Vince McMahon, the former chairman and chief executive of the WWE wrestling promotion, has retaken operational control of the company six months after retiring to pursue its sale and lead its upcoming media rights negotiations.
McMahon announced his retirement in July after the company’s board opened an investigation into an alleged $3-million ‘hush money’ settlement between him and an ex-employee with whom he had a consensual affair.
US newspaper the Wall Street Journal first reported on the allegations and said McMahon agreed to pay the settlement to a departing employee, who was initially hired in 2019 as a paralegal, to prevent her from discussing “her relationship with Mr. McMahon or disparaging him.”
WWE’s board then reportedly uncovered “other, older non-disclosure agreements involving claims by former female WWE employees of misconduct by Mr. McMahon” totaling more than $12 million over the last 16 years. He then stepped back from his duties in June and before retiring a month later.
However, in a statement made yesterday (January 5), McMahon said he has requested to be reinstated as executive chairman of the board to pursue a sale of the company, as well as lead negotiations for its upcoming domestic rights deal.
WWE’s rights deal with US broadcaster Fox is due to expire next year, with negotiations expected to begin later this year.
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He also requested chair seats for former WWE co-presidents Michelle Wilson and George Barrios.
As WWE’s largest shareholder with control of the company’s majority voting power, his requests are almost guaranteed.
He said: “WWE is entering a critical juncture in its history with the upcoming media rights negotiations coinciding with increased industry-wide demand for quality content and live events and with more companies seeking to own the intellectual property on their platforms.
“The only way for WWE to fully capitalize on this opportunity is for me to return as executive chairman and support the management team in the negotiations for our media rights and to combine that with a review of strategic alternatives.
“My return will allow WWE, as well as any transactional counterparties, to engage in these processes knowing they will have the support of the controlling shareholder.”
After McMahon stepped down, his daughter Stephanie McMahon and WWE president Nick Khan took over as co-chief executives, with Stephanie taking over as chairwoman.
McMahon’s son-in-law Paul Levesque also returned to the company as head of talent relations.
He added: “WWE has an exceptional management team in place, and I do not intend for my return to have any impact on their roles, duties, or responsibilities.”
The re-appointment of McMahon, Wilson, and Barrios will require three current board members to vacate their seats and continue the recent merry-go-round of exits and additions of the board.
In September, WWE announced three changes to the board after Erika Nardini, the chief executive of the Barstool Sports US-based sport and pop culture platform, resigned due to the complete acquisition by Penn National Gaming of Barstool in August.
Michelle McKenna, former chief information officer at American football’s NFL, and Viatris pharmaceutical firm board member JoEllen Lyons Dillion were then added.
McMahon has been a massive presence in professional wrestling since buying WWE from his father in 1982.
Since then, he has overseen its growth into a media powerhouse whose weekly content, including WrestleMania and SmackDown, is broadcast in more than 180 countries and 30 languages.
Since McMahon’s retirement, the company has continued to grow, posting strong quarterly financials.
In November, the company announced it had secured year-on-year growth for its third quarter of 19%, posting a revenue of $304.6 million for Q3 2022on the back of an increase in both domestic and international media rights fees related to its flagship programs Raw and Smackdown, as well as the monetizing of third-party original programming.
In September, major Australian media group Foxtel struck a multi-year extension with WWE to continue as the exclusive rightsholder in the country for the promotion’s content, which it shows on its Fox Sports linear channels, the Kayo Sports streaming service, and Binge streaming service.
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