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Vince McMahon Retires: A Timeline Of Events Amid 2022 Probe Of Sexual Misconduct

Vince McMahon Retires: A Timeline Of Events Amid 2022 Probe Of Sexual Misconduct

Vince McMahon shockingly retired from WWE amid rising allegations of sexual misconduct. McMahon is in the middle of a WWE investigation regarding alleged “hush money” settlements.

From the day these allegations were announced, McMahon has attempted to weather the storm during a Summer of Hell by publicly stepping down—presumably for optics—and no-selling the brewing scandal in public appearances.

With McMahon reportedly retiring from all duties, however, 2022 will go down as the year that saw the unlikely fall of Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

Vince McMahon Investigated by WWE | June 15, 2022

In a bombshell report by the Wall Street Journal (h/t Forbes), it was revealed that Vince McMahon was the subject of an internal WWE investigation amid “hush money” settlements for sexual misconduct. Amid the damning accusations, WWE reportedly increased the salary of a former paralegal whom McMahon allegedly had an affair with. The investigation also meant the end of John Laurinaitis’ tenure as Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, a role that would later be assumed by Triple H.

Today’s climate is littered with the demise of one male mogul after another due to accusations of sexual misconduct. These very serious allegations against Vince McMahon are the biggest threat to his iron rule as WWE Chairman and CEO, and proved to be too much to overcome.

Vince McMahon Steps Down From WWE | June 17, 2022

Days after the scandalous report of McMahon’s WWE investigation, Vince McMahon stepped down as WWE Chairman and CEO. In his place, McMahon installed his daughter Stephanie just one month after Stephanie McMahon announced she was taking a leave of absence from WWE to focus on her family.

Fast forward to today, Stephanie McMahon and her husband Triple H are at the helm of WWE, a far cry from both of their intentions to step back in favor of family time.

“I love this company and am committed to working with the Independent Directors to strengthen our culture and our Company; it is extremely important to me that we have a safe and collaborative workplace,” Stephanie McMahon said on Twitter.

“I have committed to doing everything in my power to help the Special Committee complete its work, including marshaling the cooperation of the entire company to assist in the completion of the investigation and to implement its findings.”

Despite Vince McMahon stepping down, many dismissed Stephanie’s interim role as an “optics play.” Vince McMahon continued to maintain creative control over WWE, and despite publicly stepping down, seemed to have more control than ever behind the scenes.

MORE FROM FORBESVince McMahon Steps Down; Stephanie McMahon Named Interim WWE Chairwoman And CEO

Vince McMahon Appears on SmackDown | June 17, 2022

Just hours after stepping down as WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon appeared briefly to open the June 17, 2022 broadcast of SmackDown.

In quite possibly his final appearance on SmackDown, Vince McMahon repeated WWE’s signature phrase: “Then, Now, Forever…” and “the most important word is Together.” McMahon reportedly shouted “f—k em!” in response to the mounting allegations against him before returning to a “business as usual” demeanor.

McMahon has attempted to no-sell these allegations throughout a very public scandal. Even in his retirement announcement he implied his age (77 years) was the reason for stepping away, with no references to the accusations. Vince McMahon followed up his SmackDown appearance with another empty appearance on the June 20, 2022 broadcast of Raw. McMahon briefly spoke about the impending return of John Cena.

Also under fire was former WWE Executive Vice President of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis, who was ousted from the company due to his alleged involvement with the former WWE paralegal. Bruce Prichard was named Interim Vice President of Talent Relations in his place.

Vince McMahon Hush Money Allegations Grow to $12 Million | July 8, 2022

WSJ’s original bombshell report received a sequel as a follow-up report noted McMahon had paid upwards of $12 million in NDA (non-disclosure agreement) settlements to former WWE contractors and personnel. Additional settlements ranged from $1 million to a stunning $7.5 million in alleged hush money. Accusations against McMahon included sending nude photos and “coercing” a former wrestler to perform oral sex.

Just one day prior, WWE Board of Directors member Connor Schell stepped down from his position.

“Mr. Schell’s decision to resign from the Board was not due to any dispute or disagreement with the Company, its management or the Board on any matter relating to the Company’s operations, policies or practices,” read an SEC filing.

