Every so often, a deal surrounding a different sport or entertainment property impacts the world of college football. This time, it’s the world of sports entertainment, better known to most as professional wrestling.
And its impact on cable giant Fox could see some Big Ten and Big 12 teams scheduled to play on Friday nights in the near future.
Fox Prepping to Play Big Ten & Big 12 Games on Fridays?
WWE has had their property Friday Night Smackdown airing on Fox during their primetime slot from 8 P.M. ET to 10 P.M. ET but that is coming to an end. According to multiple reports, WWE has agreed to move Friday Night Smackdown to NBC Universal’s USA Network to the tune of $1.4 billion over the next five years.
That deal is $400 million higher than what they received from Fox and it was viewed as a massive disappointment to only get a 40% increase in today’s market. That, however, isn’t the biggest story, especially in the world of college football.
The story is what happens on Friday nights on Fox.
With the new television deals signed with both the Big Ten and Big 12, Fox will be airing both properties for the foreseeable future. Their massive investment in both conferences will pay dividends, but will it also see a shift to Friday nights?
ESPN has been airing college games on Thursday and Friday nights for the better part of three decades with more games making the shift to the beginning of the weekend to increase viewership.
Just this past Friday, there were four college football games on Friday night with two at 7 p.m. ET and two at 10 p.m. ET. Those games were all on cable and theoretically got more attention than they would have on a Saturday slate that was loaded this past weekend.
For context, two games on Friday, September 15, finished top five in the cable ratings.
- 1) Army vs. UTSA: 916k viewers, 0.29 in the 18-49 demographic
- 4) Virginia vs. Maryland: 776k with 0.18 in the 18-49 demographic
These ratings are honestly great for Friday night on cable, as a lot of the country is spending Friday night going out or doing something with friends and family.
In contrast, Friday Night Smackdown in the same time slot had significantly better ratings at 2.44 million viewers and 0.64 in the 18-49 demographic. On network television, they were third in total viewers by less than 100k viewers but were in first place in the demographic by nearly three times second place (0.64 to 0.22).
What does that mean? Quite simply, Fox wanted out of the WWE business, but they could easily shift that focus to staying with live sports by airing Big Ten and Big 12 games on Friday nights.
For the last few years, the Big Ten has already been airing games on Friday nights on both FS1 and Big Ten Network. That shift to network television could be a ratings boom for Fox. It also would mean increased exposure for both college football as a whole and the athletes that make the sport special.
Smackdown is coming off of the air on Fox in September of 2024, which means we will know how Fox will handle their scheduling on Friday nights sooner rather than later.