In my last column entitled Why Did Stephanie McMahon Resign from WWE and What is Next for Her?, I made mention that by her resigning, we’re likely entering the end-game for watching a McMahon-led WWE. The new buyer may have a choice on who operates the WWE, but they may ride out the Vince McMahon/Triple H wave until both leave the company or the planet. Shane is probably not coming back and I doubted that Triple H’s daughters or Shane’s kids would want to work for the WWE.
But I have bigger concerns than just 1 family no longer being associated with the WWE.
History shows that new buyers tend to struggle with their investments in Pro Wrestling. Territories tried to merge during the late 1980s and early 1990s to combat the WWE, they all failed. Ted Turner bought mid-Atlantic NWA that became World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and it was an utter failure until Eric Bischoff turned it around, but even he couldn’t sustain business. Ring of Honor thought they were initially saved by the Sinclair purchase but were actually made worse in the long-run. Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA) was bought by Anthem and they are just not growing. Billy Corgan is struggling with his NWA purchase…
What I’m saying is that nothing guarantees that the new WWE buyer will make it better. In fact, the above history suggests that purchases of wrestling companies often make it worse. Hell, the acquisitions of corporations often don’t go right… Ask Disney on the headaches they are having with the 20th Century Fox $71 Billion purchase or maybe their struggles on making Star Wars films to please the loyal fanbase. Where I worry about All Elite Wrestling is that their TNT/TBS channels keep getting sold… It went from AOL/Time Warner to AT&T to Discovery in a very short period of time, with rumors of Warner Bros. Discovery being sold sometime during 2024.
During early 2012 while I was with Lords of Pain/Wrestling Headlines (wrote there from October 1998 to July 2020, before joining NoDQ), I wrote a column that suggested that Pro Wrestling would possibly die or begin a slow death in just 10 years. Back then, people called me “crazy” or a “mad man” but I argued that with Impact and Ring of Honor both not being valid competitors, wrestling fans would become too dependent on the WWE. This was right after the “Summer of Punk” situation and without making Punk into a big superstar, the WWE was back into being too reliant on the “Class of 2002 OVW” stars like John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton. Those guys are getting older and injuries could sideline them, I argued. With no other stars coming up like them, the appeal of the WWE could drop. Then, when John Cena started stepping back and WWE tried to overpush Roman Reigns as the #1 guy, business dropped. RAW’s viewership declined from 4 million to 2 million quickly in just 5 years, with attendance and merchandise sales following it.
Lucky for the WWE, Cable/Satellite channels were declining thanks to Streaming Services eating up their syndication content and created a need for live sporting event content. The past 2 television contracts have subsidized the WWE from their financials taking a severe bath from attendance and merchandise declines.
But here we are today… The #1 pro wrestling company is on the cusp of being sold.
It’s rival and main competitor, All Elite Wrestling, was not profitable last year thanks to too much capital investment in their “Fight Forever” video game and they, too, are reliant on a television contract to keep them afloat. Remember what I said earlier about how much TNT/TBS keeps changing hands in ownership? AOL/Time Warner to AT&T to Discovery? Well, with each changing of the hands, the executives overseeing TNT/TBS keep changing, too. In fact, the executives who initially brought AEW Dynamite to TNT no longer work there. Furthermore, the Warner Bros. Discovery folks have already talked with AEW about blood and curse words. But, what could really harm AEW is if they have a Damar Hamlin moment… With all of their high risk spots, someone is going to get paralyzed or maybe even killed.
Did you see Anna Jay get powerbombed off the side of the stage during AEW Rampage, the secondary show of AEW? Completely missed the table to “break her fall” and her head struck the concrete. That’s just 1 move on a secondary show. So many dangerous moves tried in that 6 man finals ladder match, let alone throughout the midcard of AEW’s shows. All it will take is someone to get badly hurt and Warner Bros. Discovery folks will cut them off or move them to a later timeslot, thus jeopardizing their company.
