I had a reader request for this column… From a few wrestling websites, there was a list of “potential WWE buyers” floating around and even AEW wrestler MJF jokingly had that list on a Tweet that said “I feel like I don’t talk enough about how much I love”. Given that for the past few days, I have been discussing Vince McMahon‘s return, how it changes the WWE as a corporation, and the financial implications, this felt like a good sequel to my other 2 Vince McMahon columns which you can read on NoDQ or click the links below to catch up:
Buying the WWE and then operating it won’t be easy. There are plenty of Hedge Fund guys who think they could just cut a $5 to $10 billion check to buy their childhood favorite wrestling promotion, but then they don’t realize how cost intense it is to operate it and how dependent WWE is on a television network and/or streaming service. In my opinion, to buy the WWE, you’ll need to own top-of-the-line Television Networks and/or Streaming Services to present WWE’s content to its fans. I also believe that the bigtime TV deals are about to hit a peak, as the subscriber base of Cable/Satellite that was once 100 million households is now pushing under 90 million. In addition, DirecTV will soon circle the drain once NFL’s Direct Ticket moves to Google’s YouTube TV.
I believe that in considering a “list” of potential WWE buyers, you HAVE to consider multiple conditions that would make it feasible to not only buy WWE, but successfully host this unique business. Let’s quickly discuss these conditions.
REQUIREMENTS TO BUY & THEN OPERATE WWE
(a) Must have a successful Cable/Satellite Channel and/or Network Channel.
WWE’s fanbase is thick in 50+ fans who are still holding on to their Cable/Satellite package. With life expectancy in the late 70s, you have another 20 years with this segment of the fanbase who likes watching RAW on Mondays and prefers to watch in on Cable/Satellite channel. I also believe that WWE is “intoxicated” with having access to a Network channel in FOX for their Friday Night Smackdown. If you’re a company with the ability to have BOTH a successful Cable/Satellite channel AND a successful Network channel, this is a big plus to continue Monday Night RAW and WWE Smackdown.
(b) Must have a Streaming platform.
You have to have the ability to host the WWE Network or be willing to support one, possibly as a stand-alone app again. WWE fans have enjoyed this luxury for the past 9 years and it’s hard going back. THAT SAID, it wouldn’t shock me that a potential buyer of the WWE places their library on their streaming service and then forces “Paid Live Events” to become Pay Per Views again.
(c) Must have the cash to buy and then operate the WWE.
Captain obvious here… Company must have at least $5 to $10 Billion on hand to not only buy the WWE, but to pay the higher expenses of the company that includes ring crews, talent, equipment & trucks, security, TV props and production, Talent Developmental, etc. While buying past content would make you money tenfold, you’re still operating the existing wrestling promotion and that can get expensive quick. Plus, WWE has high costs associated with maintaining domain names, copyrights, and fighting lawsuits.
(d) Must be able to maintain relationships with Arenas, Sponsors, and International Markets.
This is why I believe that whomever buys the WWE, they’ll hire Stephanie McMahon and Triple H to operate the company, much like when UFC was purchased, they maintained Dana White as their company President. WWE has acted like a monopoly because of Vince McMahon’s stranglehold over arenas, markets, sponsors, television companies, and international markets and that helps keep competition out. If you don’t cannot keep the competition from creeping in, your success as a business will decline and other promotions could start taking over.
(e) Must earn Vince McMahon’s trust and approval.
Vince McMahon, upon rejoining the board, has forced the condition of ANY Media Rights or Sales MUST be approved by him. After all, Vince is 39% owner of total shares and those shares are Class B, which have 10 times the voting power of your normal Class A stock. Making matters worse, by Vince rejoining the WWE Board of Directors and eventually regaining his Board Chairman title (likely needs a shareholder vote, which takes time to prepare – he’ll easily win it by his share votes alone), Vince will have 81% of the total voting power of the WWE company. And again, he flat-out told the rest of the WWE board that any media-rights deals or sales of the company go through HIM, like it or not.
So there you go… If you want to buy the WWE, you better have the Channels, Streaming Services, the Cash, an Iron Fist, and also Vince McMahon’s blessing. Those are easier said than done, as I believe Part (e) in getting Vince McMahon to approve it might be tougher than others think. That said, if you strongly outbid other buyers and throw something like $10 billion or more at him, he’ll approve it. As Jim Cornette said the other day on his YouTube Channel, Vince wants to be the one who started the new WWE brand and also be the one who ends it. After that, he’ll just be satisfied with the major financial value that his empire has brought him. And maybe start a new WWE-like company……
Those were the conditions to potentially buy, now let’s look at who might actually buy the WWE Operation. I’ll list them as a Top 10 with Least Likely (#10) to Most Likely (#1), simple as that.
