USA plans to pursue WWF rights in court

Company seeking injunction

Vince McMahon and Sumner Redstone may soon be facing off against Barry Diller in court.

Diller’s USA Cable, a unit of USA Networks, said Wednesday that it had matched an offer by Viacom/CBS for cable rights to McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (Daily Variety, April 12). The company also said it is seeking a court injunction to enforce its programming rights, which were included in a contract with WWF in 1998.

“Now that USA has matched the outstanding offer, its contract protects USA’s rights for the next five years. Upon resolution of this matter, USA intends to continue its two decade-long, prosperous relationship with the WWF,” USA said in a statement.

USA’s move comes a month after WWF moved to cancel the final year of its contract with the cable network so it could negotiate with other outlets.

Tackling football issue

Viacom/CBS’ offer reportedly included perks like airing the WWF’s XFL football league games — set to begin in February — Wednesday nights on UPN, ads on MTV, and overall benefits of the combined companies’ wide presence across TV, radio and billboards.

Sources said that the WWF and Viacom/CBS will likely file a counter-motion claiming that USA can not provide the one thing that WWF wants at the moment: a broadcast home for XFL.

Last month, the WWF reached a broadcast agreement for the XFL on NBC on Saturday nights, but they still have three more XFL games they are hoping to set up in primetime.

Viacom’s struggling UPN has experienced a ratings resurgence this year in large part thanks to WWF’s “Smackdown!,” which has helped the netlet draw the coveted young male demo. CBS Cable’s TNN network also has been mentioned as a potential cable outlet for WWF programming.

CBS and Viacom officials declined comment. WWF was unavailable for comment.

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