Vince McMahon’s media and entertainment company, WWE, has been at the center of the professional wrestling industry since it’s official creation in 1980. The company has time and time again broken down barriers which many believed would be impossible for a professional wrestling company to break. The mainstream success of Vince McMahon’s dream has positioned him as a genius in the eyes of many business experts, with Forbes currently valuing his net worth at $2B U.S dollars. In its simplest form, McMahon has made grown men wrestling each other, half naked, with a predetermined outcome, a mainstream success across all cultures across the globe. With all of this being said, several recent decisions by McMahon have made wrestling fans increasingly confused about the direction the company is going in. However, when you peel this all back layer by layer, these decisions make a lot more sense than one may originally think, and based on a new information told to Wrestling Republic, it seems as if the company really is preparing for a sale. In this article I will be taking an in depth look at all the signs. Welcome to Allison Analysis.
When comparing the current WWE product to the pre pandemic product of only 17 months ago, there is one major difference, and this is the roster. In the early days of the pandemic WWE controversially decided to release over 35 stars across all of their brands, as well as making huge cuts backstage. The reason for these releases were for the company to cut down on their roster, and get rid of any talent which were either unhappy, or the company considered ‘dead wood’ and had no plans for. These cuts allowed the company to have their best business quarter of all time, during a pandemic. Even though releasing wrestlers during a pandemic, while a lot of independent promotions were shut down, was hugely controversial, the risk did seemingly pay off for WWE, with the company then offering some released talent new contracts with a slight pay cut, if they did still want to return. In hindsight these releases actually helped out promotions such as Impact, Ring Of Honor, and even All Elite Wrestling, during the pandemic, providing them with talent that brought more eyes to the respective promotions. It’s highly unlikely WWE did indeed consider that when releasing talent, but nevertheless it’s an interesting point.
However despite all these changes being made, this wasn’t actually the turning point in WWE, but that was soon to follow.
In August of 2020, WWE hired former top CAA agent, Nick Khan, to become the President & Chief Revenue Officer, where he would report directly to Vince McMahon. It became clear from the start that Khan would have a lot more say and input than anyone else who’d been in a similar position as him in recent years.
In his first major move for the company, Nick Khan played a part in WWE signing a deal with NBC, that would result in the WWE Network moving exclusively to Peacock. This deal not only gave the fans a better deal for their money, but also generated a higher income for WWE than the WWE Network did, and allowed them to be able to spend less time maintaining and fixing issues with the previous self owned Network. Khan then also went on to play a huge part in WWE’s negations with The Ringer and Spotify, which would allow the company to ink their first ever exclusive podcast deal, for what is expected to be a hefty figure.
On top of this, Nick Khan would end up being fundamental in all of WWE’s recent decisions, including hosting SummerSlam in the Allegiant Stadium this year, SmackDown emulating from Rolling Loud, and most recently the upcoming new look behind WWE’s developmental brand, NXT.
Despite Nick Khan undoubtedly making dozens of successful decisions since joining WWE last year, one decision has notably overshadowed the others and significantly changed not only WWE, but also their ‘rivals’, All Elite Wrestling and Impact Wrestling. This decision of course, is the increase in releases both backstage, and for performers on all brands, since April of this year.
As spoken about earlier in this article, in April 2020 WWE made major cuts to all departments, including the biggest talent release the company had ever seen. The reason for these releases was of course due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The departures truly hit the wrestling world hard, and despite the decision actually helping smaller wrestling companies such as Impact & Ring Of Honor keep up their momentum throughout the darkest days of the pandemic, the company still was heavily criticised by the media, and understandably so. WWE did not only end up surviving the pandemic, but actually went on to thrive through it, with 2020 ending up being WWE’s most profitable year in their history.
In April 2021, exactly one year to the day of the 2020 mass releases, WWE once again made major cuts to all departments, including their in ring roster. Due to the fact the promotion had triumphed through the darkest days of the pandemic and had just welcomed fans back for a two day WrestleMania spectacular at the Raymond James Stadium, these releases seemed to make little to no sense. From a talent standpoint, one could easily brush these releases off as WWE returning to their annual ‘spring cleaning’, which up until 2017 was often a yearly occurrence, but it was more so the backstage cuts which made more of an impact.
