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WWE sold to Endeavor

Deal sees the UFC and WWE form a 'US$21bn+' global live sports and entertainment company.

3 April 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • WWE valued at US$9.3bn
  • Endeavor to own 51% of new company
  • Ari Emanuel and Vince McMahon to act as chief executive and executive chairman, respectively

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been sold to agency giant Endeavor.

The deal sees Endeavor take a 51 per cent of a new publicly traded company, with WWE shareholders getting the remaining 49 per cent. The acquisition gives the wrestling promotion an enterprise value of US$9.3 billion.

The new live sports and entertainment company, which has been valued at more than US$21 billion, will comprise of WWE and the Endeavor-owned Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). On a combined 2022 fiscal year-end basis, the pair achieved revenue of US$2.4 billion and a ten per cent annual revenue growth rate since 2019, according to Endeavor,

Ari Emanuel, Endeavor’s chief executive, will lead the new company. Former WWE chief executive Vince McMahon, who stepped down last July, is serving as executive chairman and Endeavor’s Mark Shapiro will work as president and chief operating officer of the new venture.

WWE chief executive Nick Khan will be president of the wrestling business, while UFC president Dana White will continue in the same role. The board of directors will consist of 11 members who will be appointed at a later date, six of whom will be appointed by Endeavor and five by WWE.

WWE has been linked with a sale since the start of the year, with McMahon, previously the promotion’s controlling shareholder, plotting his comeback in order to “fully capitalise” on upcoming media rights talks and oversee the sale.

Endeavor stated that the UFC and WWE expect to deliver an estimated US$50 million to US$100 million in annualised run rate cost synergies by leveraging, among other things, Endeavor’s back office and ‘robust infrastructure’. Endeavor also expects significant growth across revenue areas including domestic and international media rights, ticket sales and yield optimisation, event operations, sponsorship, licensing and premium hospitality. 

Media conglomerate Comcast, whose NBC network has an exclusive agreement for WWE’s over-the-top (OTT) platform to be housed on the Peacock streaming product, as well as a cable TV tie-up with NBCUniversal’s USA Network, was linked with a deal. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was also said to be in contention.

“This is a rare opportunity to create a global live sports and entertainment pureplay built for where the industry is headed,” said Emanuel.

“For decades, Vince and his team have demonstrated an incredible track record of innovation and shareholder value creation, and we are confident that Endeavor can deliver significant additional value for shareholders by bringing UFC and WWE together.”

McMahon added: “Given the incredible work that Ari and Endeavor have done to grow the UFC brand – nearly doubling its revenue over the past seven years – and the immense success we’ve already had in partnering with their team on a number of ventures, I believe that this is without a doubt the best outcome for our shareholders and other stakeholders.”

“Together, we will be a US$21+ billion live sports and entertainment powerhouse with a collective fanbase of more than a billion people and an exciting growth opportunity. The new company will be well positioned to maximise the value of our combined media rights, enhance sponsorship monetisation, develop new forms of content and pursue other strategic mergers and acquisitions to further bolster our strong stable of brands.

“I, along with the current WWE management team, look forward to working closely with Ari and the Endeavor and UFC teams to take the businesses to the next level.”

SportsPro says…

Endeavor’s purchase ends WWE’s run as a family-owned business after McMahon bought the company from his father in 1982. Since then, the promotion has grown into a commercial behemoth, raking in US$1.3 billion in revenue for 2022, of which US$1 billion came from its media operation. WWE expects to generate record revenue this year.

Having snapped up the UFC in 2016, the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion continues to perform strongly for Endeavor. The company sold out 21 consecutive events in 2022 and achieved record sponsorship sales volume, helping Endeavor’s owned sports properties segment to US$301.4 million in the fourth quarter.

The agency titan will hope for more of the same from WWE should a deal go through. Shapiro had already talked up the idea of adding the promotion to beef up Endeavor’s sports properties business, which also includes Professional Bull Riders (PBR), coming out of the pandemic.

“We’ve shown [Wall Street] and frankly, everybody else in the industry that cares, what we can do when you put the UFC on top of the Endeavor platform,” he told The Town podcast last October. “There are just all kinds of levers we can flip.

“When it comes to WWE? Yes, that would be something interesting and it would be worth exploring.”

He added: “We are interested in anything in the owned sports properties segment.”

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