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WWE reportedly hires JPMorgan to advise on sale as analysts list potential buyers

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After five-plus months of sexual misconduct scandal-inspired “retirement”, Vince McMahon is back on the WWE Board of Directors. His stated purpose for the move is to maximize shareholder value from a sale of the company or their next round of media rights deals. Many don’t trust that that’s all the former CEO and head of creative wants to do post-return, but it was enough to get Wall Street excited.

The investors who drove up share prices yesterday (Jan. 6) will probably like this tidbit from CNBC’s Alex Sherman:

WWE has hired JPMorgan to help the company advise on a potential sale, according to people familiar with the matter. JPMorgan declined to comment. A WWE spokesman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

If a deal occurs, it would likely occur in the next three to six months, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

If that timeframe is correct — and it makes sense, since WWE’s management team told employees on Friday afternoon they’ll be exploring sale options before starting on negotiations for new television/streaming deals for Raw & SmackDown, and those shows’ current contracts with NBCUniversal and FOX end in 2024 — the ball will need to get rolling pretty quickly.

WWE (and apparently JPMorgan) certainly have their own list of potential buyers. That probably includes at least a few of the names being bandied about by the media in the 36 or so hours since Vince set his comeback plan in motion:

Comcast. NBCUniversal’s parent company 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... but could also just be pre-negotiation posturing.

FOX. SmackDown’s current TV partner deserves a mention, but as a (relatively) smaller media company — and one without a streaming service — it seems like a long shot. That’s also because they sold off many of their entertainment assets to Disney not long ago, so acquiring WWE might not be a strategic fit. And speaking of the Mouse House...

Disney. The once-again Bob Iger-led mega-corp would make sense for all the reasons Comcast would, minus the history and current relationships. Still, WWE could fill airtime on ABC and the ESPN networks, and give people a reason to subscribe to Hulu or ESPN+ (or however Disney ends up packaging their three streamers). Heck, maybe there could even be a WWE Universe themed area at Disney World someday?

Warner Bros Discovery. Tony Khan and AEW already have their foot in the door here obviously, and all we’ve heard about is how they’re cutting costs post-merger. But CNBC reminds us CEO David 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 a more attractive one to have on whatever HBO Max ends up being. Don’t be surprised if we learn at some point there were at least talks with WBD.

Netflix. Doesn’t have much history with live and/or sports programming, but 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 Zaslov’s on IP ownership.

Amazon. One of the biggest companies in the world is already getting into the sports business (see their new Thursday Night Football deal with the NFL, among other things), and has very deep pockets. ‘Nuff said.

Endeavor. Along with Comcast, the holding company for talent agencies and related assets is listed as a frontrunner by pretty much every analyst, reporter, and pundit. They bought UFC outright in 2021, and that deal’s been successful for them (they paid $600 million for the mixed martial arts company, and it generated more than a billion in revenue for them last year). 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.

CAA. Nick Khan’s former employer could follow Endeavor’s lead and acquire a company where some of its clients work, and other of its clients would like to attain media rights to.

Liberty Media. Another holding company, whose assets 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.

The Saudi 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. Even the analyst (LightShed Partners’ Brandon Ross) that threw their name into the conversation thinks Endeavor is a much more likely buyer, so the Saudis are probably (and hopefully) not going to end up owning WWE. But it is a “never say never” business...

Sources: CNBC, Wrestlenomics, Seeking Alpha, Front Office Sports

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