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New report on Vince McMahon’s WWE exit has a very pro-TKO spin

TKO Announcement Photo by Michelle Farsi/Zuffa LLC

This morning (Feb. 7), The Hollywood Reporter published a story on Vince McMahon’s resignation from all his roles at WWE & its parent company TKO Group following the allegations of sexual abuse in Janel Grant’s lawsuit against him, John Laurinaitis & WWE.

While it doesn’t contain much new information for people who’ve been following the story closely, it is noteworthy for at least a couple reasons.

One is because THR is a trade publication covering the entertainment industry, and perception of WWE as a property in that industry is more important than ever given TKO’s plans for growing the brand via sponsorships the way they did with the UFC (the other company under the TKO umbrella). Another is that McMahon’s 2022 hush money scandal proved that any hope for significant changes at WWE that would reduce the risk of anything like what Grant alleges happening again will likely depend on continued coverage from mainstream outlets like THR.

Today’s report, entitled “How Vince McMahon Got TKO’d”, will likely help TKO’s brand-building efforts without requiring them to remake WWE. Alex Weprin’s article essentially frames the situation as a Vince problem that’s largely already been solved by TKO CEO Ari Emanuel & his team.

Emanuel and TKO COO Mark Shapiro are credited with calling McMahon and telling him “it would be in the best interest of the company for him to resign” on Jan. 26 after Slim Jim announced they wouldn’t be sponsoring Royal Rumble due to the allegations in Grant’s suit (they would quickly “reenter the Royal Rumble” the morning after McMahon’s resignation). There’s a line in the THR story about how TKO “endeavored to make employees feel safe” in the wake of the sexual abuse & trafficking allegations against McMahon, but there’s no details on how they did so. Instead, the bulk of the article focuses on their actions to prevent “an impact to the bottom line.”

While WWE’s existing media rights deals with NBCUniversal for SmackDown, The CW for NXT, and Netflix for Raw & more weren’t considered to be at risk, TKO execs were concerned about the McMahon scandal’s impact on the value of their next deal for domestic rights to premium live events when Peacock’s contract for them expires in 2026. Their outreach to existing partners seems to have quelled those concerns, as evidenced by Netflix chief content officer Bela Bajaria answering reporters questions about the situation by saying, “He [Vince]’s gone. So he’s not there. He’s gone.”

There’s little discussion in the article of who at WWE or TKO might have known about McMahon’s potential crimes or when they knew about them. Weprin’s sources told him, “the lawsuit and the graphic details included in it took senior leadership at TKO and company talent by surprise.” Another posited to the reporter that the Grant lawsuit was a case of McMahon’s past finally catching up to him, with no acknowledgment of the organization Vince may have set up to allow him to do the things he’s accused of. Which is fair to include in the story, but it would also be fair to question the validity of those statements — or the motivations of those making them.

Even WWE chief creative officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s responses to questions about the allegations against McMahon at the post-Royal Rumble press conference, which were widely criticized within the wrestling world and even a few places outside it, are presented without mention of the backlash to them. Rather, they’re included after a brief discussion of how Vince’s resignation gave “employees, executives and talent” space to “figure out [WWE]’s future without him being a drag on opportunities.”

There’s no mention of the federal investigation into McMahon, and the fact WWE itself is a defendant in Grant’s suit is only referenced as “legal exposure for the company” that “may still exist.” The specific future risk listed in the article is Vince selling off a large chunk of his remaining TKO stock to fund his own legal defense, and negatively impacting the share price in the process.

Overall, it’s hard to imagine an accounting of the situation TKO could be happier with than this one.

You can read “How Vince McMahon Got TKO’d” at The Hollywood Reporter’s website here.

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