NEW YORK — Propelled by jacked-up primetime ratings for its weekly shows on USA and UPN — and gains in attendance at arenas and in pay-per-view buys — the World Wrestling Federation posted record profits in the just-ended third quarter.
But Linda McMahon, president and CEO of the WWF, said in a phone interview that “Wall Street is still skeptical” over the WWF’s plan to spend between $75 million and $100 million to create a pro football league called the XFL, slated to kick off in eight major cities in February 2001.
The skepticism, McMahon said, arises from the fact that “we haven’t signed a deal with a media company” to guarantee that XFL games will “have a broadcast and cable partner” to cover a majority of the contests. (If the league gets off the ground, the eight teams will play a 10-week season, followed by a four-team playoff and a championship final.)
She declined to comment on a report that Viacom/CBS has offered $100 million in cash, plus tens of millions more worth of promotional spots to ballyhoo WWF wrestling and football, as part of an umbrella deal with the WWF.
In exchange for the cash and promo spots, the WWF would take its four weekly WWF cable series away from the USA Network and move them to the CBS-owned TNN Network.
McMahon said the WWF will announce both a broadcast and a cable deal for its wrestling and pro football events “within the next 30 days.” If she decides not to renew the WWF’s deal with USA, McMahon said she could contractually remove the wrestling shows as early as October.
According to the WWF, USA’s flagship weekly series “WWF Raw Is War” has shot up in the third quarter by 17% to a 6.1 average rating in cable homes compared with the same period last year.
And UPN’s weekly two-hour series “WWF Smackdown” has jumped by 6% in rating between the second and third quarters, the WWF said. Viacom, a half-owner of UPN, has triggered a buy-sell provision and offered to pay the other owner, Chris-Craft/United, $5 million to take over total control of UPN. That offer has become murky because Chris-Craft/United has sued Viacom, saying that the proposed merger of Viacom and CBS violates the UPN contract.
But sources said Viacom is confident it will eventually take over UPN, making it easier to renew “WWF Smackdown” even if Viacom doesn’t end up doing an overall deal with the WWF that would include XFL games on both UPN and TNN.
In the quarterly report, the WWF reported an increase in cash flow of 36%, from $17.7 million in the third quarter last year to $24.1 million for the current third quarter. The WWF ended the quarter with $243 million in cash, the company said, compared with only $28 million for the same period a year ago.