TOP 10 POTENTIAL WWE BUYERS
– The McMahon Family – I just don’t see Stephanie, Triple H, or Shane raising $5 billion in capital, nor do they want to buy it themselves. They’ll operate WWE for the buyer instead.
– Sinclair Broadcasting – Won’t make that same mistake, twice. They own channels in markets but don’t own the network channels. Plus, they can’t just force WWE shows on a Primetime timeslot of CBS, FOX, NBC, or ABC networks.
– Saudi Arabia Investors – They could buy it, but would loyal fans continue to support a company that is foreign owned? Maybe, as other American products have been purchased by other countries and if HHH/Stephanie remain to make it look like the WWE of old?
– Elon Musk – Twitter is burning through his cash.
– Random Hedge Fund buyer – Someone out there has cash to buy them, but they’ll suddenly have operate a wrestling business and manage TV contracts. You need a media infrastructure or good relations with media companies.
– The Khans – They have enough trouble running AEW to acquire the WWE, but Vince will refuse to sell to them.
– Microsoft – They are buying lots of content lately, but I don’t know if they have the media infrastructure to support them along with the live event infrastructure.
#10 – Nextstar Media Group
They are the majority owner of the CW Network, 75% owner with Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global owning 12.5% each. These guys are pushing HARD to get NewsNation over in the 24/7 hours space, but just are lacking any channels on Cable/Satellite of relevance. Getting WWE content on the CW Network and maybe on CW’s streaming service would be this potential buyer’s biggest advantages, but lacking in other areas. Plus, as you’ll see mentioned below, other partial owners of the CW Network could get WWE content there anyway.
#9 – Liberty Media Group
Majority owners of Sirius XM… They have the cash from selling off TV assets from the past, such as Starz, Court TV, DirecTV Sports Network, SportsNet, etc, but don’t have much on the television or streaming side to help the WWE. Thus, they’d have to deal with TV contracts with networks… They do own a stake in Live Nation, however, which could greatly help promote WWE Live Events like a concert. In addition, Live Nation could pull more money out of WWE fans much like they do concert goers… They’ve got the cash on hand to make the purchase, but operating it afterward would be difficult for the moment. That said, this company is doing a great job with the Atlanta Braves and anything that makes my boy Bernard happy, makes me happy…
#8 – Endeavor Group Holdings
This is the owner of the UFC… If someone was looking to boost the value of “Premium Live Events” again and convert them into Pay Per Views, Endeavor has that experience working with UFC. They are good with streaming, which is an advantage too. However, they, like a few others on this list, would still need to deal with expiring TV contracts. That said, if they have a product that channels want, they’ll earn money for it. Where I see weakness is not wanting to cross-brand UFC and WWE, as UFC is thought to be legitimate fighting and WWE is scripted fighting or “entertainment”. Endeavor has their hands full with UFC and wanting to make that bigger, rather than having their attention divided. I don’t see it happening, but I wouldn’t be shocked that it could happen.
#7 – Warner Bros. Discovery
Major advantages in place with TBS and TNT as established Cable/Satellite Channels along with HBOMAX as a streaming services. Major disadvantages, however, with a lack of cash as the once owned Time Warner was acquired by AT&T and then quickly purchased by Discovery. Lots of Merger & Acquisition expenses happening there… In addition, the Discovery folks don’t have a high opinion of HBOMAX and may be rethinking that streaming model, even though it is highly successful (but has many expensive properties on it that they are giving away for a low cost). Warner Bros. movie division is also very expensive for them, as the DC Comics enterprises hasn’t been as profitable as they’d like (hence why they are rebooting it). There are also rumors that once Comcast ends its 1/3 stake in Hulu through 2024, they are going after Warner Bros. Discovery. Infrastructure is there, but cash might not be. That said, as a final stroke of genius, Vince might want to sell WWE to them just to squash AEW like a bug in one last competitive master stroke. While Warner lacks a Network channel, they do have a small stake in the CW Network and might be able to place Smackdown there with RAW being on TBS/TNT. The current cash position + possibly being sold in 2 years deters me from ranking them higher.
#6 – Amazon
Lots and lots of cash to burn… Amazon Prime is a solid streaming service, but as you saw with Thursday Night Football complaints for the NFL, not everyone who has Prime is also a sports fan. That’s why I’ve suggested that having access to a Cable/Satellite channel would be very important. That said, Amazon is trying to beef up its content for Prime to get more subscribers along with more live sports content. They have an advantage of selling WWE merchandise easily through their Amazon online store. I could see Amazon buying this simply for the past WWE content to air on Amazon Prime, and maybe selling off the wrestling operations elsewhere.
