On the heels of Vince McMahon’s surprise return as Executive Chairman, WWE has hired the Raine Group to assist with a possible sale — but AEW reportedly has other ideas.
This past week, the WWE has hosted a different sort of Royal Rumble — and it hasn’t been pretty.
Just days after Vince McMahon announced his controversial return as Executive Chairman, which coincided with daughter Stephanie McMahon’s resignation as the company’s Chairwoman and co-CEO, a Friday report from CNBC maintains that AEW (All Elite Wrestling), the second largest wrestling promotion in the United States after the WWE, is interested in a potential merger with its rival.
(However unlikely that may be — and it’s quite, quite unlikely.)
First, rumors emerged about a potential sale of World Wrestling Entertainment to Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund in a deal that would have taken the publicly-traded company private. Now, we catch wind of a possible hail mary heave from AEW, which is owned by the family of Shahid Khan, also owners of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the Premier League’s Fulham FC. A partnership between these two wrestling promotions would conceivably include shared intellectual property and media deals in addition to a merger of talent rosters — AEW currently has TV rights deals with Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT and TBS cable networks, while WWE airs on USA, Fox/FS1, and NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service.
It’s worth noting that this comes shortly after the company hired (1) the Raine Group as a financial advisor, (2) Kirkland & Ellis LLP as legal advisor, and (3) August LLC as strategic communications advisor to support any WWE sale process.
“There can be no assurances given regarding the outcome or timing of the strategic alternatives review process,” read a company news release dated Jan. 12. “WWE does not intend to comment further until the process has concluded or the Company has otherwise determined that further disclosure is appropriate or required.”
Despite all this, CNBC notes that the potential merger or acquisition is not exactly foreseeable, citing how AEW hasn’t had any actual talks with Vince McMahon or WWE CEO Nick Khan — no relation to Shahid — but the AEW’s owners are “open to discussing a potential role for McMahon” should a deal go through. McMahon, 77, had long been the company’s central creative force with regard to WWE’s storylines before he first stepped away, while Shahid Khan’s son Tony, currently serves in a similar capacity for AEW in addition to his roles as President, CEO, and General Manager.
As things stand, media giants Comcast, Endeavor, and Netflix are among those most frequently mentioned as potential suitors should McMahon and Co. proceed with a WWE sale. While the longtime exec “retired” last year during an ongoing investigation in which a special committee probe discovered that he had paid nearly $15 million to four women to silence allegations of sexual misconduct. McMahon remains the company’s single largest stockholder, paving the way to a return on what very much appear to be his terms. He has since voiced how stakeholders would “support” the decision.
WWE shares are up 30% so far this year, with the company’s market capitalization sitting at $6.6 billion alongside $1.28 billion in revenue over the past year. AEW, meanwhile, is reportedly on pace to generate more than $100 million in revenue for 2022.
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