WWE, UFC gaining national traction

Whether it’s “sports entertainment” (WWE) or mixed martial arts (UFC), it’s apparently a good time to be making deals with broadcast partners.

In the past week or so, Fox agreed to pay WWE about $1 billion for five years beginning in October 2019 to carry “Smackdown Live.” In addition, ESPN agreed to pay a reported $1.5 billion over five years to carry UFC events.

The deals are not a sign of the demise of stick-and-ball sports — because networks will pay for those the next time they’re available too. Instead, as markets splinter and outlets increase, broadcasters are paying more to secure some sort of live content — even if the outcome is predetermined (as is the case with the WWE).

For WWE, “Smackdown Live” will shift from its current Tuesday night timeslot on USA to Friday nights on Fox when the deal kicks in next year. And that’s not Fox Sports, that’s Fox, a broadcast network that hopes to attract valuable viewers with the move. ESPN is taking the same chance on UFC.

Both personality and storyline driven “leagues” get wider distribution as a result of the deals and likely more attention. In general, more people watch Fox than USA and you can certainly expect ESPN, with “SportsCenter,” other programming and even UFC-specific shows, to amp up its promotion of action inside the octagon.

Among the intriguing potential cross promotions is the possibility of excitable play-by-play man Gus Johnson having a cameo as a WWE broadcaster. OK, it’s far-fetched but more likely now than it was two weeks ago.

Stanley stuff

With a big underdog story (Las Vegas) and big TV market (Washington), as well as several solid supporting storylines, TV ratings and viewership for the Stanley Cup Final could be decent, even strong — at least by hockey standards.

Along with the action on the ice, the best play-by-play man in sports (Doc Emrick) has the call for the series that begins at 8 p.m. Monday on NBC. The second and third games of the series will air on NBC Sports Network with remaining games on NBC. Thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury, a rooting interest against the Capitals and generally strong interest in hockey, Pittsburgh could rank among the stronger markets for viewership series.

Tuner tidbits

n Today, starting with the Monaco Grand Prix (9 a.m., ABC), followed by the Indy 500 (12 p.m., ABC) and finally the Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m., Fox), it could be all racing all the time for motorsports fans. Still, Indy might be the most compelling. It’s far less follow-the-leader than F1, offers Danica Patrick and other interesting storylines, and has enjoyed a revival compared to NASCAR in recent years. This also marks the last of 54 consecutive Indy 500s televised by ABC as NBC takes over next year.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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