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Power play: Deep-pocketed Saudis rumored to be eyeing WWE purchase


It will be a shocking flip of occasions worthy of pro-wrestling tv, full with main geopolitical implications.

Simply days after longtime World Wrestling Leisure (WWE) Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon made a dramatic and sudden return to the corporate, rumors started swirling this week {that a} blockbuster sale was on the horizon, one that might see Saudi Arabia’s deep-pocketed Public Funding Fund buy the corporate.

Preliminary reviews {that a} deal was imminent had been denied by sources inside WWE, in line with a number of outstanding pro-wrestling journalists, however the Saudi fund remains to be broadly believed to be among the many most definitely potential consumers if the corporate strikes forward with a sale.

It will be a exceptional improvement for WWE, an organization that over the previous half-century has made an indelible mark on American popular culture, boasts a few of in the present day’s highest-rated cable TV applications, has produced worldwide icons reminiscent of Hulk Hogan and John Cena, and even counts A-list Hollywood actors reminiscent of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson amongst its alumni.

For the Saudis, it might be the most recent in a collection of strikes to deepen their footprint within the Western sports activities and leisure market and, as critics contend, to make use of that footprint to shift consideration away from the nation’s human-rights document and therapy of girls.

The Saudi fund boasts a reported $620 billion in property, making it one of many richest sovereign wealth funds on the planet.

The fund has already made its presence felt within the sports activities area with, amongst different issues, final yr’s buy of Premier League soccer membership Newcastle United and the launch of its high-profile LIV Golf tour.

In some ways, the street towards a WWE acquisition has already been paved. Since 2018, WWE has held its annual Crown Jewel stay occasion in Riyadh, the clearest instance of the burgeoning enterprise partnership between the professional wrestling chief and the Saudi royal household.

The Saudi authorities has reportedly paid as a lot as $50 million per occasion to deliver the WWE product to its shores.

In holding these extremely worthwhile playing cards on Saudi soil, WWE has largely brushed apart heavy criticism over its determination to do enterprise with a Saudi authorities accused of rampant human-rights abuses.

The corporate additionally has appeared to take steps to make its product extra palatable to a Saudi viewers, together with having its feminine athletes put on extra conservative apparel when wrestling in Riyadh.

From a purely monetary perspective, some analysts say the transfer is sensible for the Saudis. It will give the Saudi buyers the power to money in on WWE’s profitable live-event enterprise, and rake in billions of {dollars} in earnings from tv rights charges from U.S. and European cable corporations and streaming providers.

Regardless of WWE having solely not too long ago introduced stay occasions to Saudi Arabia, the Western pro-wrestling product has been deeply fashionable within the nation for years, that means an outright buy of the world’s main sports activities leisure firm would possible be cheered by Saudi residents.

“Wrestling is and has been for a lot of, a few years enormously fashionable in Saudi Arabia, notably with younger folks. And from that perspective, making WWE a part of the Saudi [portfolio] would enchantment to many younger Saudis,” stated Gerald M. Feierstein, director of Arabian Peninsula Affairs on the Center East Institute and a former U.S. diplomat who served excursions in Saudi Arabia.

“From the 30,000-foot degree, I feel it matches into the broader effort of [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman to mission a picture of Saudi Arabia that’s completely different from the previous, and a extra trendy, cooler, extra cosmopolitan sort of picture,” Mr. Feierstein stated in an interview. “And to get away from Saudi Arabia’s picture as only a place the place oil will get pumped. I feel there could be quite a few the explanation why this might be interesting.”

“I served in Saudi Arabia within the mid-Nineteen Eighties, and wrestling was fashionable on tv even then,” Mr. Feierstein added. “That is one thing that goes again a protracted, great distance. Why the enchantment? What precisely is it that pulls a Saudi viewers? I can’t essentially inform you the reply to that. But it surely’s not a brand new phenomenon.”

Mr. Feierstein additionally pointed to the rising regional sports activities and financial competitors amongst Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, maybe finest exemplified by Qatar’s internet hosting of the 2022 World Cup.

Buying a global sports activities leisure powerhouse reminiscent of WWE, Mr. Feierstein stated, would put Riyadh in a distinct league from its friends. “There’s an terrible lot of competitors throughout the Gulf states for funding in these highly regarded worldwide sporting actions,” he stated.

Finest for enterprise?

WWE didn’t reply to a request for remark this week in search of clarification on whether or not a sale to the Saudi fund was imminent and even into account.

Main pro-wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer indicated late Wednesday that the deal remains to be very a lot a risk.

“They’re not bought. Saudi Arabia is within the hunt. They’re one of many corporations, one of many locations that’s searching for it … a number of media corporations, the names which can be on the market are all within the hunt,” he reportedly stated on his podcast.

“There’s positively smoke in regards to the Saudi Arabia story. It’s early. It’s too early for the deal to the finalized, however that one can occur too.”

As additional proof, wrestling insiders have pointed to the truth that WWE has reportedly retained monetary big J.P. Morgan to assist discover its sale choices.

On its web site, J.P. Morgan says it’s “the one U.S.-headquartered monetary establishment with two working licenses in Saudi Arabia, offering entry to a complete vary of merchandise and international banking capabilities for purchasers within the nation.”

Whether or not a deal involves fruition anytime quickly, the whirlwind occasions of the previous week inside WWE’s Stamford, Connecticut, headquarters counsel such choices are into account, with the return of the corporate’s longtime chief providing hints that main adjustments could also be coming quickly.

Mr. McMahon, who purchased the corporate from his father in 1982, reworked it from a regional northeast promotion into a world powerhouse. Mr. McMahon grew to become a mega-star in his personal proper by portraying a villainous boss on WWE tv via the late 90s and properly into the 2000s.

His most memorable on-screen moments included face-to-face confrontations with former President Donald Trump, who appeared on WWE programming in 2007 within the run-up to the corporate’s flagship WrestleMania occasion that yr.

However after many years atop the corporate, the 77-year-old Mr. McMahon stepped down final summer season on the heels of a bombshell Wall Avenue Journal report that he’d paid tens of millions of {dollars} to suppress costs of sexual misconduct and infidelity. WWE introduced an investigation into the matter, which was reportedly accomplished final November.

Mr. McMahon’s self-declared retirement lasted all of six months. Final week, he introduced plans to return to the corporate, seemingly utilizing his standing as WWE’s largest shareholder as leverage to come back again.

In a press launch final week asserting his return, WWE indicated {that a} sale is on the desk.

“In reference to the change within the composition of the board of administrators and in cooperation with Vince McMahon as majority shareholder, the corporate intends to undertake a evaluation of its strategic options with the objective being to maximise worth for all WWE shareholders,” the corporate stated in a press release. “There isn’t any assurance that this course of will lead to a transaction.”

Earlier this week, Mr. McMahon was unanimously elected government chairman of the board, the corporate stated. His daughter, Stephanie, resigned from her place as the corporate’s co-CEO the identical day. WWE government Nick Khan is now serving as the corporate’s sole CEO.

By Wednesday morning, pro-wrestling information websites had been abuzz with rumors that WWE had agreed in precept to a take care of the Saudi funding fund. Later within the day, nevertheless, quite a few information retailers reported that no settlement had been reached.

Yahoo Finance, for instance, cited sources “accustomed to the matter” who stated that the corporate had not but been bought. WWE inventory jumped after the preliminary reviews of a sale, however rapidly fell after information {that a} ultimate deal hadn’t been struck.


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