ox and Comcast now know who will be calling the shots on “Raw” and “Smackdown.”
WWE (WWE) – Get World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Class A Report sort of shocked the world on July 22 when longtime Chairman and Chief Executive Vince McMahon quickly retired.
McMahon, the company’s majority shareholder and unequivocal leader since he bought the company from his father in 1982, most likely did not step aside willingly.
His departure likely stems from an investigation into his $12 million of payments to multiple women with whom he allegedly had inappropriate relationships.
A resignation does not stop that inquiry, but it does somewhat insulate the company from its fallout.
Nothing that comes up in the investigation could actually force McMahon to leave.
But advertisers and business partners including Fox Corp. (FOX) – Get Fox Corporation Report and Comcast (CMCSA) – Get Comcast Corporation Class A Common Stock Report, which broadcast the company’s key “Smackdown” and “Raw” shows, could have brought pressure. Comcast also showcases WWE’s special events and video archive.
It likely never got to that point. McMahon was not going to damage the company, which he built from nothing, so he retired to protect his creation.
Whether that retirement sticks or McMahon quietly remains a powerful player due to his ownership stake remains to be seen. The company has named Vince’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon, as chairwoman and as co-CEO with Nick Kahn, the former agency head who leads the company’s business efforts.
Those appointments seem like the big news, and that’s how WWE headlined the news release. “WWE & Board of Directors Announce New Co-CEOs Stephanie McMahon and Nick Khan,” was the top line.
But the real news was a single sentence toward the bottom of the release.
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The New Chief of Creative
McMahon was chairman and CEO at WWE, but his core role was running the company’s creative. He made the decisions as to which performers got screen time, who got a push — meaning which talent got focused on — and what direction the company’s storylines took.
WWE had lots of writers and producers making suggestions, but in the end, Vince McMahon made the calls. Even when he had stepped aside as chairman and CEO on what seemed an interim basis, Vince retained his post as head of creative.
Now, he has stepped down from that as well, and the job will be assumed not by Vince’s right-hand, Bruce Prichard, who ran Friday’s “Smackdown” show in his former boss’s absence, but by another member of the McMahon family.
“Additionally, WWE executive Paul Levesque will assume all responsibilities related to WWE’s creative, in addition to his regular duties,” the company shared.
Married to Stephanie McMahon, Levesque, known by his stage name “Triple H,” had previously led the company’s developmental brand, NXT.
During his time leading NXT, Levesque hired wrestlers from the independent scene who did not fit the traditional WWE mold. He led that brand during the so-called “Wednesday Night War,” when the show aired head-to-head with All Elite Wrestling’s “Dynamite.”
WWE lost that war — AEW simply had too much star power — but Levesque was widely praised for the brand’s shows during that time period.
Why Comcast and Fox Should Pay Attention
Levesque’s views on wrestling clearly are not always in line with those of his father-in-law. That might help WWE modernize its core programming and freshen up its product.
The company has delivered steady ratings on Fox and Comcast’s USA, but the numbers have shrunk in recent years, perhaps partly because Vince McMahon has a very narrow view of which performers can be headliners.
With Levesque heading creative, the company seems likely to be more open to shaking up its formula, at least a little. That could lead to some new performers/wrestlers getting more of a chance to become stars. It could also lead to more established free agents becoming interested in WWE.
A number of AEW and independent stars had become leery of signing WWE deals with Vince McMahon as the creative boss because he historically has not been all that open to featuring acts he did not create. (That changed a little with the recent return of AEW Founder Cody Rhodes to WWE, but you could argue that was an exception and not the rule.)
Levesque won’t turn WWE into a high-priced independent promotion, but he likely will slowly work performers into the top-of-the-card mix. That could cause ratings to inch up as the company starts to move closer to renewing its key television deals.
A new creative boss, one who’s perhaps easier to work with than the old boss, might be seen as a positive by Fox and Comcast and could even bring another bidder into the mix.
WWE makes its profits from its TV-rights deals. This move may seem like a big change, but it’s actually one that assures its TV partners while also exciting its fanbase.