WWE names Paul Heyman, Eric Bischoff to new executive roles
WWE has named Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to executive roles overseeing its weekly TV shows “Raw” and “Smackdown,” as the company prepares for changes to its TV schedule in the fall, and the coming challenge from All Elite Wrestling.
Heyman will serve as executive director for “Raw,” the company announced Thursday, and Bischoff will serve as executive director of “Smackdown Live.” Both will report directly to WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
Heyman has a regular recurring role on WWE TV in an on-air role as the advocate for former Universal champion Brock Lesnar. Bischoff last made a WWE TV appearance on the 25th anniversary “Raw” show in 2018.
The indication from WWE is that the executive-director roles for Heyman and Bischoff are not on-air TV roles. In a press release, the company reported that the two will oversee the creative development of WWE programming and ensure integration across all platforms and lines of business.
Heyman was the president of Extreme Championship Wrestling from 1993-2001, overseeing that company’s growth from a small regional indy to a company with a national-TV presence.
Bischoff served as executive vice president and later president of World Championship Wrestling from 1994-1999, then served as an executive producer for TNA Impact from 2010-2012.
The moves come as WWE has struggled with declines in TV ratings and live-events attendance since the beginning of 2019. The company actually reported a net-operating loss in live-events income in the first quarter of 2019, and TV ratings for 2019 through this week’s show are down significantly – “Raw” is down 10.9 percent from 2018, and “Smackdown” is down 8.5 percent from a year ago.
“Smackdown” is moving to Fox in October, as part of a five-year, $1.025 million rights deal signed last year. USA will continue airing “Raw” on a five-year deal worth $1.325 billion also agreed to in 2018.
The new deals represented a huge increase in broadcast rights fees for WWE over its current contract with USA, which has aired both “Raw” and “Smackdown” on a deal that pays WWE $150 million annually.
The combined value of the new deals with USA and Fox is an estimated $470 million a year.
But those deals were inked before the recent ratings dip for the two flagship shows, and before All Elite Wrestling emerged as a possible competitor, with a new TV deal with TNT set to begin in the fall.
The commercial success of the first AEW pay-per-view event, May’s “Double or Nothing,” which drew an estimated 98,000 buys, outpacing the buyrate for WWE’s “WrestleMania” a month earlier, presents the upstart as a new challenge.
One other part of the context to the news regarding the hires of Heyman and Bischoff: the return of the XFL, which is set to launch in 2020, and which McMahon is reportedly personally investing in to the tune of an estimated $500 million.
McMahon, for many years, has personally overseen the creative and production processes for “Raw,” “Smackdown” and WWE’s pay-per-view events. Putting veterans like Heyman and Bischoff in these new roles may be an indication that McMahon recognizes the need to cede that day-to-day control of the product given his divided attention.
Story by Chris Graham