It’s more than a little disheartening that we are are less than three weeks away from the Royal Rumble, the catalyst for what should be a huge and incredibly exciting WrestleMania season, and what’s happening on-screen in WWE right now is vastly being overshadowed by what’s going on inside the boardroom.
We’re not even two weeks into the new year and already Vince McMahon has strong-armed his way back into control of the company, several board members have resigned in protest, Stephanie McMahon stepped down as co-CEO & left the board, and a lawsuit has be filed against Vince McMahon by one company shareholder.
With all due respect to the Bloodline, what’s going on behind the scenes in WWE is far and away the most compelling storyline in all of professional wrestling right now. And I can’t focus on anything else.
Trust me. I would love to writing about potential Royal Rumble winners, Adam Cole’s big return or the Mercedes Monè AEW controversy, which just real quick, people need to temper their expectations. Nothing is a thing until it’s a thing. I don’t care how many hints, teases or Easter eggs are dropped in a broadcast. You can have high hopes, but don’t hold it against a company for not delivering on something they never promised.
I’ll never fault WWE, AEW or any other promotion for trying to capitalize on some buzz, but at the same time, Tony Khan should have expected some backlash when Mercedes didn’t appear on Dynamite this past Wednesday. But I digress. I’m here to talk about Tony Khan today, but not about who he’s able to book for the company he currently owns. Because if he can’t get Mercedes to become All Elite, maybe he’ll be able to get Sasha Banks to return to WWE.
“The Khans, who also own the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the Premier League’s Fulham F.C., could partner with a strategic media company to share the intellectual property while merging the wrestling leagues, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.”
Further more, while CNBC says that discussions between WWE and AEW have yet to take place, the Khan’s may be willing to give Vince McMahon what he wants to get a deal done, according to people close to the situation.
“AEW hasn’t had talks with McMahon or Nick Khan, the company’s chief executive, said the people. McMahon may view selling to the Khans as a non-starter. The Khans are open to discussing a potential role for McMahon, 77, after a sale but haven’t yet had those talks, one of the people said. It’s unclear what type of job McMahon would want with WWE after a sale.”
Ok. So. Would Vince McMahon actually sell WWE to the Khan family?
The answer is, extremely likely to be, no. One might say, there’s no chance in Hell.
Like many of my colleagues in wrestling media, I do not believe for a second that Vince McMahon would ever seriously consider selling to the Khan family, let alone actually pull the trigger - even if an investment group led by AEW’s President and CEO were able to pull their resources and make the best offer.
McMahon’s modus operandi has always been beat ‘em and, if necessary, buy ‘em when it comes to his competition. Even if the Khan’s were willing to carve out some sort of role for the 77 year-old in the day-to-day operations of the company, signing over ownership of his baby to his main competitor is about as likely as this article winning a Pulitzer Prize.
Moreover, a merger between WWE and AEW would be a huge step backward for the health of the professional wrestling industry.
Being the alternative to the corporate giant has been a huge part of the success story for All Elite Wrestling, and while the idea of seizing control of WWE might put a Grinch-esque smile on the face of Tony Khan, we’ve seen what can happen when one family holds all the cards.
AEW’s launch four years ago ended the McMahon monopoly that had been in place for decades, creating a viable secondary option for both pro wrestling’s top talent and its fans.
As someone who has made a career in an industry controlled by just a few major corporations, believe me when I say having options is a good thing. Or you could ask any one of the dozens of stars that have thrived, either financially or creatively, in their post-WWE careers.
All that said, the internet has been having some of fun with this latest rumor and I’m here for all the jokes:
New WWE owner Tony Khan immediately gives fans what they’ve been begging for years and books Evolution 2 but it still somehow only has one women’s match on the show— Michael Hamflett (@MichaelHamflett) January 12, 2023
Yes, I threw my own joke in there. It made me laugh and I needed a laugh after a rough week for my personally.
All kidding aside, the general reaction to Tony Khan buying WWE appears to be that it’s a bad idea, but bring it on if it keeps the company from being sold to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund - which would be nothing short of an unmitigated disaster.
Not for Vince McMahon mind you. As the majority shareholder, McMahon is without question looking to make the best deal he can for himself and he’s likely not going to find a bigger checkbook than the one wielded by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia - an estimated $620 billion worth of assets.
Should a deal be reached, the question becomes, whether or not Saudi Arabia sees the return on their massive investment.
WWE is worth an estimated $6.5 billion dollars and growing every day with the stock rising more than 30% since rumors of a sale surfaced last week. But what happens in the aftermath of a sale?
This should go without saying, but Saudi Arabia is a morally reprehensible country with regressive and oppressive beliefs about women and people of the LGBTQ community. Doing business with them should not even be a thought, let alone a strong possibility.
Putting aside the morale implications of making a deal with Saudi Arabia, if this past Tuesday night’s false alarm of an impending sale is any indication, the company could have a massive revolt on its hands, from both fans and employees.
