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Vince McMahon is plotting his return to WWE after retiring last year following a hush money and sexual harassment scandal.
McMahon, who remains the majority owner of the company, made the announcement Thursday:
“The only way for WWE to fully capitalize on this opportunity is for me to return as Executive Chairman and support the management team in the negotiations for our media rights and to combine that with a review of strategic alternatives,” he said.
“My return will allow WWE, as well as any transaction counter parties, to engage in these processes knowing they will have the support of the controlling shareholder.”
McMahon, 77, plans to explore a sale of the company upon his return, according to the Wall Street Journal.
McMahon communicated to the board that unless he has direct involvement as executive chairman, he won’t support or approve any media-rights deal or sale.
He first sent a letter to WWE’s board in late December detailing his desire to return to the company. He considers a return window narrow with broadcast rights for WWE television programs soon to be renegotiated.
It’d behoove McMahon and WWE to sell the company before signing new television deals for its weekly shows, “Raw” and “SmackDown,” not after.
Currently, NBCUniversal airs “Raw” on USA Network, while “SmackDown” airs on Fox. Re-signing with one or both of the networks — should McMahon allow it — could complicate the bidding process as potential buyers would likely want to broadcast WWE programming on their own platforms.
Logical buyers include current partners NBC and Fox as well as Netflix, Disney, Amazon, Google/YouTube, Apple, and Endeavor Group Holdings.
In a media era with a streaming priority, WWE is among the most valuable available properties.
Professional wrestling provides a large, passionate fan base and year-round content. There’s no offseason in wrestling. The company airs seven hours of live programming a week and one premium event (formerly under the pay-per-view model) a month.
As we reported in March, WWE exclusive streaming package provided a substantial boost to NBC’s Peacock streaming service, a deal for which NBC pays $1 billion. Three million Peacock subscribers had watched WWE content at the time of the report.
Notably, more than half of those three million subscribers say that they signed up for Peacock “because of WWE.”
On YouTube, WWE has amassed 92.6 million subscribers, more than the NFL (10.4 million) and NBA (19.7 million).
And therein lies why sweaty men in tights will so excite an extensive list of media execs.
Wall Street also expects an extensive bidding war should Vince McMahon lead a sale. Thursday, WWE shares jumped 10% after hours following McMahon’s announcement.