#5 – Paramount Global
This one is under the radar and maybe because Vince McMahon had issues dealing with Viacom during the 2000s, it’s being ignored. However, that was at a time when Viacom was operated as a separate company. Now, Viacom has merged back with CBS, has new leadership, and was renamed to “Paramount Global”. They have major infrastructure advantages in place that I believe is getting ignored. CBS is arguably the most successful Network channel and to move Smackdown to Fridays for that channel would be a luxury. If not there, Paramount Global owns 12.5% of the CW Network. Paramount+ is a great streaming service and WWE Network would boost its value when added to it. Their weakness, however, is on the Cable/Satellite channel side, as they don’t have a channel that would fit hosting RAW. Would you want to see it on Mtv? Nickelodeon? Comedy Central? SpikeTV was actually placed on premium Cable packages after WWE left. However, Paramount could place Premium Live Events on Showtime or sponsor them with Showtime on Pay Per View. If Paramount Global could just find a good home for RAW, they could be a good contender… But again, Vince McMahon had a rough time with what was Viacom in the 2000s…
#4 – FOX
WWE Smackdown is already on FOX for Friday Nights and I believe its recent success has improved relations between WWE and the network. In addition, FOX has a ton of cash to burn by selling its overpriced content to Disney. On top of that, FOX will still have their Network channel and could continue Smackdown there… But they lack having a strong Cable/Satellite channel… FS1 is their best one, unless they want to put something on FOX News which ain’t happening. Remember, they sold FX to Disney as part of the 20th Century FOX deal… Lack of a high impact streaming and a high impact Cable/Satellite channel would make it seem unlikely to me. However, money talks and FOX has a ton of it right now and could back that BRINKS truck up to Vince’s house to appeal to him. Having a successful partnership with Smackdown on Friday Nights is that “foot in the door” to possibly make this happen. This may not sound like much, but the politics of the McMahons and Murdoch family align and that kind of does matter with negotiations.
#3 – Google
When Google purchased the NFL Direct Ticket away from DirecTV, it turned a ton of heads in the industry. In addition, the YouTube TV product is growing in popularity as a Cable/Satellite channel like service and will likely see an incoming wave of former DirecTV viewers needing their NFL fix. Where I think Google would have a disadvantage is that they are a streaming service, though high speed internet access continues to grow and grow by the year. If I were Google, however, I’d still attempt to maintain a TV deal on another channel, such as maintaining Smackdown on FOX for Friday nights. My only worry is that Vince McMahon doesn’t have any relationship with Google, aside from having a YouTube channel and Google tends to be on the cheap side for providing ad revenue for wrestling content (or so I’ve heard). Google has a ton of cash on hand to make this happen, big advantage.
#2 – Disney
In my view, Disney isn’t buying right now. They are still paying off the enormous price tag paid for 20th Century FOX which was around $71 Billion, while also absorbing losses from their parks (I believe that they have priced out many people), recent movies, and ESPN’s high costs. Reportedly, Disney is shopping around ESPN… Disney is on shaky grounds and the return of Bob Iger, to many, suggests that maybe Disney, itself, could be for sale. That said, Disney has major advantages in place… For one, they own ABC. Two, Disney+ is an already successful streaming brand AND the WWE Network is on Disney+ in several international markets. Disney also owns 2/3 stake in Hulu, which make become 100% through 2024 if Comcast sells their 1/3 stake. For Cable/Satellite, one thing gained by the 20th Century FOX deal was FX… That is the PERFECT channel for Monday Night RAW! Where I just don’t see things meshing is branding, unless this means that you’ll see much more Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and John Cena on Disney promotions or at park events? Jim Cornette joked that maybe Disney World could have “Undertaker’s Last Ride” as a ride? I don’t see it, though Marvel and Star Wars have their levels of violence, too, and Disney promotes them heavily. I just don’t see WWE as a big brand for them to promote outside of the in-ring stuff. Branding aside, Disney has the right infrastructure to make it fit, but I worry about their finances to make it happen right now.
#1 – Comcast/NBC/Universal
Way too obvious. WWE’s Monday Night RAW is already on USA Network and is a regular staple. WWE Network is part of Peacock and actually has 3 more years remaining on that deal that another buyer would have to deal with. Being business partners for decades, Comcast/NBC/Universal knows WWE’s operations best. Furthermore, actually buying the WWE would create tremendous cost savings for them, as the money used to buy WWE’s TV rights or WWE Network would just go away and then they can generate much more from RAW, WWE Network on Peacock, and maybe place WWE Smackdown on NBC. Their executives have great relations with Vince McMahon and they already know/trust Stephanie and Triple H to continue operating the WWE for them.
Did I forget anybody? If I’m missing someone, add it to the Comments below!
Also, if there is a business angle to this whole Vince McMahon “returns to the WWE Board” angle that you want to investigate and then write about, also make a Comment below.
So just chill… till the next episode!