After a bucket of cold water was poured on the reports that a sale of WWE was all but a “done deal”, Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select reported on the possible ramifications for Vince McMahon if a deal with Saudi Arabia were to come to fruition in the future.
“Fightful spoke to numerous talent who shot down several rumors, but were very concerned, and had many questions of their own. A prevailing fear is that Vince McMahon will try to work his way back into creative with a sale, and Saudis being the only entity that would possibly allow that to happen. There have been numerous wrestlers, both those that have returned, as well as top stars in the company who have told Fightful they would walk out if a sale to the Saudis were announced. Others believe there would be significant roster pushback if Vince McMahon were to return to creative, with talent speaking with Fightful daily asking if there’s been any update on him pushing his way back into that role.”
I’m not going to speculate on which talent would be ready to walk out the door, but I’m sure some of the same names come to mind for you as they do for me.
That said, talk is talk. Would some Superstars walk? I’m sure a few of them would, especially those who are set financially or those who have other options outside of WWE. I guarantee a few of them would walk away based on principle alone, but not everyone.
Morality doesn’t pay the bills and it’s already been well established how deep the pockets are of WWE’s potential new owners. The company would be able to outbid everyone for top talent, in house or otherwise. Look no further than the LIV Golf Tour as proof.
They were able to pry top stars like Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, and Phil Mickelson away from the PGA Tour. The only problem is, unless you attend an event in person, you can’t see them play.
Even with the collection of high priced talent they have, the LIV Golf Tour has failed to secure a TV deal. And there lays one of the biggest issue for WWE if they ultimately sell to Saudi Arabia. Will the company be able to secure a new TV rights deal with new or existing partners? What happens if NBC Universal and FOX decide to simply walk away?
The prospect of securing a lucrative media rights agreement, or at least one as lucrative as their last deal, is already facing an uphill climb. An analysis done by Morgan Stanley, outlined in the latest Wrestling Observer Newsletter, shows that FOX has lost well over $100 million the last two years of their contract with WWE. And those losses are expected to get even worse [Editor’s note: Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics has pushed back on the Observer’s analysis of this month-old Morgan Stanley report, acknowledging that SmackDown is a loss leader for FOX, but disputing the conclusion that means rights fees won’t go up in the next round of bidding].
Whether its retaining talent or having a way for its audience to see them, WWE faces an uncertain road ahead if Vince McMahon decides to move forward with a sale to Saudi Arabia’s PIF.
Speaking of uncertainty. Regardless of whether or not the company is sold, a huge black cloud of it is hanging over WWE right now as it approaches its most important time of the year.
Just days after Vince McMahon released a statement saying that he had the utmost confidence in his managerial team, his own daughter left the company. Stephanie McMahon resigned as co-CEO, but it may not have been her decision to leave.
The Wrestling Observer reporting that Stephanie was essentially forced out by her father’s return to the Board of Directors. And one could start to connect some dots based on reports Stephanie and Triple H opposed selling the company.
Nick Khan has taken over as the lone CEO and is continuing forward with his duties, even recently meeting with top executives from Disney and ESPN about a potential sale.
The loss of Stephanie McMahon cannot be understated. In addition to losing a talented and well-respected executive, it would be understandable if her departure was a major hit to morale. Stephanie was reportedly very well-liked by those within the company and with her now gone, it’s logical to wonder if her husband could be next.
There have already been rumblings that Triple H is on unstable ground when it comes to his standing as the Chief Content Officer. Whether he decides to leave on his own or he’s ultimately removed from the position, there is genuine concern that his days are numbered.
This comes at a time when The Game is needed now more than ever. As Vince McMahon continues to play chess behind the scenes, keeping the King of Kings in charge of the on-screen product is the only move that provides a level of comfort and stability for talent and fans alike.
If Triple H leaves or is removed as head of creative, we all know who would take over. The last thing WWE needs right now is to hit the reset button during WrestleMania season. Mr. McMahon taking over when he’s been hands off for months, would only make matters even worse. It would not be shocking at all, if he had no idea who half the members of the locker room are anymore.
The Game however, took action earlier this evening to try and quell any concerns the performers may have. An all talent meeting was held ahead of tonight’s SmackDown, with Triple H assuring the locker room that he’s not going anywhere, according to a report from Fightful Select.
“Triple H did keep it open and say that anything could change, but right now Vince McMahon defers final creative to Triple H. Triple H also said that while he and Vince McMahon may have discussions, he makes the final call. WWE was adamant in an official sense to us this week that Triple H was still running creative.”
[Editor’s note: More on today's talent meeting from SRS and PWInsider here.]
Even with Triple H’s reassurance that he’s going to continue calling the shots, it’s still going to be hard to stay fully invested in what’s happening on RAW, SmackDown or NXT as long as Vince McMahon is in the picture. That’s a difficult ask of the fanbase when everything could still very abruptly be flipped on its head at a moments notice.
By Triple H’s own reported admission, Mr. McMahon is back in the creative conversation. How long until he decides he wants to lead those discussions once again? As I said last week, all we can do is wait and hope for the best.