For WWE, someone is going to spend billions on them and then expect to have a say over their new toy. They don’t know the wrestling business and they’ll trip over themselves making changes like prior buyers of pro wrestling companies. Furthermore, do you really want to put Vince McMahon back as the WWE’s president and lead of creative again? I believe that’s what the Saudi Arabia deal would create and ultimately where I think this sale would go, as Vince wants to return back to the WWE he remembers before June 2022 where he was President/CEO and had the ultimate say on Creative/Talent. Vince long lost his fastball, though he can produce moments of brilliance… But blind squirrels can eventually find nuts, too. WWE since the early 2010s has done nothing but decline in numbers from viewership, attendance, and merchandise. Desperate Cable/Satellite channels here in the United States and all over the world is propping WWE up.
But if a media conglomerate buys the WWE and puts Vince McMahon on the sideline, because after all, he’s a Human Resources NIGHTMARE with his sexual advances, harassment, and relationships that cause million dollar settlements and Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) to be signed. They’d have to hope that Triple H is willing to help them manage it… While Triple H would be what a company wants, as he truly is a nice guy, he has an inflexible view of how talent should be molded or creative. In addition, he lets his NXT talent do high risk moves which creates that same liability risk that I described with AEW, though not as frequent.
Here is where things get worse… Why did the PG-Era begin during the late 2010s? Sure, it was somewhat induced by WWE cleaning up its complete act after Chris Benoit snapped and killed his family… This included a tougher Wellness Policy, cleaning up violence, and concussion testing… When Comcast began having talks with NBCUniversal about an acquisition, THAT is when the PG-Era began. While going to a more PG type show helped gain the WWE new kid friendly sponsors that it didn’t have, it also gave those kid friendly sponsors a SAY in WWE’s operations and creative. Hence why Mandy Rose was just terminated because Mattel had problems with her showing off her lady parts online. They were 100% OK with the cleavage or bikini like outfits she wore, but if she dares to show her breasts and touch herself in online videos, SHE’S GOTTA GO.
It’s very likely that the Comcasts of the world and these kid-friendly corporate sponsors put pressure on Vince McMahon to
resign retire on July 22nd, 2022.
I believe why Vince might be leaning towards selling to Saudi Arabia is due to them willing to retain him as President/CEO of the WWE. I don’t believe that happens anywhere else because of the corporate sensitivity of who would likely buy the WWE. Well, maybe Endeavor Group Holdings, owners of UFC as Dana White is still their President even after the video taped domestic violence that was quite shocking to see. But I highly doubt that Endeavor is willing to put up with BOTH Dana White and Vince McMahon at the same time… Bunch of headaches dealing with both of those alpha males, though it would Endeavor would probably manage Vince McMahon better to be successful.
If any of these media conglomerates buys the WWE, you’ll go from the PG-Era to the G-Era in a heartbeat. WWE being a family owned company is keeping from the full corporate forces controlling everything, but if Vince sells to Comcast, FOX, Paramount Global, Disney, etc., WWE will get scrubbed heavily. Content will be very controlled and many dangerous moves will likely get banned (I wouldn’t mind it that much, but it could hurt match quality). Everyone, for example, is complaining about Disney casting choices lately… Just go look at the comments section of any Little Mermaid live action film trailer and see what I mean. Corporate sponsors are pushing for diversity and are very controlling of the spoken word, with many deemed politically incorrect words and phrases being scrubbed from all scripts and past franchises.
But we haven’t even touched upon what if Saudi Arabia buys them? Many wrestling fans have legitimate issues with WWE hosting Premium Live Events in that country… While that can be hypocritical, as we’ve been buying Saudi Oil for YEARS and Saudi Arabia does have partial investments in many other places. However, it’s hard to purchase anything these days without it being made in a questionable country or made by a firm with foreign investment. We’re in a global economy and that’s the way it is now… But to be 100% owned by Saudi Arabia, meaning that anytime you buy a ticket, buy merchandise, or log into the WWE Network, your money is going overseas… That’s where I believe fans have a bigger issue, especially with the slower rate of evolution happening there particularly with Women. Just watch a Women’s match on a Saudi PLE and observe what they are wearing.
