WWE shares surge as Fox reportedly secures ‘SmackDown’ TV rights

WWE shares popped in trading Monday after multiple reports said the wrestling giant was close to completing a deal with Fox to air its “SmackDown” program on network television starting in 2019.

The wrestling giant and Fox are “nearing completion” on a five-year agreement worth more than $1 billion, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The deal is said to be three times as lucrative as the WWE’s current deal with NBCUniversal to air “SmackDown” on USA Network.

Fox is reportedly set to begin airing “SmackDown” episodes in October 2019. NBC, which has owned broadcast rights to the program since 2010, is expected to retain rights to WWE’s flagship program “Raw.” WWE executives were said to be drawn to Fox’s offer because of a commitment from the network to promote wrestling content during its other live sports broadcasts, despite a more lucrative offer from another network.

WWE’s stock rose more than 12% to $57.86 at the close of trading Monday. Shares are up more than 60% so far this year.

Representatives for WWE and 21st Century Fox declined to comment.

“SmackDown” has averaged 2.59 million viewers a week in 2018.

WWE has seen explosive growth in international markets such as China and India in recent years. The company’s subscription streaming service, WWE Network, had more than 2 million paid subscribers as of April 2018.

21st Century Fox is the parent company of Fox, Fox News and FOX Business Network.