Wrasslers cite USA’s neglect

McMahons look to move WWF to Viacom, right-of-first-refusal is roadblock

NEW YORK — Witnesses for adversaries USA Networks and Viacom wound up their testimony in a Wilmington, Del., court Thursday as toppers of the World Wrestling Federation, which sparked the proceedings, bemoaned years of neglect at USA as they tried to grow their company.

The WWF, whose programming helped USA become the nation’s top-ranked cable network, has been “undervalued and underappreciated,” said chairman Vince McMahon. His wife and company CEO Linda McMahon described USA Networks execs who reneged on promises, underpaid for programming and “snickered” when the WWF offered to become a equity partner in the Sci Fi Channel and help program it.

Sweeter package

That’s why WWF wants to move shop to Viacom, which has offered a much sweeter five-year package for its wrestling series as well as a home for the WWF’s new football league and other perks. For its part, USA insists it has the right of first refusal and is only obligated (and only able) to match Viacom’s offers on the TV series, not the rest.

USA also accuses the WWF of bad faith for negotiating with Viacom behind USA’s back before notifying USA that it wanted to terminate its contract.

The real crux of the case, however, revolves around the language in the right-of-first-refusal clause.

The judge will hear oral arguments from both sides next Thursday and has promised to render a decision before the end of the month.

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