It didn’t take long for the pro wrestling world to be shaken to the core in 2023 with news of longtime WWE owner Vince McMahon returning to the company following a six-month retirement to head up a potential sale of his pride and joy.
In a mere matter of weeks, Stephanie McMahon went from serving as co-CEO and chairwoman of WWE to announcing her resignation in the wake of her father being reinstated, making him the sole executive chairman.
All signs seem to point to WWE being up for sale sometime later in 2023 with the company itself announcing its decision to “engage outside advisors to support review of strategic alternatives,” and already speculation is running rampant regarding potential suitors.
One of the big questions surrounding WWE’s sale is Vince McMahon, who initially announced his retirement last July but then approached the WWE Board of Directors in December and demanded to be reinstated as a member and the Executive Chairman. WWE’s Board initially declined, prompting McMahon to threaten to use the voting power he still holds through his Class B stock ownership to shoot down any potential sale or future media rights deal. He was promptly reinstated in early January, which was followed by a major reshuffling of the WWE Board that included Stephanie McMahon’s departure.
WWE has hired JPMorgan to help the company advise on a potential sale, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan declined to comment. WWE’s U.S. television/streaming deals for its shows Raw & SmackDown with NBCUniversal and FOX Corporation end in Late 2024.
WWE has their own list of potential buyers, and it’s a pretty lofty list:
Comcast: NBCUniversal’s parent company and Monday Night Raw’s current TV partner has long been listed as a frontrunner, given their history with WWE and the fact an outright purchase of the company would save them from having to get into a bidding war for domestic rights to Raw and the WWE Network content that currently buoys their Peacock streaming service. WWE’s UK rights deals with BT Sport are also expiring soon, and an acquisition would bring WWE back to Comcast-owned Sky. CNBC points out Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has said the company isn’t in a rush to acquire any other companies right now, which might not match WWE’s timetable. Comcast is more interested in the NBA’s television rights, which are up for negotiations around the same time as WWE’s U.S. television rights. Most wrestling fans think this is a done deal, but lots of financial parameters indicate that it’s not exactly a done deal.
FOX Corporation: SmackDown’s current TV partner sold off it’s entertainment division to Disney in recent years and seems to enjoy life as the slimmed down media company. Acquiring WWE might not be a strategic fit.
Disney The once-again Bob Iger-led mega-corp would make sense for wrestling fans who continue to feel that Disney needs WWE more than WWE needs Disney (it’s absolutely not the former). For another odd reason, wrestling fans also seem to think that Hulu has no subscribers (these fans aren’t exactly the most news savvy). Disney has 2 important money matter decisions soon: in the form of a few Billion dollars to Comcast for their 1/3 ownership stake in Hulu, and NBA’s television rights, which will also command a few Billion dollars. Seeing Disney (who’s also in re-organization shuffling mode to eliminate overlapping departments) shell out a few Billion bucks to control Hulu and a few Billion bucks to keep the NBA is one thing. But seeing Disney shell out a few Billion bucks for a product that would be delegated to FX at best? Seriously doubt it.
Warner Bros Discovery WBD is in full cutting costs post-merger and it’s well documented company-wise. CEO David “The Zas” Zaslav is on record as saying he prefers to own rather than license content rights, and considering what its done for Peacock, Zaslav could see the WWE brand as attractive (doubt it given WBD has tv rights to rival wrestling league All Elite Wrestling).
Netflix Netflix has had success with a very sports entertainment-like presentation of Formula 1 racing. Netflix doesn’t own Formula 1 though, and CEO Reed Hastings has a similar view to Zaslav’s on IP ownership. This scenario is doubtful, as Netflix is in flux over it’s roadmap.
Amazon: One of the biggest companies in the world has already getting into the sports business (and could eventually be in business with WWE enthusiast Pat McAfee), but this scenario requires a shift from their corporate strategy of acquiring rising brands (RING Doorbell) or rehabilitating faltering brands (Whole Foods Market).
Endeavor: Along with Comcast, the holding company for talent agencies and related assets is listed as a frontrunner by pretty much every analyst. They bought UFC outright in 2021, and that deal’s been successful for them. This could also be a preferred partner for Vince, who may be eyeing a deal similar to Dana White’s where he could continue to run WWE post-sale.
Liberty Media: John Malone’s holding company has assets that include Sirius XM and the aforementioned Formula 1. CNBC theorizes they could look to apply the same strategy they used with racing to present wrestling. It’s doubtful given their history of preferring a more broader appealing product.
Saudi Arabia PIF/Public Investment Fund: They have history with WWE & Vince, and lots of money they’ve been using on sports assets like LIV Golf and Premier League club Newcastle United. This would likely be the deal WWE prefers, but would be a nightmare scenario on the Public Relations front.