At least since he bought WCW, the notion that Vince McMahon might someday sell WWE has intrigued wrestling fans. But in the last couple years it’s gone from “do you think Vince would ever sell?” to “I think Vince is going to sell!”
The shift started with the early 2020 ouster of McMahon’s longtime lieutenants George Barrios and Michelle Wilson. It really picked up steam when Nick Khan was named President and Chief Revenue Officer last summer.
Since then, every move the company’s made has been interpreted as a sign Khan is preparing WWE for sale. And many of them very well may be. But there’s no smoking gun that can’t also be interpreted as good old-fashioned “maximizing shareholder value”. Licensing WWE Network to Peacock could be a test balloon to see how much a big media conglomerate would pay for the whole company... but it’s also something Vince was telling investors he wanted to do before Khan was brought on board.
The news of the past couple weeks, from the restructuring of the digital and production departments to today’s shocking talent releases, have really kicked the speculation up a notch. Dave Schilling, a writer who worked in WWE creative, was one of many floating the theory online today:
“Ummm I think WWE is for sale.
“You don’t cut talent assets on this level unless you are trying to maximize profits before a sale.
“Braun [Strowman] is a legit top guy, a former world champion, and a merchandise mover. Aleister Black was getting a push on TV LAST WEEK. This is very telling.”
Again, it’s not without merit. Sprucing up the balance sheet is something you’d do if you were selling. And big media, where the likely buyers like Peacock parent Comcast are, is in the midst of a wave of consolidation and spin-offs as we enter a new phase of the streaming wars. Amazon just paid more than $8 billion for MGM (without even getting most of the movie library due to a previous sell-off of assets to Turner Broadcasting, which is now part of WarnerMedia, who will be merging with Discovery after AT&T decided to get out of the entertainment business, and... I told you there’s a lot going on). Someone would probably be interested in at least kicking the tires on the biggest
pro wrestling sports entertainment company the world has ever known.
When we’ve discussed the idea around the Cageside “offices”, it’s been my opinion as a reformed business person that if selling WWE is Khan’s goal, it’s a goal for 2024 or beyond. That will give him more time to get his people in place, and generally transform it from a family-run live event business into a Marvel-esque mass media franchise. And perhaps by then, only the biggest boys will remain in the streaming game, and WWE can command a premium price for the promise of never-ending #content to feed one of their services.
Plus, why sign the Peacock deal if the idea was to sell months later? It makes more sense to collect a few years of that billion dollars (and the remaining three years worth of hundreds of millions FOX and USA are paying for the rights to SmackDown and Raw), then put the company on the market.
Rather than argue the case any further with my bachelor’s degree in marketing, I’ll let one of the people whose opinion on the business of pro wrestling I value the most present his case. Here’s what Wrestlenomics’ Brandon Thurston had to say:
“New leadership came on in August and is still in Year 1. I would be shocked if WWE sells in Vince’s lifetime.
1) Nick Khan indicated to [Colin] Cowherd that Vince has no intention to sell.
2) I cannot imagine Vince doing anything else. Lay-offs, releases, & restructuring probably has more to do with Nick Khan and [2020 CFO hire] Kristina Salen critiquing and reshaping what George Barrios and Michelle Wilson left behind. Every few years WWE has cut employee & talent headcounts.
WWE had over 300 wrestlers under contract in 2020, way more than they need, for basically no reason other than to hoard them from competition. Doing so probably contributed to talent leverage in pay negotiations. New leadership might not see this approach as cost effective.
If you’ve followed Vince’s career, he’s a control freak through-and-through. That tendency increased with time. I tend to believe control is priceless to him. When he’s gone, sure WWE might sell and NBCUniversal is the most obvious suitor and really the only one that makes sense.
Understandably, wrestlers too may be looking for a grand reason why they or their friends were cut. 78 out of ~300 of them wrestled on all TV/WWE Network shows in the last full week, including those who were just at ringside, granted more appeared in non-wrestling roles.
Even allowing for that & a substantial number offscreen in developmental or out with injuries, the ratio doesn’t make sense. The defense built to guard against AEW (putting NXT head-to-head on cable & warehousing talent) is costly, ineffective & is being somewhat undone.”
Looking particularly at the June 2 cuts as Khan deciding that spending-millions-upon-millions-to-thwart-AEW-didn’t-work-so-let’s-stop-doing-that makes a lot of sense, especially in light of what we’ve heard about Strowman’s salary. We know Lana re-signed with WWE at about the same time, so it’s entirely possible the common thread to today’s cuts was they were paid a premium under a strategy the new regime is abandoning.
We’ve also heard that Khan is open to working with other wrestling companies, another sign he doesn’t view the business as a “there can be only one” proposition.
Of course, the only people who really know aren’t saying. And unlike when it comes to wrestling storylines, a leak here could be a federal crime - so we’re not going to hear anything until something is very close to happening.
But like wrestling storylines, speculating about business moves can be fun! So have it. But keep in mind that “WWE is for sale” isn’t the only plausible explanation for the moves the company’s been making under Nick Khan.