Fox uses promotional power to hype WWE relationship
The WWE launches its “Friday Night Smackdown” series on Fox on Oct. 4, but anyone who has been watching that network or FS1 over the past year would be forgiven for thinking that the five-year deal had started much earlier.
Not only has WWE talent made countless appearances on Fox shows, but Fox’s own on-air talent references WWE stars and events regularly.
During the NFL’s Week 2, Fox had each of its play-by-play announcers during its 1 p.m. ET games voice promos for the upcoming WWE draft. During a preview show around the U.S. Open golf tournament, Fox interviewed WWE’s The Miz.
Braun Strowman was in the booth during a Cubs-Cardinals game on Fox. Titus O’Neil was interviewed on the sidelines of the Michigan-Wisconsin game on Fox. Charlotte Flair has been part of Fox’s NASCAR coverage this year. This week, before the Rams-Seahawks “Thursday Night Football” game, Daniel Bryan will be Seattle’s designated “12th Man.”
“The day we closed the deal last summer, all the producers in every sport have organically — even without prompting — done integrations with the WWE,” said Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer of Fox Sports. “Now that they’re in the family, everybody’s WWE fandom who works here can come out. That to me is what has been most impressive. If you watch our air across NASCAR, golf, baseball, football, every sport every weekend has some sort of WWE integration.”
That level of promotion is unusual for the WWE, which has had a relationship with USA Network for more than a quarter century. USA Network, though, runs its WWE relationships through its entertainment division.
Fox’s sports division is the one running the WWE relationship, which offers more latitude for promotion. This marks the first time WWE has been part of a network’s sports division, and it shows. The WWE launch is a huge focus for Fox Sports, which over the past several months has held weekly all-hands meetings to gear up for the launch.
“It feels like family; it feels like home,” said WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon, referencing the fact that the WWE under the McMahons and News Corp. under the Murdochs are family-run businesses. “We have so many synergies across the board with Fox, so many shared values in terms of our content and how we want to position it. We’re having a whole lot of fun.”
What makes the level of promotion so interesting is the fact that it goes beyond sports. McMahon and her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, attended the Emmys together earlier this month. Fox carried the awards show and interviewed the couple on the red carpet.
The Bella Twins presented at the Fox Teen Choice Awards. WWE talent was part of “MasterChef Junior” and “25 Words or Less” shows.
“What you see is that those sensibilities that they have in common with the sports department has brought a lot of these promotional opportunities and creativity and integrations to life,” Shanks said. “We’re getting much better at [having entertainment and sports divisions work together].” — J.O.