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Sony’s WWE renewal includes WWE Network, Wrestlemania debuts on Fox Sports PPV

AJ Styles fights against Humberto Carrillo during the WWE Crown Jewel pay-per-view in Riyadh (by FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Pay-television broadcaster Sony Pictures Networks has finalised an extension and expansion to its rights deal in the Indian subcontinent with US-based wrestling organisation WWE, securing exclusive access to OTT platform WWE Network in the region.

First reported by SportBusiness Media in February, Sony’s new five-year deal, running from 2020 to 2024, grants it the rights to air Raw, SmackDown, NXT and WWE pay-per-view specials live on its sports and digital platforms in English, Hindi and regional languages.

The expanded deal also provides SPN with the rights to WWE Network, which will be made available to audiences in India exclusively through SonyLIV, SPN’s OTT platform.

Sony’s previous five-year contract ran from 2015 to 2019.

Sony previously did not have complete exclusivity over WWE content in the region. WWE has offered its WWE Network direct-to-consumer in the Indian subcontinent since 2015. The service has required a standalone subscription and can be accessed via internet-connected devices. WWE Network programming in India includes Raw and SmackDown reruns; all pay-per-view events under the WWE, WCW and ECW brands; and video-on-demand archive content.

In addition, for the first time under the new deal, SPN will curate content from WWE’s extensive video library. This includes live events, iconic matches, interviews with legends, reality shows and documentaries, on its own platforms.

WWE will also return to India with “even bigger” live events and athletes will visit the region for promotional tours to engage with fans.

Rajesh Kaul, head of sports and chief revenue officer for distribution at Sony Pictures Networks India, said: “WWE has been consistently ranking in the top three properties across all sports networks in India, dominating the sports entertainment space.

“We are delighted to extend our partnership with WWE in a first of its kind deal that will give us an increased exposure to valuable content and reach out to a broader viewer base across India on multiple platforms.”

James Rosenstock, WWE executive vice-president for international, added: “India is a strategically important market for WWE and Sony Pictures Networks has been an extraordinary partner in helping to grow our fanbase in the region making it one of the most-watched sports properties.”

At the end of October last year, the WWE share price fell by over 15 per cent amid doubts over the timing of new broadcast rights agreements in India and the Middle East and North Africa.

The agreement comes at a time when WWE’s popularity in India continues to grow. India ranks in first place for WWE YouTube consumption and in Facebook followers. In addition, WWE has been actively recruiting elite athletes and performers from the country.

Last year, WWE hosted its largest tryout in history, where more than 70 athletes from India showcased their abilities in Mumbai. Four Indian recruits were selected to begin training at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.

Wrestlemania on Fox Sports

Meanwhile, action from this weekend’s Wrestlemania event is to be streamed in the US market on a pay-per-view basis on the Fox Sports app and FOXSports.com website for the first time.

Fox Sports is making the two Wrestlemania events available for $59.99 (€53.87) on the Fox Sports and Fox Now apps via mobile and connected devices such as Apple TV, Android TV, Fire TV, Roku and Xbox One.

The 2020 Wrestlemania event had been in doubt due to the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic but is to take place over two days behind closed doors at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium was originally due to stage the event on Sunday, April 5.

In addition, Fox Sports will broadcast 22 hours of archive WWE content on Tuesday evenings across the spring, beginning with Royal Rumble 2020 tonight. Fox Sports said: “Additional programming on FS1 includes one-hour editions of Wrestlemania 31, Wrestlemania 33 and Wrestlemania 34, in addition to other specials from the WWE 24 and Ruthless Aggression series.

Fox Sports agreed a five-year WWE rights renewal in the middle of 2018. That agreement runs from 2019 to 2023.

Mark Silverman, president of national networks at Fox Sports, said: “We’re pleased to offer this new slate of WWE programming for viewers during these challenging times. We hope this line-up of sports entertainment programming serves as a much-needed relief for fans. We appreciate the hard work and creativity of the teams on both sides of our long-term partnership with WWE.”