Granted, it’s hard to undo CENTURIES of practices in just a few years…
Long-Term, I just don’t see WWE thriving with a new buyer because they’ll LACK a good manager of the company. Triple H could keep things stable for a while, I honestly believe that… But what happens after him? Triple H is 53 years old with a bad heart. William Regal is 54… There are nobody behind them on that WWE bench.
THIS is what I’ve argued for a while with the WWE becoming corporate… WWE of the late 1990s had experienced hands running the company along with Vince McMahon. Becoming a publicly traded company during 1999, WWE began morphing into a regular corporation with executives micro-managing everything. Suddenly, WWE had large staffs of writers, corporate sponsors had a say, and PG-Era was forced onto them. Instead of allowing Jim Ross to groom his next successors for Talent Relations, Pat Patterson being allowed to train others on Creative, Gerald Brisco training others on how to scout talent, and letting retired wrestlers like Mick Foley, Edge, Christian, and many, many others transition into WWE creative or managerial roles, Vince McMahon put all of those operations onto himself while letting the WWE fill up with corporate types.
Let’s say a media conglomerate buys the WWE and wants to put someone else in charge who has some wrestling background… Who could actually do it? Paul Heyman? Age 57 and the last time he booked, 2019-2020, he clearly didn’t have the fastball he once threw creatively. Eric Bischoff? He’s 67. Jim Ross is 71. Vince Russo is 61. Jim Cornette, with his weekly podcasts, still seems sharp on the wrestling industry but he’s 61 and would get pissed if any corporate types pushed him around.
THERE IS NO ONE ELSE!
Which is why I believe the 2 scenarios are possible… (a) Saudi buys and places Vince McMahon in charge or (b) media conglomerate buys and retains Triple H as its manager. I believe (b) could survive for another 5 years, but Triple H could want to see his daughters grow up, too.
I just don’t see AEW growing. Their roster being thick of wrestlers who do high risk maneuvers is unappealing to casual fans and I just don’t have faith in the current EVPs (Bucks & Omega) and just don’t know, yet, how much Jericho and Moxley could help. Why? Because the AEW talent are still hurting themselves weekly and I don’t see the veterans stepping in to stop it. In fact, Moxley has a habit of getting into dangerous matches or spots himself. At least Jericho is still very careful on how he works, but I don’t see the rest of the roster following his lead on how to safely work a match without killing themselves. If Warner Bros. Discovery sells again, AEW will need to shop around for a new television deal and who would want this promotion that has reckless matches at times where someone could get badly hurt?
Impact and NWA, you aren’t going to grow… Nobody but Observer diehards like New Japan. As I’ve said repeatedly before, American consumers LOVE themselves some Nintendo, Pokemon, Godzilla, anime, Dragonball Z, and many other Japanese pop culture things, but not is wrestling promotions?
So yeah… We’re at a place where wrestling could SEVERELY decline.
WWE is the #1 company and it’s about to be sold… Enjoy that WWE Network, while you can, because once the WWE sells, that price will go up to absorb some of the acquisition costs and maybe the Premium Live Events will turn back into Pay Per Views again that are separate from the WWE Network. Then, ticket prices will go up even more to absorb the acquisition costs. In my opinion, WWE has hurt their fanbase by price gouging them for YEARS on ticket prices, along with overpricing merchandise. When you don’t have top stars around like you did in the past, “Law of Demand” isn’t there to save you and fans aren’t as willing to pay those higher prices.
I’m not feeling good about the health of Pro Wrestling… We’re at the last peak of it, unless there is a miracle and the new WWE buyer actually has a clue on how to run it. Or if someone smacks some sense into Tony Khan.
So just chill… till the next episode!