In tag team contests, one wrestler leaps into the ring after their comrade has left it — sometimes forcibly and upside down. Stephanie McMahon has taken over as co-chief executive of US grapple franchise WWE after father Vincent’s own unexpected exit. This week, she denied rumours she was an unwilling combatant, but let talk of a lucrative sale persist.
WWE stages theatrical battles of a kind that brought fame to Hulk Hogan and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, now a Hollywood star. Lead family shareholder Vincent McMahon has also mixed traces of sport with lashings of showbiz: Donald Trump once shaved his head in the ring for a forfeit.
He retired abruptly last month following allegations of secret payments to women employees. According to filings, WWE has found that Vincent McMahon made $19.6mn of payments, including $5mn to a Trump charity, that should have been disclosed as business expenses.
The company said the payments were “not material” but that it would revise financial statements. WWE concluded there are “material weaknesses” in the company’s internal controls.
Scandals aside, WWE is prospering. In the past two years, its shares have risen 65 per cent. The post-pandemic reopening has boosted attendance at live shows. A media division is generating strong ratings that should yield a windfall when broadcasting rights come up for renewal. The company recently nudged its ebitda forecast for the year to almost $400mn.
WWE’s enterprise value is now $5.5bn. The business is a rare bright spot in an unsettled media and entertainment marketplace.
The McMahons have been synonymous with WWE for decades. The family owns about 40 per cent of the company’s shares, wielding 80 per cent voting control through supervoting stock.
Stephanie McMahon recently said the company would consider anything to maximise shareholder value. Rivals would pay highly for this grunt ’n’ groan business.
A new owner would almost certainly lack the theatrics of the first family of WWE. But recent events show that dramas are better when staged in advance and confined to the ring.
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