Over the years WWE have very rarely made any backstage cuts prior to the pandemic, and after the 2020 staff releases, many behind the scenes believed that it would be near impossible to make anymore, as many departments were down to their ‘bare bones’. Wrestling Republic exclusively reported at the time that there were huge concerns within the WWE media and graphic design team, as even before COVID-19 the department often felt as if they were rushed off their feet and at times, possibly even overworked. Unfortunately the media teams worst fear became a reality in May of 2021, with the the company deciding to merge both the television and digital design teams into one, making multiple cuts in the process.
In June the nightmare would indeed continue, as WWE made it’s most shocking mass release in the history of the promotion, releasing stars such as Braun Strowman, Aleister Black and Ruby Riott. The two recent sets of releases up to this point could very easily be explained, with the reason for the April 2020 release being the uncertainty of the pandemic, and the April 2021 ones being the return of ‘spring cleaning’. However this set of releases seemed to make absolutely no sense to anyone. Over the next couple of months WWE would continue to make releases to the NXT brand, as well as a few individual releases to the ‘main roster’ including former WWE champion, Bray Wyatt.
With all of these recent releases, along with the decision to streamline certain backstage departments such as the media team, fans and reporters began questioning whether or not for the first time in its history, WWE was heading towards a sale. Rumors quickly circulated the wrestling world suggesting that a sale to NBC was imminent, although the rumors were quickly shut down and seemingly all stemmed from the simple fact that WWE currently have both a TV deal and Network deal in place with NBC.
Considering WWE already have a streaming deal with Peacock, and a TV deal with USA, NBC buying the company would certainly not be surprising news. However Wrestling Republic understands that is not currently the plan. We’ve been told by a source high up on the cooperate side of WWE, that the expectation among higher ups is that Disney will make a play for Vince McMahon’s promotion, possibly even before the end of the year. We were specifically told that the Peacock streaming deal was not a concern to Disney, as they looked at WWE in the bigger picture, with more of a long term mentality.
Once I learned this information, I began evaluating recent decisions by WWE more closely, and the deeper I looked, the more sense it made. Over the past year WWE have put more of a focus on ensuring their top stars are marketable and easily identifiable. Examples of this can clearly be seen when looking at stars now such as Apollo Crews, King Nakamura, Happy Corbin, Nikki A.S.H, Karrion Kross, and Sheamus, compared to their gimmicks just a year or so ago. One less extreme example is Drew McIntyre. Going into WrestleMania 36, McIntyre was playing a ‘bad-ass’ face role, similar to which he portrays now. However the one key difference was that his character was not as identifiable and therefore not as marketable. During the Thunderdome era of WWE, McIntyre starting carrying around the ‘Claymore’ sword, as well as wearing a Scottish kilt at times, making his character more recognisable to a casual audience.
WWE have of course always given certain characters more cartoon like gimmicks, however in recent years this has become more and more of a rarity for the promotion, until recently. While this could just be WWE deciding to change their business model when it comes to talent once again, this would also be a convenient way to make their characters more identifiable and marketable when shown to a potential buyer, some of whom will undoubtedly have little to no knowledge about professional wrestling.
It’s no secret that Disney likes all their characters to be unique and easily recognisable. This has been a strength of Disney’s for decades now, with the entertainment giant consistently creating new original, identifiable, distinctive characters, meaning that the characters are extremely marketable. Examples of this can be seen in Disney’s Marvel movies, along with nearly every other show on their Disney + streaming service. With WWE now seemingly heading more so in this direction as well, it would undoubtedly appeal more to the executives at Disney.
Another element which backs up our report that WWE expects Disney to be the ones to make a move for the promotion, is the fact that since SmackDown has moved over to FOX, which is owned by Disney, WWE have clearly made the blue brand their flagship show. In just the past few weeks, WWE have brought John Cena, Becky Lynch and Brock Lesnar, back to SmackDown, while on the other side Goldberg has been the only one to return to Raw. It’s important to note that due to the fact SmackDown gets a significantly higher viewership, and a more lucrative TV deal, it would be logical for WWE to bring out the big guns for FOX. However in recent weeks more and more reports have surfaced reporting that the USA Network are unhappy that FOX are getting all the major stars upon returns, and if WWE really was looking to sell to NBC, they undoubtedly wouldn’t be treating them like they are second best.
To conclude, all signs point towards WWE streamlining their operations in preparation for a sale of the company, and based off the information we have exclusively been told, as well as all the signs and indications, it appears that WWE expect Disney to be the buyer.