By Lee Hall
When World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Monday Night Raw” returns to USA Network in October after a five-year absence, it creates a tailor-made complement to the network’s new “Characters Welcome” branding strategy.
“WWE as a franchise is really all about great characters,” said Chris McCumber, USA’s senior VP of marketing and brand management. “It is a slam-dunk for this campaign.”
Mr. McCumber sees all sorts of occasions to employ WWE personalities in what he called “high-value targeted promotional opportunities.”
USA will carry wrestling on Monday nights and weekends. Sister network Telemundo will broadcast Spanish-language versions, while NBC foresees at least two annual 90-minute Saturday night wrestling specials.
“We as a company can offer unique cross-networking opportunities,” Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal cable entertainment and cross-networking strategy, said in announcing the three-year deal in April.
After seven successful seasons on USA, the WWE took its show to Viacom’s The Nashville Network (now Spike TV) and MTV in 2000. The move set off a bitter legal battle. USA lost the court fight and its highest-rated program.
Critics and hand-wringers predicted USA’s immediate demise after forfeiting basic cable’s most popular series. Indeed, USA’s initial Monday night replacement for the WWE, “Magic Secrets Revealed,” dropped 73 percent of wrestling’s normal audience.
The network surprised the naysayers by stepping up its already strong original series development, spawning critical and ratings successes such as “Monk,” “The Dead Zone” and “The 4400.” Still, Mr. Gaspin said, wrestling’s return will open new doors to success for USA and its siblings.
“‘Raw’ will put USA and NBC Universal Cable into an incredibly competitive position,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier about this relationship.”