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January 06, 2023

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1 big thing: WWE puts up "for sale" sign

Vince McMahon. Photo: Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images

The biggest obstacle to any potential sale of WWE is Vince McMahon himself. Addressing that very point head on, McMahon has strong-armed his way back to the helm of the company and body-slammed a few directors.

Why it matters: Speculation around whether WWE would be put up for sale is now a reality, with McMahon taking the reins and committing to a review of strategic alternatives. He's also committed to leading WWE's media rights negotiations.

Of note: WWE should have no shortage of interested suitors, with Comcast being a strong candidate.

  • Comcast has a $1 billion streaming deal with the company for WWE Network, and NBCUniversal's relationship with WWE spans nearly three decades of telecasting "Raw" on USA Network.
  • Other potential companies that analysts have mentioned in recent months include Disney, Amazon and even Apple. Those companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Comcast declined to comment.

By the numbers: WWE’s stock skyrocketed this morning, by more than 20% and climbed above $88 a share, a price it hasn’t hit since late 2018. The company's current market value is around $6.5 billion.

Driving the news: McMahon announced in a press release yesterday that he has elected himself as executive chairman of the company and that he has appointed former WWE co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios to the board. He did so via a written consent order.

  • A written consent order is a vehicle that allows the majority owner of a company to take such action and to make it effective immediately. McMahon owns 81% of WWE.

Of note: In a filing this morning, the company said directors JoEllen Lyons Dillon, Jeffrey Speed and Alan Wexler were ousted from the board.

  • After the filing, the company issued a press release saying Ignace Lahoud and Man Jit Singh have resigned from the board, effective immediately.
  • Vince's daughter, Stephanie, and Nick Khan, both of whom have been running WWE as co-CEO since McMahon retired, appear to be safe.
  • “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,” McMahon said in a statement yesterday.

The big picture: Even in retirement, no sale was ever going to happen without McMahon's blessing given his outsize shareholder power. This move allows him to assert more control over that process.

  • McMahon's return also comes ahead of WWE's media rights negotiations with NBCUniversal and Fox for its two flagship TV programs, "Raw" and "Smackdown."

Be smart: Sale rumors have swirled ever since Khan was hired as president in 2020.

  • Khan is no stranger to dealmaking. He joined after eight years at CAA, where he was co-head of the TV department. He represented WWE in its media rights talks, including the move of the "Smackdown" franchise from NBCUniversal to Fox.
  • Upon joining, Khan and Vince McMahon oversaw a near-total remake of WWE's media division and began pursuing other media deals, including the landmark WWE Network deal.
  • Khan hinted last year during an interview on Matt Belloni’s “The Town” podcast that NBCU makes sense as a suitor: "What does NBCU/Comcast lack that they need? And I think it’s a factual statement: They don’t have the intellectual property that some other companies have."

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