According to WrestleVotes (h/t Ringside News), “The John Cena vs. Undertaker feud will take place on SmackDown Live leading up to WrestleMania 34.” Though it’s noted that the upcoming rivalry between “The Champ” and “The Deadman” may also “lead over to Raw at times” (and another report indicates the feud may take place primarily on Raw), the timing of Cena’s temporary move to the blue brand likely isn’t a coincidence.
SmackDown viewership has struggled mightily this year, sinking for six straight weeks to start the year before it hit its second highest viewership of 2018 and its highest viewership since January 2nd for Cena’s return on the February 27th episode.
That continued the trend of Cena boosting business for the blue brand, just like he did in early 2017 when he essentially single-handedly propelled SmackDown to better live event attendance and in late 2016 when his return catapulted the show to higher TV viewership than Raw.
Now, it appears that WWE may move Cena to SmackDown again for his feud with The Undertaker, an interesting choice that would ultimately be the right one for the company.
The news of Cena/Undertaker potentially shifting over to the blue brand comes on the heels of reports that SmackDown could move to a new home next year. According to multiple reports, FOX has emerged as a serious suitor to land WWE’s next TV deal, which explains why FOX executives were in attendance at last week’s SmackDown taping and has, along with Facebook and Amazon, established itself as a strong candidate to become the new home of Raw and SmackDown.
The Sporting News also reports that “Fox is dangling the opportunity to air WWE Raw on the Fox broadcast channel, with Tuesday night SmackDown Live going to its FS1 sports cable channel” and that FOX could shell out as much as $400 million per year to land WWE’s next TV contract, though it’s likely the price tag won’t end up being that high.
WWE’s current TV deal with the USA Network, which includes the rights to air both Raw and SmackDown, ends on September 30, 2019, but USA’s exclusive negotiating window with WWE ends soon and has paved the way for other suitors.
Make no mistake about it: WWE considering moving the build for The Undertaker vs. John Cena to SmackDown is a direct result of the company wanting to land a more lucrative TV contract, no matter where that deal might come from.
The USA Network would seemingly be a strong candidate to retain the rights to Raw and SmackDown, but with FOX reportedly willing to let go of UFC in order to land WWE, Vince McMahon’s company can and should pull out all the stops to make the WWE product as appealing as possible.
We’re just one week in to the Cena on SmackDown experiment, and it’s already resulted in the blue brand’s highest viewership in nearly two months, which happened before The Undertaker has even made his TV return.
The Undertaker’s highly anticipated TV return in the fall of 2016 helped propel the show to a massive viewership increase of more than 800,000 viewers, and especially after many fans thought he retired at WrestleMania 33 last year, his return to SmackDown would do wonders for the blue brand’s viewership in the near future…
Adapted From Forbes Sports.