Jan 12, 2023 - Economy

WWE: Media's hottest drama

Photo illustration of Vince McMahon.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Move over Elon. Vince McMahon’s sudden and chaotic return to the WWE following his disgraced exit last year is setting up to be media’s juiciest story of 2023 — and we’re not even two weeks into the new year.

Why it matters: WWE enjoyed one of the most successful runs on Wall Street last year, in part because investors saw McMahon's exit as a takeover opportunity. In returning to negotiate WWE's sale on his own terms, McMahon has crafted a storyline worthy of the company’s flagship Wrestlemania or Smackdown events.

State of play: Just days after announcing his return, McMahon's daughter, Stephanie McMahon, resigned as co-CEO and chairman of the board of WWE, leaving former talent agency exec Nick Khan as the sole CEO.

  • McMahon, who was simultaneously named chairman of the board, had said just days before that “WWE has an exceptional management team in place, and I do not intend for my return to have any impact on their roles, duties or responsibilities."
  • Sources told Axios that Stephanie McMahon and her husband Paul "Triple H" Levesque, the company's chief content officer and a retired professional wrestler, had opposed a sale.

Zoom in: As controlling shareholder of the company, McMahon was able to elect himself as chairman through a written consent order. In doing so, he also appointed former WWE co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios to the board.

  • Adding to the shakeup, WWE said directors JoEllen Lyons Dillon, Jeffrey Speed and Alan Wexler were ousted from WWE's board.
  • Moments later, the company issued a press release saying two more board members, Ignace Lahoud and Man Jit Singh, resigned effective immediately.

Catch up quick: Stephanie McMahon was elevated to co-CEO alongside WWE president Nick Khan after her father's tumultuous exit last year.

  • McMahon announced his retirement last summer just weeks after the Wall Street Journal first reported that McMahon had secretly paid off a former employee with whom he allegedly had an affair.
  • After a months-long investigation into alleged misconduct by McMahon, the WWE eventually concluded that he made nearly $20 million of previously undisclosed payments, most of which went toward settling sexual misconduct claims.

Be smart: Even during his brief exodus from the company he ran for four decades, McMahon held all the power as WWE’s controlling shareholder.

  • No deal was ever going to happen without his blessing, and his comeback — while tumultuous — has been well-received by Wall Street.
  • WWE’s stock has jumped more than 20% since McMahon's return, pushing the company's market cap to over $6.6 billion, up from roughly $4 billion just a few years ago.

What to watch: Rumors are swirling over who will jump in to buy the company.

  • Axios has previously reported that potential buyers for WWE include Comcast, Disney, Amazon and even Apple.
  • Unconfirmed reports had already begun to circulate that the company reached a deal to be acquired by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), the region's sovereign wealth fund. At least one reporter batted that rumor down, and earlier posts from a journalist discussing the news were deleted.

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