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WWE ‘in talks with ESPN+’ over PPV streaming deal

World Wrestling Entertainment is engaged in discussions with ESPN about putting its pay-per-view events on direct-to-consumer streaming service ESPN+, according to The Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

The potential deal follows WWE’s attempts to redress declining subscription numbers to its OTT platform WWE Network, and bounce back from executive turmoil following the abrupt dismissal of co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios in January.

Earlier this month, WWE reported in its latest financial report that WWE Network’s average paid subscribers dropped 10 per cent to 1.42m, slightly lower than the company’s 1.43m projection. WWE also said it was evaluating “strategic alternatives” for the WWE Network going forward to help bolster its financial fortunes.

“We have a lot of options [for WWE Network monetization],” WWE chairman Vince McMahon said the most recent earnings call. “We could continue on as we are now, with an enhancement of a tier…we also have an option right now – there’s no more better time to exercise the selling of our rights to all the majors who, quite frankly, all the majors are really clamoring for our content. So that could be a significant increase, obviously, in terms of revenue.”

WWE would potentially be looking to sign a deal similar to the one that Ultimate Fighting Championship has with ESPN+.

In March 2019, UFC deepened its partnership with ESPN with a deal which places its pay-per-view events exclusively on ESPN+ in the United States until 2025. The ppv deal built on the five-year pact for OTT rights signed in 2018, and extended that agreement by two years.

The mixed martial arts series has been integral to the growth of ESPN+, which gained 568,000 new subscribers in January 2019, directly from the onset of ESPN’s rights deal with UFC.

More recently, Disney chief executive Bob Iger recently revealed that one million people purchased the Colin McGregor-Donald Cerrone UFC fight in January 2020 and became instant ESPN+ subscribers, albeit on a possible short-term basis.