USA Ponders Tag-Teaming With WWE

Will the possibility of "Vince McMahon: The Ride" help USA Network land a TV deal with World Wrestling Entertainment? The network is laying out plenty of inducements -- including an affiliation with parent company NBC Universal’s theme parks -- in its negotiations.

Unfortunately, the network is not laying out a lot of money.

USA Network lost WWE’s main attraction, Monday night prime time matches, to Spike TV in 2000. But with WWE’s ratings fading on Spike, which has found the off-network rights to CBS hit CSI a more reliable investment, new Spike President Doug Herzog is not pursuing a new deal with WWE Chairman McMahon, though he does have the right to match any USA offer. (USA Network would not comment on the negotiations, and a WWE spokesman could not be reached.)

SEC filings show that WWE was collecting $31 million annually from Spike TV, but WWE sold the ad time itself. Industry executives say that USA isn’t offering any big hike in the fee, instead relying on deal sweeteners, such as matches carried on NBC U’s Telemundo Spanish-language network; wrestling specials on NBC; and wrestling-based attractions and promotions at Universal’s theme parks.

When USA Network lost the rights five years ago, Spike offered its own enticements, including a plan to publish wrestling books and schedule a wrestling-based reality show on Viacom sibling MTV. But Spike also tripled WWE’s license fee.

WWE isn’t quite the treasure it was back then, when USA Network rushed to court to try to stop Spike (then called TNN). Ratings are down by almost half, from a peak Nielsen household rating of 6.0 to 3.4 today.

However, the Monday matches remain one of the biggest draws on cable and are a magnet for young male viewers, so rasslin’s hardly on the ropes.