Shares of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE 2.05%) jumped on Thursday following a report that the company is shopping its Smackdown franchise to various networks after NBCUniversal declined to renew its deal. The stock was up about 16% at 11:10 a.m. EDT.
The report comes from The Hollywood Reporter. NBCUniversal reportedly paid $30 million in 2010 for Smackdown rights. The franchise has the sixth largest audience among cable originals, including news programming.
This news comes at a time when other sports and sports entertainment rights are in high demand. Fox Sports signed a five-year deal earlier this year for the NFL's Thursday Night Football franchise, reportedly costing around $660 million annually. Earlier this month, Disney signed a multiyear $750 million deal for digital rights to live UFC Fight Nights, set to be broadcast on ESPN+, the company's new over-the-top platform.
An analyst with Guggenheim believes that WWE will be able to fetch a premium for its content as it renews or signs new deals for its franchises. In a note Thursday morning, the analyst pointed to WWE's higher and more stable ratings compared to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), as well as the quantity of content hours, as reasons to believe that a lucrative deal could be in the works.
With traditional media companies and tech giants battling for sports content, pushing prices ever higher, WWE may find itself in a position to extract a much higher price for its franchises. Investors are excited about the prospect, pushing the stock to a new 52-week high.