After more than five months of “retirement” inspired by the sexual misconduct scandal, Vince McMahon is back on the WWE board of directors. His stated goal for the move is to maximize shareholder value from a sale of the company or the next round of media rights deals. Not many are sure that this is all the former CEO and chief creative officer wants in the post-comeback, but it was enough to get Wall Street excited.
Investors who hiked share prices yesterday (Jan 6th) will probably like this news From Alex Sherman on CNBC:
WWE has hired JPMorgan to help the company advise on a potential sale, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan declined to comment. A WWE spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.
If a deal does happen, it will likely happen in the next three to six months, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.
If that time frame holds true – and it makes sense, given that WWE’s management team told employees on Friday afternoon that they would explore sale options before beginning negotiations for Raw & SmackDown’s TV/streaming deals, those shows’ existing contracts with NBCUniversal and the end of FOX in 2024 – the ball is going to need to be rolling very quickly.
WWE (and apparently JPMorgan) definitely have their own list of potential buyers. That probably includes at least a few of the names that have been circulating by the media in the 36 hours or so since Vince put his comeback plan in motion:
• Comcast. NBCUniversal’s parent company has long been listed as a leader, due to its history with WWE and the fact that buying outright the company would save them from having to enter a bidding war for the local rights to Raw and WWE Network content that currently supports Peacock’s streaming service. WWE UK rights deals with BT Sport expire soon, and the acquisition would bring WWE back to Comcast-owned Sky. CNBC reports that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said the company isn’t in a rush to acquire any other companies right now, which may not match WWE’s schedule…but may also just be a pre-negotiated position.
• Fox. SmackDown’s current TV partner deserves a mention, but as a (relatively) smaller media company – and one without a streaming service – it seems like a long shot. This is also because they sold many of their entertainment assets to Disney not long ago, so acquiring WWE may not be a strategic fit. And speaking of the mouse house…
• Disney. The mega-corporation led by Bob Iger would once again make sense for all the reasons Comcast would do it, except history and existing relationships. Still, WWE could fill airtime on the ABC and ESPN networks, and give people a reason to subscribe to Hulu or ESPN+ (or however Disney ends up packing all three of their broadcasts). Heck, maybe there could be a WWE Universe-themed area at Disney World someday?
• Discovery Warner Bros. Tony Khan and AEW have clearly got their feet here, and all we’ve heard is how they’re cutting costs post-merger. But CNBC reminds us that CEO David Zaslav has stated that he would rather own the rights to the content than license it, and is considering What did a peacock do?Zaslav can see the more attractive WWE brand in whatever ends up on HBO Max. Don’t be surprised if we learn at some point that there were at least talks with WBD.
• Netflix. It doesn’t have much history with live and/or sports programming, but has found success with a presentation akin to Formula 1 sports entertainment. Netflix doesn’t own Formula 1, though, and CEO Reed Hastings has a similar view to Zaslov on IP ownership. .
• Amazon. One of the largest companies in the world is already getting into the sports business (see new Thursday Night Football dealing with the NFL, among others), and she has pretty deep pockets. Naf said.
• quest. Along with Comcast, the holding company for talent agencies and related assets was listed as a top nominee by every analyst, reporter, and analyst. They bought the UFC outright in 2021, and that deal has been a success for them (they paid $600 million for the mixed martial arts company, and it earned them over $1 billion last year). This could also be a preferred partner for Vince, who could be eyeing a similar deal for Dana White where he could continue to run WWE after the sale.
• CAA. Nick Khan’s former employer could follow Endeavor’s lead and acquire a company where some of her clients work, and others want media rights.
• Liberty Media. Another holding company, whose assets include Sirius XM and the aforementioned Formula 1. CNBC theorizes that they could be looking to apply the same strategy they used with racing to present wrestling.
• Saudi Public Investment Fund. They have a history with WWE & Vince, and a lot of the money they put into sporting assets like LIV Golf and Premier League club Newcastle United. Even the analyst (Brandon Ross of LightShed Partners) who throws his name into the conversation Believes Endeavor is the most likely buyer, so it’s possible that the Saudis (we hope) won’t end up owning WWE. But it is the work of “Never Say Never” …