Despite the public statement, it’s not difficult to make the connection between Schell’s decision and the rising amount of negativity plaguing the company. In light of the rising allegations, streaming giant Netflix reportedly pulled its planned documentary series about Vince McMahon.

MORE FROM FORBESVince McMahon Investigation Gets Worse As Alleged Hush Money Balloons To $12 Million

Triple H Named EVP of Talent Relations | July 22, 2022

Triple H, nicknamed the King of Kings, went back on his throne as WWE announced he would replace John Laurinaitis as EVP of Talent Relations. This wasn’t even the most shocking announcement of the day on another whirlwind of a Friday afternoon in pro wrestling. The announcement preceded Vince McMahon’s own shocking announcement that the WWE Chairman was set to retire.

It wasn’t too long ago that both Triple H and Stephanie McMahon’s futures—as power brokers within WWE—were in question. With Stephanie McMahon as WWE Interim Chairwoman and CEO, and Triple H installed as WWE Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, WWE’s seemingly scrapped succession plan was reincarnated amid internal turmoil. Amid Triple H’s unlikely return to power, Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc) reported Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn were not present at WWE SmackDown.

Vince McMahon Retires from WWE | July 22, 2022

Vince McMahon shockingly retired via Twitter.

“At 77, time for me to retire. Thank you, WWE Universe. Then. Now. Forever. Together.”

McMahon’s decision was reportedly in the works for a week before the announcement was made as only a small circle was aware of the news beforehand.

Stephanie McMahon and WWE Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan will be taking over as co-CEOs while Triple H steps in as WWE Executive Vice President of Talent Relations.

The announcement reportedly led to immediate backstage hysteria. Despite cynicism of McMahon possibly maintaining control behind the scenes, McMahon has reportedly retired from all duties, including creative.

“To all WWE Superstars: as I approach 77 years old (OMG am I really that old?), I feel it’s time for me to retire. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my passion, wisdom, and love of the business with you. No longer will you see the smiling, docile, level-headed, calm presence at Gorilla every week,” McMahon said in an internal memo.

“Your dedication to WWE will ensure that our company will continue to grow and prosper. Our organization is nothing without you. You are WWE’s only natural resource, chosen to perform in front of a global audience.”

“You are all WWE Global Ambassadors. Carry the WWE flag wherever you go. Wave it high and proud. And bust your ass to be all you can be as a person and as a performer.”

“One other thing—I won’t be with you, but I’ll be watching. Remember to keep your hands up, grab hold, and sell. Btw, SmackDown airs live tonight at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central on FOX.”

Possibly the most telling line, unintentional or not, is “I won’t be with you, but I’ll be watching.” Given Vince McMahon’s penchant for fighting and maintaining control, it’s safe that he will always be “watching” in some form or fashion until his final day on this earth.

Brock Lesnar Walks out of SmackDown | July 22, 2022

In response to Vince McMahon retiring, Brock Lesnar reportedly walked out of SmackDown. Per multiple sources, Lesnar walked out of SmackDown under the mentality that if Vince McMahon is gone, Lesnar is gone.

Lesnar’s sudden departure puts his forthcoming match against Roman Reigns—the WWE SummerSlam main event—in jeopardy. Lesnar has never been shy about walking out of WWE shows when the situation does not serve him. For Lesnar, McMahon’s ousting appeared to be a dealbreaker. In the end, cooler head prevailed and Lesnar returned to the building in time to close out SmackDown with a brutal beatdown of Mr. Money in the Bank Theory.

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WWE looks to boost its sponsorship revenue as live events return and a key media deal expires

WWE looks to boost its sponsorship revenue as live events return and a key media deal expires

Chief Brand Officer and TV Personality of WWE, Stephanie McMahon delivers her keynote address at the opening of Sports Matters in conjunction with All That Matters 2016 in Singapore on September 14, 2016.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

WWE and industry analysts agree: The pro wrestling and media company can squeeze more revenue out of sponsorship deals.

The company leans on the intellectual property built around performers such as superstar personalities like The Undertaker, John Cena, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Roman Reigns and Bianca Belair. Revenue from its live events, which are returning as Covid restrictions ease, and media offerings are fueled in part by sponsorship dollars. 

