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BT Sport on welcoming WWE to a new home after 30 years at Sky

The Drum 22 Jan 2020 12:56

What do The Rock’s right eyebrow, Ronda Rousey’s wrestling debut and Ric Flair’s retirement have in common? All three have been aired live exclusively on Sky in the UK.

For the past three decades, Sky has held the TV rights to all of WWE’s flagship shows, such as Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live. However, in June 2019 BT Sport outbid Sky to secure the twice-weekly coverage as part of an “exclusive multi-year” deal, which also includes two-hour programming from WWE’s ‘third brand’ NXT and its UK division.

The world’s largest wrestling company migrated to its new home in January this year, joining the Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, Gallagher Premiership Rugby, MotoGP and UFC on BT Sport.

“It’s the most fun property we’ve ever been given,” BT Sport’s head of marketing Ed Cracknell tells The Drum.

“As soon as the rights were announced we got so excited about the opportunity around it. It’s one of the most powerful and successful sports entertainment brands in the world and it’s different from other content we’ve had on the channel before.

When it came to the launch, however, Cracknell admits there was a “massive challenge” to navigate.

So, to mark the occasion, the broadcaster invested a big-budget campaign centred around ‘Moving Day’ on 14 January, with help from recently appointed agency Wunderman Thompson – which also worked with BT Sport on its Champions League coverage in 2019.

After meet-and-greets with fans, all this cumulated in a glitzy ‘housewarming party’ at BT Sport Studios in east London, featuring some in-ring action. Activations also ran across Twitter and Facebook in the form of behind-the-scenes content and promoted hashtags.

“I’d like to think we’re nearly there,” he says. “The feedback on Twitter already showcases how big of an investment we’ve made in WWE, fans have acknowledged that and respect us for it. So it’s a great place to be.”

The WWE partnership comes as it continues to muscle in on Sky Sports’ broadcast monopoly, and the network will be hoping its WWE coverage gives a boost to its subscription numbers, which currently sit at 2.2 million against Sky’s 8.6m.

As well as Raw, SmackDown and NXT exclusively live every week, BT Sport will also be home to pay-per-view events such as Royal Rumble, WrestleMania 36, SummerSlam and Survivor Series, via BT Sport Box Office HD.

Cracknell stresses that BT Sport has made a “real commitment to WWE”.

The future for WWE

In the meantime, it has been doubling down on its own streaming service and as of April 2019, the group reported that WWE Network ended the first quarter of the year with 1.58 million paying subscribers.

“I don’t actually sit within that area, so it’s hard for me to comment on but the [Premier League] BT TV proposition is amazing and delivers customers the content they want,” he says.

On top of the WWE ‘Moving Day’ push, the agency has pushed the brand to be more creative with its ‘Unscripted’ work to promote the Champions League and another campaign which implored the general public to cancel important life events to watch the football.

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