, anybody who has followed the promotion knows all about what happened to land Hogan in hot water. What’s done is done. People forget, and people forgive. Hogan is no longer the biggest star in the wrestling industry, but his critics and those who think that the WWE should stay away from welcoming him back with open arms are kidding themselves if they don't think he would draw.
The Hulkster would get a massive pop and maybe even generate a decent rating were he to make his return to the organization, possibly in October 2019 for the first episode of SmackDown that airs on Fox.
We’re not sure making Hogan a weekly character, such as the General Manager of SmackDown, would be best for him, the WWE or for Fox, but it once again feels like it will only be a matter of time before he rocks his famous red and yellow inside of a WWE ring. Honestly, it’s probably a safer bet Hogan will head back to the WWE before CM Punk does. Sorry, Punk fans.
5 Brand Split Ends
Unlike during the Monday Night Wars when pay-per-view revenue and drawing customers to shows was just as important as generating massive television ratings — arguably more important, even — the WWE’s biggest goal come 2019 is going to be to increase TV ratings for both Raw and SmackDown. Seemingly the easiest way to do this would be to eliminate the brand split and have one stacked main roster filled with recognizable stars fans would want to see.
This would not necessarily mean that WWE could not still use two or even three touring brands in late 2019 and 2020, nor would it force Ronda Rousey, AJ Styles, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman and other top stars to appear on both Raw and SmackDown 52 weeks each year. It would, however, give the WWE more options for booking those television shows. If done correctly, having one main roster could even strengthen NXT to the point that either Fox, USA Network or some other entity would pay to air it on a network by the end of the decade. It’s about to be a crazy new WWE Universe, one facing different realities and many interesting possibilities. The WWE has the talent to build the greatest single roster in the history of pro wrestling. Whether or not Vince McMahon should go in this direction is a matter of opinion.
4 SmackDown to Remain Live
Back when SmackDown would air on Friday nights and also Thursday nights, the show was, more often than not, taped on Tuesday evenings. The rumored scenario as of the end of May 2018 is that Fox wishes to keep SmackDown live, which will affect more than just how and when that show is produced. SmackDown airing live on Fridays would change touring schedules for the blue brand beginning next fall, and it would also make SmackDown the definitive “go home” show ahead of every pay-per-view. We don’t yet know what would happen during a WrestleMania weekend when a Hall of Fame ceremony occurs on Friday, an NXT Takeover takes place on Saturday, WrestleMania occurs on Sunday, Raw on Monday and then, up through next spring, SmackDown on Tuesday.
Would Fox change its schedule for that one week? Would Fox or FS1 air the Hall of Fame in place of SmackDown? These are questions Fox and the WWE will have to answer before WrestleMania 36. Another thing Fox will have to consider is if airing SmackDown live on Fridays is worth avoiding spoilers that would hit websites if the network taped editions of the program earlier in the week. For what it’s worth, these spoilers did not make all that much of a difference for SmackDown ratings last decade.
3 NXT Moves to FS1
For what it’s worth, Wrestling Observer creator and editor Dave Meltzer recently went out of the way to squash a rumor claiming that NXT could make the jump from the WWE Network to FS1. One reason Vince McMahon and others responsible for what airs on the WWE Network would like to prevent this from happening is that the company has to keep the network appealing to customers who pay roughly $10 per month for the streaming service. For many, four to five hours of unique NXT shows each month is a better reason to subscribe to the WWE Network than monthly pay-per-view/special events.
The plan as of the signing of the deal may be for McMahon to keep as much NXT on the WWE Network as he can, but Fox could push the issue over the next 16 months.
Fox could ask the WWE for one or two NXT Takeover shows per year, or the network could sweeten the current contract and make airing weekly editions of NXT worth it even if those who love the developmental product over Raw and SmackDown responded by canceling their WWE Network subscriptions. Then again, Fox could go a different route in the way that it shows additional WWE content each week.
2 Daily WWE Content?
One of the more interesting notes from the Hollywood Reporter story involved quotes from Fox owner Rupert Murdoch, who reportedly said that he believed NBCU/USA Network was “embarrassed” by the WWE product, and that Vince McMahon could expect better from Fox if the WWE Chairman put pen to paper with Murdoch’s network. It now appears fans should get ready to see SmackDown promos airing on Fox properties seven days a week, perhaps even during National Football League games that occur on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons.
There have also apparently been discussions between the two entities about FS1 airing a weekly studio WWE program. While one can only speculate regarding the rumors of what that show could become, some on social media platforms immediately suggested that FS1 could air a version of the popular “Talking Smack” program that once ran on WWE Network.
This studio show could also be a different type of “week in review” program that showcases what occurred on Raw, SmackDown and maybe even NXT. This may seem like a great idea, on paper, but remember that there are already five hours of original Raw and SmackDown programming created by the WWE each week, and that doesn’t include 205 Live and NXT. How much more will WWE fans be willing to consume in October 2019?
This is another rumored scenario that should not surprise those who have followed the WWE and have watched when Raw and SmackDown have changed networks in the past. Each station that has aired those shows has wanted to put their own spins on programs, and Fox will likely have new ideas for how SmackDown will look on television and inside of arenas.
It is almost a guarantee that SmackDown will feature a new set and maybe even an updated version of the Titantron currently seen on the blue brand.
The TV presentation of SmackDown, including logos, promos and maybe even camera angles could also all be altered. One even has to wonder if Fox will ask for a fresh commentary crew. Mauro Ranallo is currently working weekly NXT shows that air on the WWE Network, and he has experience calling major combat sports events. It’s not a stretch to believe Fox would want Ranallo for its main WWE product come October 2019. By that time, Ranallo will be used to working underneath the WWE umbrella. It’s also worth noting somebody such as Vic Joseph, currently on 205 Live, could make the jump to NXT if Fox wants Ranallo for SmackDown.