WWE this year aims to fill football stadiums and expand its programming, according to Frank Riddick, WWE’s chief financial officer. Riddick, who took over the job in November, said after last week’s earnings release that the company is making sponsorship a priority this year.

In 2021, WWE reported roughly $72 million combined for advertising and sponsorships in its media and live events businesses.

WWE made more than $10 million in sponsorship fees alone for last month’s marquee Wrestlemania 38, executive Stephanie McMahon said last week. That was a record for the two-day event held at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. WWE’s sponsorship partners include Toyota, DoorDash, Rocket Mortgage and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty cosmetics line, said McMahon, who is also the daughter of longtime CEO Vince McMahon.

Analysts suggest the WWE is undervalued when it comes to sponsorship revenue, estimating the company lures around $35 million per year just from sponsorships. That’s less than combat-sports company UFC, which attracts more than $100 million annually, according to a Guggenheim Partners note to clients last month.

While WWE lags behind UFC in overall popularity, its fans are the most likely to notice sponsors, according to sponsorship consulting firm IEG. Sixty-seven percent of WWE’s fans are more likely to consume brands associated with the company, according to IEG’s research, which used data from polling outfit YouGov. That’s ahead of the 55% average for the group of the 11 biggest sports leagues, including the NFL, which is by far the most popular sports organization in the United States.

“All that does is spell potential and opportunity,” said Peter Laatz, IEG’s global managing director. He said he thinks WWE can clear over $100 million in annual sponsorship revenue.

But he also noted WWE might not be the “right fit for the most affluent categories or top tier brands.”

The WWE did not return a CNBC request to discuss its sponsorships.

WWE’s place in the streaming world

WWE gets most of its revenue from its media business, accounting for $278.1 million of its $333.4 million overall revenue in the quarter ended March 31. Advertising and sponsorship revenue in the media segment grew 27% to $19.8 million from the year-ago period.

The company is preparing for a key media deals amid an “increasingly cluttered streaming marketplace,” WWE President Nick Khan said on last week’s earnings call. Hulu’s deal for day 2 rights around WWE’s weekly “Raw” program expires this year.

Day 2 rights allow subscribers to watch “Raw” and “Smackdown,” another weekly show, 24 hours after they first air. Raw airs live on USA Network, and Smackdown is shown on Fox. After 30 days, subscribers to NBCUniversal’s Peacock service can watch the shows. (In 2021, WWE entered a five-year deal with NBCUniversal for a reported $1 billion to license its library and show live main events on Peacock.)

Khan also suggested a new player could enter the sports streaming game.

“It’s just a matter of time before Netflix goes with live,” said Khan. He added the live events generate the highest consumer impressions for networks and streaming companies.

Netflix is indeed looking to bounce back as its results suffer while viewers shake off pandemic restrictions and head back out into the world. In April, Netflix reported a decline in subscribers and warned of millions of more losses in the months ahead. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos said at the time he doesn’t see a profitable way for the streamer to get into sports, although its “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” series has been a smash hit.

Netflix probably wouldn’t be interested in WWE, anyway, according to longtime media rights advisor Lee Berke, since the wrestling company is already tied up with Peacock. He said it would make more sense for the NBCUniversal service to add more WWE rights.

“That’s a major relationship for them, and there’s a lot they can do to build on that,” said Berke, CEO of LHB Sports, which advises the sports entertainment industry. “But if [Netflix] is going to make a move for WWE, I see them making an aggressive for all of their content or major live events.”

WWE is also looking at overseas expansion, particularly in India, home to a billion people and a growing middle class. WWE estimates its content is shown in more than 180 countries. The company said it drew 25 million viewers for an exclusive event showcasing U.S. WWE wrestlers competing against India-born performers. Wrestlemania drew more than 50 million viewers last month in India.

Khan, the WWE president, called India a “hugely important market.” But, he added, WWE is waiting for networks to finish bidding on rights to cricket – the most popular sport in the country – before the company determines its future media marketplace there.

Disclosure: Peacock owner NBCUniversal is also the parent company of CNBC.