WWE Releases Its Hold On ‘Smackdown!’ Ad Time

New York Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment officials are hoping that a new ad-inventory deal with UPN for Thursday-night telecasts of Smackdown! will attract more advertisers to the WWE-produced wrestling show.

Smackdown! is a popular outlet for movie studios, videogames and the U.S. military. The WWE reports that a total of 160 advertisers have bought into the show. But many mainstream advertisers have shied away from the program due to content issues with the “sports-entertainment” program’s frequently raunchy storylines. And Smackdown! has lost a lot of the heat that made it a network TV phenomenon in recent years.

Under the current multiyear deal, which expires at the end of this season, the WWE pays UPN a fee of $300,000 per week and retains all but two minutes of the ad time in each installment of Smackdown!. Under the new deal, which begins this fall, UPN will pay the WWE a $588,000 weekly licensing fee and retain all the advertising inventory.

While Smackdown! remains UPN’s most popular show among young men, its ratings have fallen 38 percent among males ages 12-34 and 48 percent among male teens from its peak during the 1999-2000 season, according to Nielsen Media Research. This season, young-male demo ratings are down by nearly 10 percent. However, media buyers note that the Thursday 8-10 p.m. series, which this season is averaging a 3.6 rating/11 share among males 12-34 and a 4.6/14 among male teens, still delivers a valuable segment of viewers.

“The key for UPN will be to keep it priced right,” said one media buyer whose clients have advertised during Smackdown!

Although the WWE has not been able to package Smackdown! buys with other UPN programming, the buyer noted that the producer has offered integrated packages that include WWE telecasts on cable, WWE magazines and Web sites, pay-per-view sponsorships and on-site ads, all of which have helped keep the per-spot CPMs on UPN quite low.

“UPN will not have all of that to add into the mix,” the buyer said.

The WWE anticipates that UPN will be able to bring some new advertisers to the wrestling series by packaging buys with other programming on the network, something WWE could not do under the present deal. “It seemed to make sense to let UPN take its highest-rated show and sell it with its other shows,” said Gary Davis, a WWE representative.

Smackdown! commercials currently average about $18,000 per 30-second spot.

Buyers said UPN could probably bump the rate up to $25,000 without much resistance because of the value of the audience. “It would still be an efficient buy,” one buyer said. “But in order to make the new deal profitable, UPN will have to keep all of the current advertisers who have deals with WWE, add some and get them to pay more money.”

UPN officials would not discuss how they plan to sell Smackdown! in this spring’s upfront. WWE’s Davis said the producer hopes that its sales staff can work with UPN to drive Smackdown! advertisers to the WWE for other packages. The WWE also airs wrestling telecasts on cable network TNN, which, like UPN, is a division of Viacom.