In a move that seems straight out of WrestleMania, ousted World Wrestling Entertainment founder Vince McMahon has jumped back into ring, intending to return to the company and direct a sale of the business, according to a press report Thursday afternoon.
McMahon, 77, stepped down from WWE in July following disclosure of millions of dollars of payments to women over sexual misconduct. While he gave up his board seat and executive position, McMahon retained the lion’s share of supervoting shares in the company. He owns 28.7 million Class B shares which have four times the voting power of the same number of common, Class A, shares—in sum, more than double the voting power of common shareholders. A story Thursday in The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, said McMahon intends to use his voting power to reelect himself and two other former directors, Michelle Wilson and George Barrios, to the board of directors and pursue a sale.
After McMahon’s summer retirement from the business he co-founded with wife Linda, there was ample speculation on Wall Street that WWE would be sold. That has calmed down in recent weeks as the Street figured McMahon wouldn’t want to sell. But, to the contrary, today’s report says McMahon indicated in a letter to WWE’s board in December that he wants to see the business sold. (The letter to the board hasn’t been disclosed to shareholders through the SEC.) The catalyst for a sale is that WWE’s media rights for domestic Raw and SmackDown franchises are set to be renegotiated.
“Would Comcast, for instance, rather just buy WWE than pay a few billion for Raw, the PPV’s and other content over the next several years?” tech and media equity research firm Lightshed asked in a Jan. 3 note. “Viewership for Raw is up ~1.1% and SmackDown 7% since Paul Levesque took over creative. The ultimate decision maker, Vince McMahon, has even been speculated to want to return (though shareholders would not like that).”
McMahon reportedly told the board of directors that unless he were involved as executive chairman of WWE, he wouldn’t approve any sale, according to the newspaper.
WWE shares were up about 2% in regular trading in New York today. When news of McMahon’s possible return broke after the close of trading, shares rallied more than 10% in the post-market, evening session, changing hands at $79.55 a share, just below WWE’s three-year high.